Thursday, January 12, 2006

The New Orleans

The loss of an entire major American city.  It’s still hard to fathom, but on August 29th, one of the oldest and most unique cities in this country was wiped nearly clean away.  So what happens now with New Orleans?

First, some perspective.  New Orleans had two major problems before the hurricane hit, neither having to do with the levees.  The city was relatively small in population despite its stature (less than 500 thousand) and had one of the worst poverty and crime issues in the country, both tied to an increasingly corrupt city and state government.  Its economy had become more dependent on tourism and gambling in recent years despite having one of the most active ports in the world.  

The state and the New Orleans Saints had engaged in an escalating back-and-forth over the Superdome, with the Saints threatening a move if a new stadium wasn’t built for them.  The city had been struggling to support this team, let alone the newcomer NBA Hornets.  The Hornets sat near the bottom of the NBA attendance with reports flying out that the team office was engaged in Enron-like bookkeeping to fluff up the numbers.  

Now, a reported 100 thousand are in the city.  Many corporations have pulled their satellite offices permanently.  Rosier forecasts in the fall have given way to predictions of a population of 250 thousand by September of 2008.  This is not a city that can sustain local professional sports in the foreseeable future.  The Hornets, relocated to Oklahoma City, are now among the league leaders in attendance and ticket revenue.  It’s just not reasonable to think that they could return.  

There is a precident to be considered.  In 1965, New Orleans had a population of over 700 thousand and was hit with hurricane and massive subsequent flooding.  The population has been in continual decline since then.  It’s fair to wonder if New Orleans will ever become a major populace again.  

I expect to see a few things, and they can mostly all be summed in one word: consolidation.  I foresee New Orleans pulling in and concentrating its strengths in its rebirth.  Tourism, gambling, and the port will be the sun the city must revolve around.  Rather than attempt to sustain half-empty parishes, the city will likely look to centralize the residential neighborhoods and abandon harder-hit and further-out ones.  

There is a ring of promise here, however.  With a chance at a clean slate, the city could really make itself better than before and become a rival to Las Vegas as a popular weekend destination.  The locals may not be able to support a permanent team, but New Orleans is established as one of the best hosts for major sporting events.  Mardi Gras is well known, and all of the music festivals also are great lightning rods for tourism.  This city will come out alright in the end, I believe.  

Everyone Loves Young, Bush

     The Houston Texans have 3 basic options on April 29: draft Bush; draft Young; trade down.  Unfortunately, what had been a foregone conclusion before the Rose Bowl is now an absolute mess for Gary Kubiak and Bob McNair.  Let’s peruse and consider…

Option 1: Draft Reggie Bush.  
This was the move a month ago and had the Rose Bowl not happened, they’d be starting the contract negotiations already.  Unfortunately it did, the Texas defense made him look human on all but a couple plays, and immediately the doubters began re-thinking how his speed would stand up in the NFL.  
The upside: his elusiveness might be the best since Barry Sanders left the game after 1998.  He is adept at receiving as well, making him a fantastic threat.
The downside: scatbacks can be less than durable in the NFL, if only because it’s not simple to get around the line.  The dominating backs in the league are power guys that can plow through the middle.  He may live up to the Gale Sayers comparisons, but he may also turn out to be a slightly better Warrick Dunn at the next level.  

Option 2: Draft Vince Young.  
The man made two Heisman trophy winners look like thieves and made more believers than Jesus handing out fish that night.  The Texans have to realize that they not only have to improve the team but soothe things over with the thousands of jilted fans horrified by what they saw last year.  Remember, this is only a fourth year franchise and Reliant Stadium was half-empty by October.  Young is a literal hometown hero: born in Houston, high school star (Madison), and brought home the state’s first football national championship in decades.  You want to excite this town and keep everyone on the hook?  Besides – Rashard Lewis is still an open wound around here.  Imagine the bitterness if Young becomes a superstar for the Titans, of all franchises.  
Upside: Young supplants Carr and becomes a true face of the franchise, fueling excitement with his unreal athleticism and popularity.  
Downside: Despite great results this season throwing the ball, most people justifiably wonder if his throwing will translate well in the NFL.  He could end up being more Kordell Stewart than Vick.  

