The Game’s Changing

Here are three posts that are worth every basketball player/coach/fan’s time:

  • Andrei Kirilenko is the best player you’ve never heard of.  Neil Paine shows how valuable AK was (he’s retiring).  Kirilenko was ahead of his time.  He could shoot with range, he could pass and he rebounded.  Sort of sounds like most 4’s in the NBA now doesn’t it?  Why?  Because the post-up game is on the decline in the NBA.
  • Interrupting the Post-Up Eulogy, Zach Lowe shows how throwing the ball into the post isn’t what it used to be.  Most of us remember Shaq in the paint, punishing people from the post, in the early 2000’s.  Now we have Curry and Co. penetrating and pitching.  Lowe shows why the post up has declined and why it won’t disappear.
  • The post-up is disappearing because – surprise – NBA defenses are getting smarter.  Zach Lowe, again, shows how the 2.9 seconds rule is changing the NBA game.  Because the NBA has allowed more leeway for help defense, the lane is now clogged.  So, teams are figuring out ways to move the defense before they’re trying to score.

All three are worth the time and all three make me – ex-coach, ex-player and current-fan – think about the game.  What else are we going to do before college football starts, watch baseball?

May 6th Links

Links for “May the 4th Be With You”

May the 4th be will you today.
Here’s some of the best stuff I’ve read the past couple of days.  Feel free to discard or ignore whatever isn’t in your zone.

What a difference a year makes – End of Duncan, Gino, Spurs & Pop

In less than a calendar year, the San Antonio Spurs have gone from World Champs to 1st Round Exiters.  **Only the 5th time this has happened since the early 80’s.

Granted it took an amazing shot from Chris Paul to knock them out, but knock them out it did.  That shot leaves only two things to now watch in the NBA world:

  1. The playoffs – as they continue (Here’s a great preview of Hawks v. Wizards as an example)
  2. Tim Duncan – does he retire?

The playoffs are fun and the volume of close games will continue to intensify (although the Clips/Spurs series was terrifically entertaining).  However, Duncan’s decision will have greater long-term consequences than this year’s champ.  When he steps off the stage, so will Pop, and so will the Spurs.

The reality is Father Time is especially cruel in the NBA.  Last year, Duncan and Co. looked (and were) unstoppable.  Just ask LeBron and D-Wade.  The Heat got beat and beat bad.  (Lebron looked around and voted with his feet (and wallet) on the future outlook of the Heat.)

Fast-forward 1 year:

  • Ginobli’s on the bench in the last 5 minutes of a game 7.
  • Tony Parker cannot check Chris Paul on crucial possessions and
  • the Spurs biggest plays are being made by Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.  Duncan did make two stay-alive free-throws before CP’s shot.

My guess is that Duncan’s done.  He played well this series, but he knows they (the Spurs) are only getting older.  Unlike Kobe who doesn’t want to ever hang it up, TD has a sense of his time and his time’s conclusion.

His footwork is still what every aspiring post-player should watch.  Go on YouTube and study it if you’re playing.  But his surrounding cast is tired and tiring.  Congratulations to the Clips and Spurs, but know that you saw the end of an era last night.

ERA doesn’t equal good/bad pitching

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Living a few hours from Safeco field, I hear about Felix Hernandez a lot.  For many years he was the only bright-spot for Mariners fans – until the past few seasons.  Felix is a great pitcher, no doubt, but how great?

If we answer with ERA, we have to consider that there are at least 5 things that affect a pitcher’s ERA (earned run average):

  • the pitch that leaves his hand
  • luck
  • the defense behind the pitcher
  • the ball-park &
  • sequencing.

The pitch that leaves his hand is the ONLY thing the pitcher controls.

