- The Season's Over -

New Jersey: Like Everyone Said, They Aren’t As Bad As You Think

March 31, 2010

By: Zachariah Blott

Devin Harris is Busting OutThe Nets avoided historical incompetence on Monday by winning their tenth game, ensuring that the 1972-73 Sixers remain the only team in league history to finish with a single-digit win total (9-73). This marks New Jersey’s third win in four games from March 24 to 29. Over that same stretch, the Lakers were 2-2, the Cavaliers were 2-1 (with a loss to the Spurs, who NJ downed for their 10th win), and the Nuggets were 1-3.

As numerous people have said all year, including soon-to-be free agent Amar’e Stoudemire after Phoenix thrashed the Nets 118-94 in January, the Nets are not as bad as their record indicates. They were struck with a ton of concurrent injuries in the first half of the year, including the loss of 2009 All-Star Devin Harris for 10 games during their record 18-game losing streak to start the season. They were this close to winning 3 of those 10, and weren’t far off in another 3 or 4, so his presence could have ended all the “worst ever” talk early on, relaxing the players just enough to get more on track. Maybe only 20-25 wins on track, but still.

Like I said, Harris wasn’t the only absence early on. Starting SG Courtney Lee missed 7 games during the 0-18 start, starting PF Yi Jianlian missed 20 of the team’s first 24 contests, SF Jarvis Hayes missed all but two minutes of the first 31 games, sixth man Chris Douglas-Roberts missed three trios of games before New Year’s, and back-up F/C Josh Boone missed a whole slew of time between Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day. Jersey’s back-ups aren’t that good, and like any sport, once you start losing so much and so often that the national media is talking about you, it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Well they’ve regrouped of late with the stated intention of reaching 10 wins. They did it, and even though that sound you hear is the collective exhale from the New Jersey locker room, it still needs to be pointed out that they’re not 10-64 bad. Their Pythagorean win total is 15 (so they should have won five more games at this point), one behind Minnesota, and respectably close to a handful of other teams. And again, that’s with all the injuries to most of their top players back when the crap really got rolling.

They’ve avoided strings of embarrassing blowouts recently, with 19 of their 24 losses over the past two months coming by 11 points or less. Two of their five big ones were the back ends of back-to-backs, and two more were against Cleveland and Atlanta. They’re quite consistent, like an archer who groups all of his arrows in the upper-left corner of the target. Now that everyone’s healthy, the Nets are doing better, and four more wins (possible) would pull them even with the truly hapless Timberwolves, who are on a 16-game skid of their own.

Soon they’ll be out of the 2009-10 season that once looked like it would never end, and they’ll have a decent core of youngsters, a ton of money to spend, a top-4 draft pick, and a new owner ready to infuse energy (read also: money) into this franchise on the verge of a 2012 move to Brooklyn.

Not too bad for a team pulling stunts like this earlier this month.

Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.

Devin Harris Photo Credit: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 31, 2010 at 10:31am in NBA

Who You Got? Memphis’ Mike Conley vs. Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey

March 31, 2010

Mike Conley

Mike Conley Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Debuted last week with Joakim Noah taking on Greg Oden (link below), “Who You Got?” is a new ETB series that looks at two NBA players’ futures and tries to answer the following: if you had to pick one of these players for the remainder of their career, regardless of salary implications and their hypothetical future teammates, who would it be?

- Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah vs. Portland Trail Blazers C Greg Oden

Their Connection

There were three guards taken in the first 15 picks of the 2007 NBA Draft: Ohio State freshmen Mike Conley (4th), Texas A&M senior Acie Law (11th), and Eastern Washington sophomore Rodney Stuckey (15th). Sorry, Atlanta Hawks, but unfortunately there are no mulligans on Law, who played sparingly and showed little in two seasons with the Hawks before being shipped to the Golden State Warriors. He’s currently riding the pine for the Chicago Bulls, his third team of the season, and faces an uncertain NBA future moving forward as an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s likely headed to Europe.

That leaves Conley and Stuckey. Despite playing just one season for a very good Ohio State team, Conley was pegged as a definite top-five pick, jockeying with and eventually losing out to Al Horford to be the third-overall pick behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Just 19 years old on draft day, Conley drew favorable comparisons to Chris Paul.

