Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hot Take on the Brandon Knight Trade! AKA Old Fashioneds with Jimmy Boeheim.

Hot takes aren't always the pinnacle of the analysis spectrum, just ask friends and enemies of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, if there are any left. However, theories abound that the gut really does make the best instant decisions.  So, let's fire up that old tankard!
If the rumored trade stays as is (Bucks still need to clear two roster spots((sounds like Kenyon Martin will be waived, and who knows about Sanders)), the Bucks receive Michael Carter-Williams from the Sixers, and Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis from the Suns. (It looks like we also sent Kendall Marshall back to the Suns, but he's out for the rest of the year anyhow) Gotta say, the gut says, "I LOVE IT!" Even if this deal was getting Carter- Williams straight up for Knight, I think we come out on top, let alone adding a couple possible rotation guys.  It's actually similar to the deal which brought Knight to Milwaukee.  Instead of paying too much (read: market value for a starting point guard) for Brandon Jennings, who wasn't a perfect fit for whatever the Bucks were trying to be, we shipped him to Detroit for Knight (Middleton, et al.).  Instead of paying Knight too much this offseason or letting him walk, we shipped him out for a couple inexpensive years of Michael Carter-Williams.  If you're a team like the Bucks, and you don't know if a particular guy is part of the path forward, you're no doubt better off not paying him way too much for the next 4 or 5 years (See: Illyasova, Ersan and Sanders, Larry).

I imagine some pundits will argue the Bucks shouldn't be messing with their chemistry at this point, but that will end up being a Kornheiseresque talking point in an empty argument. This year's team, aiming for a 6 seed in the playoffs, is playing way above their depth with a hodgepodge of journeymen and roleplayers. Don't get me wrong, it's exciting to see good defense and Swiss Army Knife basketball, but they aren't going anywhere this year.  I can't think of another team who could have gotten BETTER after losing (for the year) their: "future superstar", a highly paid defense & rebounding big, and a quality backup point guard, not to mention several other multiweek injuries scattered around the rest of the roster.  Chalk that survival/evolution up to an overabundance of solid, veteran, rotation guys... and good coaching, right?  It's gotta be the coaching.  I mean, just look at OJ Mayo this year vs. OJ Mayo last year.

This is no doubt a move for down the road, and it's not going to hurt anything this year.  Let's hope there's not a hidden first rounder mixed somewhere in the fine print.  Back to the point, just who are these guys we're getting in return for Brandon Knight?

Plumlee- Let's be honest, it's hard to keep the Plumlees straight. It seems like one is good every year, and this year it's not Miles. He was starting for Phoenix last year, and putting up an 8 and 8.  But he's riding the pines this year.  I bet he gets some solid run for the Bucks this year, does Plumleeish things, and lets Henson be a little more flexible in the roles he's used in.  He's on the books for about $2 Million next year, the last year of his rookie deal.

Ennis- A rookie point guard from Syracuse, who played one very solid year in college.  He went 18th overall in a very deep 2014 draft, and was the 5th point guard taken.  He hasn't played much for the Suns this year, but that's not saying too much, as they were apparently following the Kahn blueprint of accumulating as many point guards as possible.  Unfortunately for them, it took until this year's trade deadline for Phoenix to realize there's only one ball to go around.  So, they traded 3 point guards (Dragic, Thomas, and Ennis) at the deadline, and added 2 (Knight and Marshall).  Ennis could be a sneaky good piece of this trade, especially under Jason Kidd's tutelage.  I really enjoyed watching him play at Syracuse last year.  He was very heady, was always under control, was clutch in some big moments, rarely turned the ball over, and played with so much poise for a Freshman.  He's a bit slight for the NBA game, and is not a particularly explosive player, but it's easy to see him as a backup point guard going forward.  His potent shooting stroke has translated to the D-League at least, where he's averaging 18 ppg, while hitting 50% of his shots.  He's under team control through 2018.  Keep an eye on him.