Option 3: Trade down.  
Everyone watching this team knows that their weak links aren’t at the QB or RB positions.  While Davis has shown durability issues and Carr hasn’t developed much, neither are less than average.  The offensive line and linebackers are stinkers.  No less than 10 positions need serious upgrades.  So why not try to parlay the #1 pick into several draft picks?  
Upside: The team can nab Ferguson for the O-line a few slots down, and still get 4 possible starters in the second and third rounds, allowing the team to crawl back from purgatory.
Downside: Charley Casserly has had an abhorrent record in the second and third rounds in his tenure with the Texans.  The 2/3 round rouge’s gallery is as follows:  Ben Joppru, Jabar Gaffney, Chester Pitts, Vernand Morency, Antwan Peek, Seth Wand, Dave Ragone, Fred Weary, and Charles Hill.  Other picks in those rounds went to the acquistions of Babin and Buchanon, both disappoints so far.  Can Casserly be trusted at this point?

In the end, I’m just happy that I’m not on the hotseat.    

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Crunching Out an MVP

Hard to believe we’re almost halfway through the NBA season already.  I suppose that with the Rockets’ season in the trauma ward, it’s all slipping by me faster than usual.  Anyway, seems like it’s time to start things like figuring out the MVP race.  The award has gotten iffy over the past few years, with the Nash mini-controversy last year (doesn’t seem so outlandish 8 months later) and going back to when Karl Malone undeservedly got it as a lifetime achievement award over MJ in 1997.  It’s allowed more emotional sway, like the (feel good story) Coach of the Year award.  It’s not a science, nor supposed to be, but in my dreamworld, it should be more objective.  

The criteria to get the award, in my mind:
  1. The player leads his team to be one of the best in the league.

  2. The player is one of the top producers in the league.

  3. The player is consistent and reliable over the season.

How I look to sort through the top guys (another fun stat equation!):
[(PPG * consistency * PPS) + RPG + APG –TOPG] * Team Win % w/player * % games played

Here’s the rational:  Points, Rebounds, and Assists minus Turnovers gives you basic production.  I weight the scoring based on consistency (as previously discussed in this blog) as well as points per shot (PPS), another stat I’m awfully fond of.  These two numbers temper the scoring by taking into account “off nights,” the ability to get to the line, and/or to nail triples.  Guys that are easily shut down by good defenses or need a volume of shots to get their numbers are weeded out by these two factors.  

Team winning percentage with the player is fairly self-explanatory.  Suspensions and injuries aren’t taken into account here, but they are with percentage of games played.  It’s all well and good when people justify Nash’s MVP season by pointing out that the Suns laid eggs without him, but shouldn’t it be mark against you if you’re not able to play every night?  

So let’s see how it works.  As candidates, I nabbed the players currently in the top 5 for scoring (Kobe, AI, LeBron, Arenas, Wade), the top guys for the top 4 teams in the league (Duncan, Dirk, Marion, Billups + Rip), the top assists guy (Nash), and the top rebounds guy (B Wallace).  Sure, that’s 3 Pistons, but you know what?  They’re on pace for almost 70 wins, so stuff it.  The results after crunching them through:
  1. Dirk (31.0 EJ score)     (26.0 PPG, Dallas is #3 in the league)