Stuckey, on the other hand, was more of an unknown coming out of small Eastern Washington. A true scoring machine, yes–he averaged 24.2 points on 47% FG over his two collegiate seasons–but questions about how well his game would translate to the NBA, as well as which guard position he was best suited for, lingered. Optimists saw shades of Dwyane Wade, and betting on that upside was a gamble everybody knew Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars was ready if Stuckey were there.

The Case for Mike Conley

Still only 22 years old, Conley still has room to grow. Plenty of it. His development in Memphis has been slow, and for an impatient team with a dwindling fanbase, that’s a problem. For all the whispers of Conley turning a corner in this his third full season, he’s still shooting in the low 40% range, hasn’t shown an ability to regularly get to the free-throw line (just 2.3 attempts per over 2 1/2 seasons), and for a true point guard has displayed anything but a CP3-esque knack for setting up his teammates, though to his credit he’s upped his per-game assists by over 1 compared to last year (from 4.3 to 5.4).

Conley does seem to have a decent handle on the game, however, and if it’s a game manager the Grizzlies need, he’s more comfortable sitting back, getting his team into the offense, and looking for his shot second than Stuckey is. His three-point shooting is surprisingly strong, with near identical pers this season and last of 1.1 per game on about 40%; granted, that’s on just 2.7 attempts per, but it’s a promising sign.

As the coaching staff trusts him more and more, and as talent around Conley continues to improve–we saw what he could do in college with a dominant presence in the paint (Oden)–he should improve along with it. Already rumored to have been on the trading block, though, I question whether the Grizzlies are still committed to him in the long-term.

The case for Rodney Stuckey, and the final verdict, after the break…

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No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 31, 2010 at 5:20am in ETB Articles, NBA

2010 NBA Max Contracts: The Players, The Teams, and The Potential Aftermath

March 30, 2010

Lebron and Wade

LeBron and D-Wade Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By: Zachariah Blott

This summer is supposed to be a chance for teams with big pockets and big dreams to strike it rich on a deep crop of max contract-level players. Everyone has known that LeBron and D-Wade and Bosh are going to be available for some time, and sports writers quickly noted numerous other players who might also test the free agency market in 2010.

Because of this bounty of riches likely available, many teams have spent the past few seasons positioning themselves so that the books clear up at the right time, whether that meant trading away fan favorites or eschewing any playoff hopes.

The rush will soon be upon us, but as things have become clear enough to see who will probably get a 5-year max contract and who’s able to offer them, the numbers aren’t adding up, and it’s going to cost some teams dearly for years to come. Six players are often mentioned as deserving of the max contract (check out this great primer on what they are and how they work if you’re confused), and eight teams have made the arrangements to drop some serious payroll this summer, allowing them to go after those players. It should be noted that players can resign with their current teams no matter what their salary situation is.

So eight teams have basically been saving up for a crack at LeBron or Wade, but only two can sign them. The rest will have a ton of money and expectant fans, so they’ll have to have something to show for the epic 2010 free agency bonanza. Unfortunately, many owners and GMs will end up overbidding on the remaining talent in over-zealous hopes that David Lee or Manu Ginobili will suddenly perform like a $12-15 million a year talent upon whose shoulders the city can ride to glory.

The obvious result will be many clubs dumping way too much money into players who frankly aren’t worth it. This will snowball into several teams who tanked the present for a chance at having a future that costs too much and isn’t tremendously better. The screw ups will remain screwed up by bidding against each other for the biggest scraps.

Here are the six players who are usually mentioned as most likely to sign a max contract deal. You’ll see that only two of them are really worth the $90 million or so over 5 years, and the other four are stretches.

Worthy of Max Contract

LeBron James
There is no question he is worth whatever a team is willing to spend. He can score in a dominating fashion in any type of offense, he is a tremendous distributor, and he’s more than capable as a rebounder and defender. James can also lift his teammates to a higher level, which is the ultimate sign he’s a franchise guy.

Dwyane Wade
Wade is the most explosive player today, a highlight drive waiting to happen. It’s not just his scoring that sets him apart (his shooting percentages are actually average), but he’s a great passer, he’s crazy good in crunch time, he gets to the line at will, and he’s one of the best defensive guards of the past 20 years. That last aspect is more important than many people acknowledge.