Carter-Williams- On the surface, this looks like the Bucks traded a very athletic, shoot first point guard who didn't create much, and got back a true point guard who can't shoot, but plays great defense, and is a much bigger and more complete player.  In this case, both books may really be their covers.  Granted, MCW has played on an historically awful 76ers team over the past few years, chucking it up there far too often, which has probably stunted his development.  And let's not forget that Brandon was an alternate for the All-Star Game this year, although his numbers truly are inflated on this Starless Bucks team.  In fact, that last sentence is what gives me the most hope about this trade.  If Knight gets paid this offseason like his numbers say he ought to, the Bucks could have been on the hook for at least $12 Million a year for 4 years of Knight, or two more years of MCW at $2.3 and then 3 Million.  For a team that's succeeding in large part because of it's Defense, the money saved over the next two years, and the resulting roster flexibility makes this look like a steal.

It's time for some fully Subjective Hot Take Fandom- OR, continuing to attempt to translate Collegiate success to the NBA level (See: Tyler Ennis paragraph above).  But really, let's be honest, who's watched much, if any of the Sixers three year shitshow?  Gotta speak to what you know- and I know I thoroughly enjoyed MCW's game at the college level, and that guy is closer to the guy we'll see in Milwaukee than the guy who's chucking it in Philly.  Even though he couldn't shoot a lick (still can't), he was so long (Bilas?  Bilas?), so solid defensively, such a good rebounder, and so darned competitive that the poor shooting could be overlooked.  He's the type of player who really did seem to make other guys better.  In fact, at the time of the wretched 2013 draft, I thought he should have been the #1 overall pick.  He didn't make me look like a complete idiot when he ran away with the Rookie of the Year Award.   He has been pretty good this year too, even if his numbers are a bit inflated.  Here's a stat that can't be all air- Carter-Williams and Russell Westbrook are the only NBA players averaging at least 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists.

Numbers aside, it's pretty exciting that we'll get to see MCW in a Bucks uniform for the next few years.  The ungodly positional wingspan between Giannis and Carter-Williams alone should be fascinating to watch, especially on defense.  And mark my words... kinda... I think Ennis can be a quality scoring point on the second unit.  Of course, I thought Jordan Taylor could do that in the NBA too, and he had an NBA body.  That's why we write on the internets instead of becoming Assistants to the Assistant General Manager of the Sacramento Kings.  Maybe I just have a thing for Syracuse Point Guards.  Maybe it's because Jimmy Boeheim is quite the drinking buddy, and has been deluding my thinking with his constant stream of libations and his fervent narration of days of yore.
Maybe Boeheim has been pulling a Madden and "driving" to away games, only to sip Old Fashioneds with the Bucks brass, whispering sweet nothings about how good his former Orangemen would look in a Bucks uniform.  For once, it seems Boeheim, the Bucks front office, and yours truly seem to be on the same page.  Maybe we can agree a tall, (6'6) athletic, defensive minded point guard is still an advantage in the modern NBA.  Maybe we all remember Jason Kidd was a point guard who used his size to his advantage, and specialized in making his teammates better.  Ask yourself this- did it ever seem like Kidd ever really was sold on Brandon Knight being "his guy"?  Maybe it's just an irritable bowel type of gut reaction, but I really do think Carter-Williams (and quite possibly Ennis) is going to flourish in Milwaukee.  Maybe Boeheim will put down the beer and the gun and realize his true calling is as a Bucks' Assistant Coach.  Maybe, just maybe this trade is just what the Bucks needed- to add another star, and become relevant in the next few years.  Maybe Scott Walker wasn't just full of hot shit when he told Wisconsin just how much the Bucks mean to this great state of ours.  What?  A bridge too far?  Stage Left?  Oh... Stage Right then.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Eye Test

A sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times recently insulted the Badgers on Twitter:
This is a strange thing to say about the team with most efficient offense in the country this year —in fact, the most efficient offense since at least 2002. Some inquired whether he'd actually watched the Badgers play:
This is quite strange. The Badgers played Duke this year. They played Georgetown. They played Oklahoma. They played Michigan, Iowa, and Indiana. (By the way, they scored in bunches in every one of those games.)

But this guy somehow managed to catch the Rutgers game and one other game? Suspicious.