Felix has no control:

  • of whether the batter reaches on a bad pitch and sprays it to the opposite field – luck.
  • on whether his left-fielder made a good jump on contact (or whether he has the actual speed to get there before the ball lands) – defense.
  • of which ball-parks he pitches in.  Contractually, Felix can choose to play half his games at Safeco, but the other 50%?  That’s determined by the M’s schedule, not Felix.
  • on the sequencing.  Imagine the following two sequences
    1. Two outs, Felix gives up a single, a single, a home-run and then records the final out.
    2. Two outs, Felix gives up a home-run, a single, a single and then records the final out.

In scenario # 1, Felix’s ERA took a “you gave up 3 earned runs this inning” hit.  In scenario # 2, his ERA was only 1 run for that inning.  Same number & kinds of hits, different sequence.

Despite the opinion that statistics ruin baseball, stats are crucial to understanding it.  As the Nate Silver at 538 says,

the better advanced statistics are all about deepening our understanding of how the game is played.

What makes baseball fun to me – is the statistics.  The games are – by and large – boring.  But the numbers they produce?  Those are fun to play with and analyze.  I realize that’s geekdom-central talking but sorry.

For example, let’s go back to Felix Hernandez.  What if we stopped looking at his ERA and started looking at his FIP (Fielding Independent of Pitching). What this stat looks at is a pitcher’s strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches and home-runs.  It compares those four stats with the league-average of defense behind the pitcher.  So that strips out luck and sequencing.

To see Hernandez’s dominance consider the following from Fan Graphs:

Year       ERA       FIB

2009   2.49      3.09

2010   2.27      3.04

2011   3.47       3.13

2012   3.06       2.84

2013   3.04       2.61

Despite an ERA that fluctuates from 2.5 to 3.5 – depending on the year, Hernandez has gotten better every year as a pitcher.   How do we know?  His FIB. This is a very valuable stat – to him and to Mariners.

A stat like FIB is why I pay attention to baseball.  Whether I watch the games or not.

Geno v. Cal? Geno’s offensive philosophy wins

There’s a critical difference between the two dominant NCAA basketball teams:

  • Kentucky ( in the men’s tournament) and
  • Connecticut (in the women’s).

UConn doesn’t slow down offensively.  As evidenced by last night’s unrelenting pressure against Maryland, the Huskies play great defense (like UK) but they never ‘hold the ball’ on the offensive end.  As Nate Silver shows at 538, Kentucky did slow things down and it killed them (literally). Here’s a picture of it:  Continue reading

“Our church won’t collapse” – until it does

3461384691_b66ec3d0b0_oBeing 45 is interesting.  I’m old enough to appreciate order (‘this is the way we do it around here’) and yet I still sympathize with the younger crowd (demanding an answer to the question ‘Why do we do that, that way?”)

The problem is both groups are right in what they assert.  The Boomers have spent 30 – 40 years learning the ropes of church. Moving to top of the food chain, they’ve waited their turn and now they control the budget or the music or the __________.

The youngers – those revolutionaries – want (even need) things to change.  When they don’t, they vote with their feet.  They’ve decided to play somewhere else with their time and with their attention.

So, it’s really about the status-quo.  Who wants to keep the future looking just like the present?  Turns out, the Boomers do.  In my church they have exactly the kind of church they want.

Every nation gets the government it deserves.     Joseph de Maistre

So does every church.  What my church Boomers want is

  1. to keep the church exactly as it is
  2. have younger people (especially families) show up and
  3. play along with them.

Hockey ActionThe reality, however, is that # 1 dictates that #2 and #3 aren’t going to happen.  This is always the case with the status quo.  It’s why NHL hockey teams play different in a tie-game than trying to win it in regulation.  It’s why there is no longer any cod fishery in Eastern Canada.  The reason we like the status quo is two-fold:

  • it’s comfortable, knowable, familiar &
  • we probably had something to do with making it (we’re invested in it, even loyal to it.)