Not Max Contract Material

Chris Bosh
I know, I know: he leads the league in 20-10′s and his numbers keep getting better. But he continually misses 10 games a season, his defense is eh, and Toronto has never performed like a team with a franchise player owning the paint. The Raptors’ only winning season during Bosh’s tenure was a 47-35 finish in 2006-07, and that had a lot to do with the arrivals of Anthony Parker, T.J. Ford, Andrea Bargnani, and Rasho Nesterovic, and the increased minutes of Jose Calderon; Bosh’s contribution was virtually the same as the previous season. In short, he won’t turn a team around all by himself.

Much more on the NBA’s Summer of 2010 after the break…

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3 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 30, 2010 at 5:03am in ETB Articles, NBA

D-Leaguers Can Look to Golden State for Glimmers of NBA Hope

March 29, 2010

Reggie WilliamsBy Brian Spencer

We know that Don Nelson is an unconventional NBA head coach who employs unorthodox strategies for winning. His Golden State Warriors run, run, and run some more, and his players exhibit little more than a passing interest in defense. Most of the team’s assists come on fastbreaks; in half-court sets, there’s hardly ever a shot opportunity whichever guy with the ball doesn’t like.

You know it as Nelly Ball, and while it usually makes for a fun watch, over the past few seasons it hasn’t equated to many wins: heading into the season’s final stretch, the Warriors currently sport the league’s third-worst record at 21-53. It’s not all Nelson’s fault, of course–he plays the hand former GM Chris Mullin and current GM Larry Riley dealt him–but he’s part of the problem, and with the team’s future uncertain following reports that owner Christopher Cohan is looking to sell the team, there’s a good chance his days are numbered. Finally.

But this isn’t as much about Nelson as it is two unheralded players unexpectedly sucked into Nelson’s mad, mad world this season due to a rash of injuries to the Warriors’ frontcourt. Both came to Golden State by way of the D-League and, Nelson’s herky-jerky coaching style be damned, both have emerged winners after being thrown into the fire and asked to play 25+ minutes out of the gate.

The first, 6-9 forward Anthony Tolliver, made his NBA debut last year with the San Antonio Spurs as an undrafted rookie out of Creighton, earning sporadic, mostly mop-up minutes in 19 games and averaging just 2.7 points and 2.2 boards in 11 minutes per. Before being called up for good by Golden State in January, he made two extremely brief appearances for the Portland Trail Blazers before a strong showing at the annual D-League Showcase punched his ticket back to the big show.

D-League Digest’s Steve Weinman attended the Showcase and in the first of his two-part interview on ETB named Tolliver as one of the D-Leaguers most likely to make an impact in the NBA:

Anthony Tolliver would be the easy front-runner for this list, but let’s rule him ineligible since he received his second call-up of the season last week, this time to Golden State. Tolliver is a do-it-all big man who posts up, crashes the glass, and defends, but can also handle the ball a little bit and shoot from the outside. Love watching him play.

Ditto, Steve. Tolliver has turned in some real nice performances for the Warriors, banging, hustling, and willing his way to 9 double-doubles since January 22, including 3 of his past 4 games. He’s the team’s leading rebounder at 6.9 per, has developed into a solid three-point shooter, and has a motor that never stops. This kid clearly relishes the opportunity and enjoying every minute of it. There’s no other situation in the NBA where he could have essentially walked right into the starting lineup and averaged just over 30 minutes per. Good for him (and for now let’s just pretend this didn’t happen).

And good for fellow D-League callup Reggie Williams, too, who upon joining the Warriors on March 2 became the team’s fifth D-Leaguer to find his way onto the roster (a new NBA team record). An undrafted rookie from VMI, Williams led the NCAA in scoring for two straight seasons, only to be written off on draft day due to his school’s small size and the offense-friendly system he played in. Still, as DraftExpress noted, the 6-5 Williams didn’t just lead the nation in scoring back in 06-07, he did it rather handily in averaging 35 points per 40 minutes.