And, of course, the Badgers played that game without the frontrunner for player of the fucking year, Frank Kaminsky. But Mr. Potash probably didn't know that, because he didn't know better than to tune in for Wisconsin versus Rutgers in the first place.
This a half-hearted recantation. He admits he doesn't watch college basketball, but somehow knows it ain't what it used to be. This is really doubling down on his original sin: first he ignorantly impugned the Badgers; when called on it, he put down the whole sport.

To his credit, he at least claimed later to have recanted the entire episode:
This is incorrect. He actually doubled down on the tweet by insinuating that the entire sport fails the eye test. But, to his credit, he did at least admit that he at no point had any idea what he was talking about.

Ultimately, this is the problem with the "eye test." No one watches enough college hoops to have an informed subjective opinion about every team. It's really the "I test." Usually it's a random assortment of stupid opinions based on five minutes of a game that a guy happened to watch at a bar. If you've ever been to a bar, you know that guys at bars have very strong opinions about whatever it is they happen to be observing at that moment. And there's no way that "facts" -- like points scored per possession minus points allowed per possession, adjusted for opponent and venue -- could possibly affect those ignorant opinions.

But these ignorant opinions rule the day, it seems. The rules of the sport must be changed to appease NBA beat writers who didn't like what they saw when watching the best offense in recent memory play without the best player in college basketball.

Or maybe not. Mr. Potash's Twitter bio proudly proclaims that he's a "Native Chicagoan." So maybe, just maybe, this is a FIB thing. One can only hope.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A disastrous evening for the Foul-Up-3 strategy

We are in agreement that there is no obvious answer to the #FoulOrDefend question (that is, when up by 3 points with less than 10 second left, should a team play defense or foul intentionally?).

And I think we are in agreement that it is annoying that there are some people who insist that defending in that situation is just stupid. The events in college basketball last night are why.

As far as I can tell, there were six "Foul or Defend" scenarios, and here's how they went down:

Defend: 3 for 3

La Salle v. VCU, second OT. La Salle, up 3 with less than 10 seconds left, allowed VCU to take a 3-point jumper, which missed. They collected the defensive rebound, hit two free throws, and won.

Southern Ill. v. Loyola Chicago. Loyola, up 3 with less than 10 seconds left, allowed Southern Illinois to dribble up the court without fouling. Then the Saluki player fell down while trying to turn a corner, and turned the ball over. Loyola hit one free throw, and the game was over.

Tennessee v. Vanderbilt,  OT. Tennessee hit two free throws with 8 seconds left to go up by 3. They allowed Vandy's Riley LaChance to take a three-pointer with one second left, which missed. Game over.

Foul: 1 for 3, with an Instaloss

Tennessee v. Vanderbilt. We just learned that Tennessee won this game by defending in OT. But here's how the game got to OT: LaChance hit 1-2 free throws with :08 left to give Vandy a three-point lead. Vandy fouled intentionally with :06 left, and Tennessee hit both FTs to cut the lead to one. Tennessee then fouled immediately, and Vandy hit just one of the two free throws, so the lead was just two. Tennessee's Robert Hubbs III nailed a jumper to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Winthrop v. High Point. This was the nightmare scenario: the foul strategy leading to a loss in regulation. Winthrop was up 3 and fouled intentionally with just :05 left. High Point made both free throws to cut the lead to one, and then fouled Winthrop with still :05 left. Winthrop missed the front end of the one-and-one and then committed a foul going for the rebound with :03 left. High Point's John Brown nailed both free throws to win the game in regulation. INSTA-LOSS

Richmond v. Fordham. This was the foul strategy's only "success" of the evening, and even it led to some serious heartburn. Richmond took a three-point lead with :11 left, and fouled intentionally with :05 left. Fordham hit both free throws to cut the lead to one and fouled immediately, with :04 left. Richmond hit both free throws to go back up by 3, and then immediately fouled again with :03 left. Fordham's Antoine Anderson hit the first FT, then missed the second intentionally allowing Fordham's Mandell Thomas to grab the offensive rebound and attempt a two-point jumper as time expired. It missed.