As Isabel Wilkerson shows in The Warmth of Other Suns, people only do radical things (like The Great Migration) when they’re desperate.  Why did several million blacks move from the Old Country of the South from 1915 – 1975?  Because they had lived under the very real possibility of lynching long enough.  So when northern companies sent undercover hiring agents (officially they were insurance salesmen), that whisper of a better future (economically and culturally) was enough.  What started as a trickle before WWI turned into a torrent for the next 60 years.

Like the South, Boomers are trapped by their own established customs and culture.  What works for them creates momentum – for them and their status quo.  It works against the very people that they want to come however.

Seth Godin puts it this way:

It’s easy to defend the status quo, except when the very foundation you’ve built everything on disappears. Incrementalism ceases to be a good strategy when there’s a cliff on the route.

Here’s the cliff – at least for my church.dfchcfad

We have lots of olderlies (as my youngest used to call them).  Older than 50, we have’em stacked like cordwood.  Under 50, we’re hurting and in the 20’s & 30’s we’re downright scary.

That’s a picture of collapse – but it’s 10 or 15 years away.

 

So here’s the question (and the Boomers have to answer it because they have the power to change things):

Are you willing to give up # 1 (how you do things) to get # 2 (younger generations)?

My guess is no.  Like those NHL teams playing “not to lose” and the Eastern Canadian fishery before 1992, the status quo is just too comfortable and collapse seems a long way off.

Rebounding isn’t what we think it is

Having just read this from Marginal Revolution15899410007_68d3927ba1_z, here are a couple of thoughts about rebounding (we are in the middle of March Madness).
The article makes an interesting claim – that the this year’s two best NBA rebounders don’t “block out”. ** Blocking out means making (usually violent) contact with the nearest opponent as soon as you realize a shot has been taken. Coaches from elementary school to the NBA teach blocking out and it’s pretty much accepted as gospel that “great rebounders block out.” Except they don’t – at least this year in the NBA.

In fact, it turns out that the two best rebounders (statistically) in the NBA this year only “block out” 5 and 10 times per hundred shots (respectively). Take DeAndre Jordan (rebounding maestro of the LA Clippers) – his team rebounds better when he’s not in the game. That is,

the Clippers get to more missed shots when the NBA’s leading rebounder is NOT on the floor.

How can that be?

Simple, Jordan doesn’t box out. Around 95% of the time, he goes straight to the glass and grabs the rebound. But here’s the interesting part – he’s taking rebounds from his teammates.

To understand this, consider the ‘ideal rebounding team’. What coaches envision in the ideal rebounding team is one where all five defenders make perfect block out contact with each of the offensive players. 263317276_bfed2f0f74_zThe benefit of this (for the defensive team) is maximum real estate – where the rebound will land. If I or my 4 other teammates control that landing spot on the court, we get the rebound. But that doesn’t happen very often (even though coaches dream about it and even talk as though their team does it every possession. Just go to the Nike coaches clinic in Vegas and listen then watch that coaches’ team on video. There’s a huge gap between reality and desire.)

In fact, it doesn’t happen on the Clippers – when DeAndre Jordan is on the floor. He doesn’t box out, he goes to the glass. And at least some of the time he’s taking rebounds from teammates. This is good for Jordan’s stats, but bad for the Clippers. Why? Because they’re not maximizing their rebounding every possession. It’s great for Jordan, because his agent can say to the Clippers (and other NBA suitors)

“He’s the best rebounder in the game. Pay accordingly.”

But his individual maximization isn’t the Clippers’s team maximization. They would actually be better off if Jordan ‘boxed out’ more than 5 times per 100.

Which brings us to Doc Rivers, the Clippers (future hall of fame) coach.

  • What should he do?
  • What can he do?

These aren’t the same question.
Doc Rivers should try to get Jordan to “box out” more. If he truly wants the Clippers to win more games that will mean getting more Clippers rebounds. ** Rebounds limit your opponent’s extra shots and give you more extra shots.
What he’ll probably do is keep Jordan happy and let him swipe the glass without boxing out more than 5% of the time? Why? Because it looks like Jordan is a great rebounder and it’ll keep him happy.