Williams’ ability to score at will at VMI continued in the D-League, where in 26 games with Sioux Falls he averaged 26 points on 56% shooting and 39% from three-point land, and much hasn’t changed in Golden State, either, a team which runs the closest thing he’ll ever see in the NBA to his free-wheeling collegiate system. Save for his 3-15 FG performance on Saturday against the Mavericks (the Warriors shot 27% as a team that night, so…), Williams has been on fire, averaging 14.2 points on 51% FG and 41% 3PT. He’s scored 22+ points in 5 of his 15 games, and his confidence seems to grow by the day.

Individual success stories. In the absence of wins, that’s what Warriors fans have to settle for this season (well, that and knowing they have Stephen Curry, one of the top two rookies in the NBA). They’re still regularly packing Oracle Arena, though, and Tolliver and Williams are helping make the end, losing result much more palatable, Don Nelson be damned.

Reggie Williams Photo Credit: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 29, 2010 at 4:07am in NBA

Friday Boxscore Breakfast, Starring Derrick Rose’s Rarely Seen Shooting Clinic

March 26, 2010

By: Zachariah Blott

Derrick Rose Found His StrokeDerrick Rose nearly doubles his 3-pointers for the season in one game: This past Saturday, Chicago dismantled the 76ers 98-84, and Derrick Rose got back into the swing of things with 23 points and 5 assists. What’s noteworthy about Rose’s output is that 12 of his points came off of 4 triples in 6 attempts. For the season, the second-year player has been the least effective long-range shooter of every starting PG in the league. Through his first 64 games of 2009-10, Rose hit 6 threes out of 27 attempts (22%), even less impressive than his rookie campaign, when he hit only 16 out of 72 (22%).

Rose had missed the previous four-and-a-half games with a sprained wrist, but he came back in a big—albeit quite unexpected—way. Traveling to Philly to take on the already-done Sixers, Chicago got back on track after being 0-for-March by outscoring the home team in each of the first three quarters, thanks in part to Philly’s atrocious 3-point defense. They’ve surrendered a league-worst 40% of all long-distance bombs, way worse than the NBA average of 35%. Leave it to the Sixers to make a non-shooter look like Jimmy Chitwood. Rose sank 2 more on Monday (in 7 attempts), officially doubling his yearly total in two days.

Derrick Rose photo credit: Icon SMI

Josh McRoberts comes up big, not so much for Washington: Indiana’s Josh McRoberts started in place of the injured Roy Hibbert (jaw) on Wednesday, and the third-year big man had a career night to help the Pacers crush what’s left of the Wizards. In 30 minutes, McRoberts scored 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds (including a game-high 5 offensive), dished out 2 assists to 0 turnovers, and blocked 2 shots. His only other 20 minute-plus games in March were a 9 and 4 night against Boston in 22 minutes, 15 and 4 against the Lake Show in 23 minutes and 10-4-4-2 (that’s points, boards, assists, and steals) in 22 minutes in Denver. This youngster may finally be getting it.

On the flipside, four of Washington’s five starters combined for 15 points on 7-28 shooting. The lone holdout, Andray Blatche with 21 points, may actually be the team’s biggest problem at this point. After they don’t get any of the big-name free agents this summer that they dumped the whole team for, I’m real curious why anyone would follow the Wizards next year. Any sports fans living in the beltway should jump on the Capitals bandwagon right now. They’re hella good, score 50% more goals than almost everyone else, and Alex Ovechkin is the big bully/much better highlights version of Sidney Crosby.

Utah spreads the love, cruises on all cylinders: Utah gave it to Toronto on Wednesday night, embarrassing the Raptors on their own floor 113-87. The Jazz exemplified The Jazz Way by spreading around all the glory. All five starters shot between 10 and 15 times and registered between 12 and 18 points. Four of them also grabbed between 8 and 11 rebounds. Off the bench, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap split 15 shots and put up 12 and 13 points, making for one of the most well-rounded team box scores you can hope to see. It makes sense this balanced effort came from Utah considering their top five scorers average between 12 and 19 per, with three more in the 7 to 10 range.

Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.

No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 26, 2010 at 6:01am in NBA

Who You Got? Greg Oden vs. Joakim Noah

March 25, 2010

Greg Oden

Greg Oden Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Zachariah Blott

WhoYou Got? is a new original ETB series that looks at two players’ futures and aims to answer the following: if you had to select one of these players for the remainder of their career, independent of salary implications and their hypothetical future teammates, who would you take?