  2. Chauncey Billups (28.6)     (19.7 PPG, Pistons 27-5)

  3. LeBron James (28.4)     (#3 PPG in the league with 30.6, Cavs #2 in East)

  4. Duncan (26.6)     (#1 West squad, 20.7 PPG)

  5. Kobe (24.5)     (top scoring avg in the league, keeping Lakers above .500)

  6. Ben Wallace (18.2)     (team record couldn’t save his woeful scoring)

  7. Arenas (12.6)     (team record killed him)

And there you have it.  Now, the BCS makes it clear that you can’t use stuff like this as an end-all-be-all test.  It doesn’t consider defense (but neither did last year’s voters).  It can’t measure leadership (Kidd and Nash turning franchises around) or other intangibles.  It doesn’t consider the popular ‘they couldn’t win without him test’ because I couldn’t figure out a fair way to incorporate it because of the conundrum with MVPs missing games.  Costing your team wins shouldn’t help you win the award, should it?  So it misses things.  Still, maybe it helps narrow down the field.  Maybe it makes you consider someone that constantly gets forgotten for no good reason (Marion, Dirk).  Maybe you think it’s all a bunch of junk.  That’s cool.  But I have pub rights on this site.  Ha!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Solid As a Rock

     One of the most key aspects to becoming a star in the NBA is the ability to produce for your team consistently over the 82-game regular season.  It’s the most common aspect that coaches bring up when their young up-and-comer has a break-through game: “He was really impressive tonight, but we need him to start stringing games like this together.”  You may also hear snipers like Charley Rosen pick on fringe-stars by commenting that they only show up once a week.  As important as 82-game production is, there isn’t a readily-available stat to compare players with.  That’s where I come in.

     As a creative tag, I’ll go with consistency weighting.  Here’s how it works.  Take a player’s average, calculate what 2/3rds of that average is and consider that number to be a threshold for “off nights.”  Then, you take the percentage of games that the player did not have off nights.  In essence, how consistent is that scoring average?  
     Here are some notoriously flaky producers as contrast:
Stromile Swift: 9.6 PPG, games with 6 points or less counted as off nights, 62.5% consistency [12 off nights and 32 total ( (32-12)/32 = .625]
Drew Gooden: 11.2 PPG, 74.2%
Chris Webber: 19.4 PPG, 78.1%

     So many people get sucked into thinking that Webber is still a borderline all-star the morning after Sportscenter chimed in to tell them that he put up a 27-21 in a win over Minny.  That’s impressive, but temper that knowing one night a week he won’t manage to get you 13 points, such as his 12-6 game against the Raptors Dec 18 or the 12 he put up against the Lakers this past week.  Or didn’t you hear about that on Sportscenter too?  

     Now let’s look at the league’s top ten scoring leaders:
Kobe: 34.1 PPG, 90.6% (3 off nights out of 32 total)
Iverson: 33.3 PPG, 88.2%
LeBron: 30.6 PPG, 83.9%
Gilbert Arenas: 29.0, 73.3% (8 off nights out of 30 total)
Wade: 26.5, 91.1%
Pierce: 26.4, 97.1% (only a single off game out of 34)
Dirk: 26.0, 91.4%
Vince Carter: 25.5, 78.3%
T-Mac: 25.3, 79.2%
Michael Redd: 25.1, 93.3%  

     Casts a new light on the top scorers.  It’s crucial for a team to know that their star is good for X number of points each night; otherwise, gameplans quickly go to hell.  Kobe’s season isn’t a fluke: he’s nailing just about anyone that comes across his path.  He’s good at that, I’m told.  The Celtics have an absolute rock in Paul Pierce, despite the endless grumblings that both parties would welcome a split.  Gilbert Arenas, the shining star for the Wiz, seems to have a bad habit of leaving his team hanging: WAS lost all 8 games where he couldn’t get at least 20.  McGrady may or may not deserve a pass; his back troubles were the direct cause of at least 3 or 4 of his 5 off nights, but at the same time, isn’t being healthy part of being consistent?  Would you consider a co-worker constantly out with colds to be reliable?

     Cautions for the legions of you salivating at the prospect of trying out this marker: try to only use it on major players.  Backups that get yanked around in the lineup aren’t going to be consistent by nature.  It’s best use is to expose phony stars like Webber.