First up: Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah vs. Portland Trail Blazers C Greg Oden

Their Connection

This pair of centers first met in the 2007 NCAA Championship Game, a game in which Oden demolished Florida’s vaulted frontline, but Florida’s depth and experience carried them to their second consecutive title. Oden registered 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks in the loss, compared to Noah’s 8, 3, and 0 in the win.

Oden was the first pick in that summer’s draft, and Noah was 9th. Since then, Oden has been a strong interior presence for the Blazers, but he’s been riddled with injuries and missed huge chunks of time, including his entire “rookie season”. Noah has provided an energetic presence for Chicago, ADD-ing his way to 11 rebounds per this season.

The Case for Greg Oden

When he’s playing, his rates of production are very similar to Dwight Howard’s. In Oden’s 21 games this season, he shot 61% from the field, his true shooting percentage (TS%) was 65%, he grabbed 22% of all available rebounds, and he blocked 7.6% of opponents’ 2-point attempts. For comparision, Howard is shooting 61%, his TS% is 63%, he’s grabbed 22% of available rebounds, and he’s blocked 5.8% of opponents’ 2-point attempts. The numbers for Oden are all also improvements over his rookie season, so as a 45-year-old man he’s still getting better.

Oden’s pers are decent but can obviously increase significantly with more minutes (11 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, in 24 minutes per). He’s also currently Portland’s fourth or fifth scoring option at this point in his young career. With more opportunities and experience, he could post some fantastic statistics while becoming one of the top-two defensive forces in the league.

Almost every non-Jordan team that’s won a championship has had a great big man, and Oden has the potential to be this type of cornerstone; Noah doesn’t. Noah will always be a nice compliment, but he’s had trouble starting over an aging Brad Miller and Ben Wallace for the past 3 years. Even if Oden only plays a few seasons at his achieved potential, it’s easy to imagine his interior dominance contributing heavily to a championship team, like Bill Walton was able to do during his tragically small window of greatness. That’s as good a reason as any to take a chance on Oden.

The case for Joakim Noah, and the final verdict, after the break…

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13 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 25, 2010 at 3:01pm in ETB Articles, NBA

A Handful of Former MLB Stars Are Looking to Regain Some of Their Lost Luster

March 25, 2010

By: Andrew Thell

Vladimir Guerrero is Back in BlueVladimir Guerrero, DH,
Texas Rangers:
Since breaking onto the scene in 1998 with the Montreal Expos, Vladimir Guerrero has consistently been one of the most entertaining players to watch in all of baseball. With a batting style and gate somewhere between that of Frankenstein and Fred Sanford (significantly exacerbated by nagging back injuries), a sap-encrusted 2 x 4 for a bat and the freakish ability to hit anything (hard) within two feet of the strike zone there’s nobody like him. Unfortunately, age and health have been catching up with the slugger the last three years and the Angels let him walk this offseason after a pectoral strain in addition to a bad back and calf finally sapped Guererro of his characteristic raw power in 2009.

After breaking out with 38 home runs in 1998 and averaging over 36 per for the next nine seasons, all while finishing with an OPS between .934-1.074, Vlady hit just 27 out of the park in 2007 and 2008 before dropping all the way down to a meager 15 in 2009 as the injuries have begun to take their toll. His OPS has gone from .950 in 2007 to .886 in 2008 to .794 last year. His .334 OBP and .460 SLG in 2009 marking the lowest totals of his career, and most think the 35-year-old is done.

Vladimir Guerrero photo credit: Icon SMI

I don’t think he has many years left in the tank either, but there’s a chance Vlad has one or two more decent seasons left in him. He’s reportedly in the best shape in years, having shed some of the pounds that slowed him down and led to chronic injuries in recent seasons, and will be able to focus on DHing duties. And like several others on this list, Guerrero should find his new home ballpark in Arlington more than accommodating after signing a one-year, $5 million contract with Texas in early January. Rangers Ballpark, where Guerrero boasts a massive .394/.471/.705 career line, has been one of the most generous to hitters in recent years and Vlad will be in the middle of one of the most explosive young groups in baseball.

He’s never going to be the elite masher we watched in the mid-2000s again, but here’s hoping Vlad has at least one last hurrah left in him – when he’s even moderately healthy, he’s still a treat to watch.

Ben Sheets, SP, Oakland Athletics: It seems like a long time ago that Ben Sheets was considered one of the elite pitching talents in baseball. He’s been synonymous with “injury prone” over the course of his career, pitching just one full season in his past five and missing all of 2009 with a torn flexor tendon, but when healthy Sheets has also been known for stuff good enough rank among MLB’s best starters. In 2004, his last full season, Sheets put down a dominant line: 2.70 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 264 Ks in 237 innings including 5 complete games. He was one of the brightest pitching starts in the league coming off that season, but it’s been all downhill since. An All Star as recently as 2008 (yet another injury-shortened campaign), Sheets is flying almost completely under the radar heading into 2010 – but there are a few reasons for optimism.

Sheets signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Oakland Athletics back in January and it would be hard to imagine a better landing spot for the former ace outside of San Diego or Seattle (where he’ll also get to pitch a few games). A spacious park with some of the most generous foul territory in baseball, Sheets should find pitching in Oakland Coliseum a major boost to his stats if he can stay on the mound. In addition, he’ll be backed up by Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis in what should be one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. It’s always a big “if” when it comes to Sheets, but if he can stay healthy the 31-year-old could make a return to dominance – at least, until Billy Beane trades him in mid-July.

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Boston Red Sox: The last time Adrian Beltre was faced with the prospect of free agency he made the most of his opportunity. A decent 15-25 home run threat posting OPS in the low .700s who was best know for his defense heading into the season, Beltre went off in 2004 to the tune of 48 home runs and a .334/.388/.629 line, good for a 1.017 (!) OPS. Whatever you assign that aberrant production to, it will go down as one of the most anomalous walk-year performances in professional sports history. Since signing a five-year, $64 million contract with the Mariners in 2005 Beltre hasn’t topped 26 HRs and only eclipsed an .800 OPS once (.802 in 2007), bottoming out with just 8 HRs and a .683 OPS last season.

That didn’t stop the Red Sox from signing Beltre this January to a more modest pact worth $9 million over one year with a $5 million option for 2011. As statistically savvy as any team in baseball, perhaps we should be asking why. First, the Red Sox have put a new emphasis on defense of late and Beltre still plays a great third base and is an iron man (though, as he proved last season, he lacks brass balls). Second, Beltre wasn’t nearly as tame at the plate on the road as he was in Safeco Field – one of the most pitcher-friendly environments in baseball. On the road he’s hit around .280 while slugging nearly .500. In a full season playing at home in Fenway Park and regularly on the road at the likes of Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards, and now surrounded by one of the league’s best lineups, Beltre could surprise a lot of people with his production this season.

Francisco Liriano, SP, Minnesota Twins: For one magical stretch in the 2006 season Francisco Liriano was the best pitcher in baseball – and with his electric fastball and slider many thought he had the potential to surpass staff-mate Johan Santana as the Minnesota Twins ace. Just three years later, Liriano is struggling to earn the fifth starter spot for the Twins after losing the entire 2007 and most of the 2008 season to Tommy John surgery and then looking like a pitcher whose stuff never recovered and whose confidence was shot in 2009.

Liriano will likely never be that dominant kid we saw back in 2006, but he has a chance to be a very useful pitcher again in 2010 – be it as the Twins 5th starter or their new closer replacement for Joe Nathan, who is slated to undergo a Tommy John procedure of his own. In the final game of the Dominican Winter League championship this January, Liriano allowed just one hit and struck out 10 over five innings to cap a stellar winter campaign in which he fanned batters at will and looked as close to 2006 form as we’ve seen in the interim.

Obviously, that’s winter ball, but most encouraging was the fact that he was regularly hitting 95 MPH on his fastball and was again showing great break on his once-dominant slider. Liriano has carried the success over to Spring Training and there’s a chance he can be the pitcher everybody was hoping for going into last season. If healthy and able to maintain his confidence (neither a given), Minnesota will just need to decide if that will be for 180-200 innings as a starter or 60-70 innings closing out games.

Now go and do likewise, gents. And remember: Mitch and Murray paid good money for these leads.

No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Mar. 25, 2010 at 1:01am in MLB, MLB Fantasy News

The Numbers Never End: Reranking the League’s Top Scorers

March 24, 2010

By Zachariah Blott

Gerald Wallace: The NBA's Most Efficient Scorer?Basketball fans have no shortage of statistics to measure a player’s ability to score. First and foremost, there’s points. A more common method of tracking someone’s scoring prowess, though, is points per game (PPG). And for those people who value scoring efficiency, there’s field goal percentage (FG%), effective field goal percentage (eFG%) to factor in threes, true shooting percentage (TS%) to factor in threes and free throws, and even points per shot (PPS) as a basic barometer of what a player creates against the commodity of shots.

Each of these stats measures a different mix of abilities and opportunities; none of them is the perfect way to judge a player’s success as a scorer. Each number, though, provides a unique view of what a player does toward the end of putting points on the board, allowing fans to pinpoint who they see as the best based on certain criteria.

I propose two new ways to assess and discuss the qualities of players and the context within which they score their points. One of these numbers will try to weigh players’ points per after accounting for the pace their teams play at and how often they see the ball. The other number will put a new spin on PPS that is more dependent on bad shots, not all shots.

Gerald Wallace Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Again, none of these measurements are the end-all-be-all of scoring statistics; each is but another window to look at what a player is capable of.

Adjusted Points Per Game (AdPPG)

As of March 22, LeBron James was leading all players with 29.7 points per. But were there any better scorers in the league who weren’t getting their due simply because they weren’t the unquestioned number one scorer on their team like James is in Cleveland? Is Carmelo Anthony only in the top three at 28.8 points per because Denver plays at such a fast pace? Would Brandon Roy be the NBA’s top scorer each year if Portland wasn’t consistently one of the league’s slowest and most no-I-in-team squads?

AdPPG is meant to get to the heart of these two issues with PPG: the speed teams play at and how much an individual is allowed to be “the guy” in taking a team’s shots. I have tried to normalize scoring numbers with regards to pace (how many possessions per game a team has) and Usage Percentage (what percentage of a team’s possessions end with that player taking a shot or foul shot, or turning the ball over).

For the top 30 scorers in the league, I adjusted each one’s PPG by multiplying it by 30 and by 95, and then dividing by the individual’s Usage Percentage and their team’s pace. This forces all the players’ new scoring number to reflect what they would create at 30% Usage Percentage and if their team’s pace was 95. This formula looks like:

AdPPG = (PPG x 30 x 95) / (USG% x Pace)

Three players distanced themselves from the others after making these two adjustments, and you’re not going to guess who came out on top. Gerald Wallace, who barely ranks among the league’s top 30 scorers, ended up leading everyone at 29.1 AdPPG primarily because Charlotte plays so darn slow and he’s the team’s number two behind Stephen Jackson. Therefore, Wallace’s 18.3 points per received some serious boosts, so much so he’s now the league’s best scorer according to this measurement tool. He’s followed up by Kevin Durant at 28.6 (dropped a little because he always has the ball in his hands) and James at 27.9 (same deal).

The next three players before there’s a clear drop-off are Dirk Nowitzki at 26.8, Rudy Gay at 26.7, and Roy at 26.5. At the back of the pack are Tim Duncan at 21.4, Chris Kaman at 21.4, and Corey Maggette at 21.5. None of these three averages above 20.2 by the regular methodology, so they all actually received a bump to their normal numbers. In front of this lowly trio is a tightly bunched group of nine players who came out between 22.6 and 24.0 AdPPG that notably includes Dwyane Wade at 23.7 (he is currently fifth at 26.5 points per). The remaining 12 players fall in the middle, illuminating that Anthony and Luol Deng might be much more similar scorers than anyone had imagined.

Looking at Points Per Miss, after the jump …

Read the rest of this article »

3 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 24, 2010 at 12:10am in NBA

Note to Anthony Tolliver: Don’t Step in Front of Amare Stoudemire on Fastbreak Dunks

March 23, 2010

By Brian Spencer

Things were going so well on Monday night for Anthony Tolliver, one of the Golden State Warrior’s two standout D-League call-ups this season (Reggie Williams being the other). He was helping keep his team in the game, and well on his way to an impressive final boxscore of 25 points on 8-14 shooting, including 2 triples, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. The guy was all over the court and making things happen on both ends of the floor.

But, then, Amare Stoudemire happened. My god.

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 23, 2010 at 11:25am in NBA

The Detroit Lions vs. The Fantastic Four of the 2010 NFL Draft

March 23, 2010

Lions Fans

By Brian Spencer

For those NFL teams with top-10 picks in the draft, there’s comfort in knowing without a shadow of a doubt who you should and will select.

Last year, the Detroit Lions felt that comfy safety cushion beneath their heavily stomped-upon asses when taking Matthew Stafford with the first-overall pick: there was no doubting their need for a franchise quarterback, and there were few conflicting opinions on whether he was the top QB of his class. It was the easy choice, and it was the right choice.

This year, well, not so much. After a season in which they improved 200% upon the previous one in going a solid 2-14, the Lions climbed one notch above the St. Louis Rams on the Sucks Scale and now have the second overall pick, which of course means they’re in wait-and-see mode with the Rams. Will they follow the Lion’s lead and rebuild around the top QB prospect, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford? Or will they go in a different direction and choose between the heavily hyped defensive tackles, Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh?

The Lions, for one, are dying to know, but either way I’m concerned. Barring the drastic, Bradford makes financial sense as the top pick and should be headed to St. Louis. If not, the Lions’ decision on who to take second becomes slightly easier, but not by much. They’d cross off one of the DTs, and better yet, there’d be a good chance they could trade down and accumulate more picks if Bradford’s still on the board. But honestly, that’s an unlikely scenario at this point, which means GM Martin Mayhew and staff will be faced with perhaps the toughest, most scrutinzed pick of the draft.

The Lions have a lot of needs. Every position except QB and WR1 is not as strong as it needs to be, so in a sense, whomever they end up taking at #2 would be an upgrade on whomever’s already on the roster at that position. But something tells me that between Suh and McCoy, one’s going to ultimately stand head and shoulders above the other in terms of career impact when each finally calls it a day. And sorry, Lions fans like myself are bred to be skeptical: if they take Suh, McCoy will be a career All-Pro and Suh will of course blow his knee out midway through his rookie season and never be the same again. If McCoy becomes a Lion, it’ll be just the opposite. That’s just how things (usually) work in Detroit.


That’s not all. Second-overall picks, in case you didn’t know, are handsomely compensated. Most teams don’t want to pay DTs big bucks. But they’ll pay QBs, defensive ends, and… offensive tackles that money, no worries. Enter Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung and now, apparently, Oklahoma’s Trent Williams. Okung entered the conversation some weeks ago, but now the Sporting News’ Russ Lande says don’t be surprised if it’s Williams who’s ultimately taken.

Christ. Now it’s not only up to Mayhew to settle on which DT is better suited for his team, but apparently also which OT… then on which of those two candidates is “the guy.” This is not good.

I don’t watch or follow much college football during the season, so all I know about these four kids is what I read. And, of course, most everything I’ve read says each of them is the whoop, especially McCoy and Suh, both of whom are being billed as the best prospects to come around at their position in years.

I don’t know who the Lions should take, and I don’t care. I’ll take Okung or Williams over Jeff Backus (the current starting LT) in a heartbeat, and that’d allow Backus to move over to left guard and the Lions to kill two birds with one stone. Suh or McCoy would pair nicely with newly acquired DT Corey Williams, and along with second-year big’un Sammie Hill would give Detroit a promising trio on the defensive frontline.

All fine players one can make reasonable arguments for (and probably against too). But when the debates are all said and done, it comes down to this: the Lions really, really need to nail this pick. They really do. They’ve been set back enough as it is with top-10 picks over the past 5+ years who didn’t pan out: Joey Harrington, Charles “Smokey the Bear” Rogers, Mike Williams, Roy Williams… and that’s just the first round, nevermind the rest of it. They cannot afford to sink tens of millions of dollars into another bust.

So here’s to you, Martin Mayhew & Co. Please make the correct fucking decision.

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 23, 2010 at 4:44am in NFL

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