So the defend strategy was perfect, and foul was 1-3 with a double asterisk: one of the fails was an insta-loss and the "success" allowed a higher-percentage shot at a tie than likely with the defend strategy.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Technical T-Rank Note

Close observer(s) of the T-Rank may have noticed that all the top teamss Barthags dropped last Friday. Very astute observer(s) would have noticed that the worst teams' Barthags went up.

This happened because I lowered the "exponent" used to calculate the Barthag. This is a constant in the formula used to calculate the Pythagorean Expectancy. Changing it doesn't change the rank order of teams, and different Barthags don't change how the projected scores of games are calculated -- but it does change the projected certainty of the result. In other words, that percentage figure in the T-Rank predictions. That figure is actually important, because it is what I use to project future records. (For example, a team that is projected to have a 50% of winning game 1, an 80% chance of winning game 2, and a 70% chance of winning game 3 will have a projected record of 2-1 because .5 + .8 + .7 = 2.)

I lowered the T-Rank exponent from 10.25 to 9.0 because favorites were not winning as often as projected. Also, the projected records for the top teams just seemed overly optimistic to me.

So that's the explanation for that.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Evaluating predictions

We are closing in on the half way point of the season so it seems like a good time to take a look back at the A-rank. Overall I feel pretty good. UW is clearly better than every team in the league, PSU, NW, and Rutgers are the worst 3 teams, and everyone else is in between.

UW- Prediction 15-3. 6-1 so far. The loss of Jackson and the road loss to Rutgers are clearly the story for UW. With Jackson gone until March, UW is a whistle happy ref away from having to play Showalter and Dukan extended minutes at guard in any given game. With Koenig playing so well, 15-3 is still within grasp, but it will be tough with 6 road games remaining on the schedule and no Jackson.

OSU- Prediction 13-5. 5-3 so far. 8 games in, this team is still a bit of a mystery to me. Russell has been everything he looked to be early and more. His line is PPG 19.3, RPG 5.2, APG 4.9, SPG 1.8 while shooting FG%47.0, FT%78.5, 3FG%45.3. The only negative is averaging 2.9 turnovers. If he isn't Freshman of the year in the Big Ten and in the NBA next year I will be shocked. OSU may have become too dependent on him. In OSU's 5 losses (all to good teams) he has shot 6-20, 4-17, 4-16, 3-15, and 10-22. In those losses OSU has shot under 40% in all but one (42.1% at home against Iowa).

They have pretty much got what was expected out of Loving, Thompson and Scott, and the freshman have all contributed in limited minutes. Strangely, Anthony Lee has played very limited minutes almost exclusively at center while splitting minutes with an endlessly disappointing Amir Williams and Trey McDonald. OSU has made a major change in the last couple games starting Lee at center and replacing Loving with Tate. They are also playing more man and less zone.

This team is closer to the murky middle of the Big Ten than the ceiling I thought they could reach. I may have gone a bit too high with 13 wins, but they will finish near the top of the Big Ten and be a tournament team. All the mid-season changes make this team just as hard to predict as they were at the beginning of the year. If they work then this team can still get to 13 wins, but if they fail they could fall to 9-9.

MSU- Prediction 11-7. 4-3 so far. I am comfortable with this pick so far, as MSU is what I thought they were. The next 8 games have only 3 against teams with winning conference records and 2 of those are against Lavertless MI.They could make a big run, but perimeter teams tend to have bad losses. MSU has already barely beat PSU and NW at home, the latter in overtime.

MSU has made some changes that may help them down the stretch. Shilling has taken over as the starter at center, although center minutes are still largely split with Costello and others. Talented freshman Bess is now healthy and getting playing time. MSU has a crowded backcourt so more small lineups are probable going forward. As I stated in my predictions, Izzo just won't let this team miss the tournament.

Maryland- Prediction 10-8. 5-2 so far. Maryland is finally healthy and hit the Big Ten season running. They have 2 road wins against MSU and Purdue in addition to another win against MSU at home. This team looks better than my 10-8 prediction. Trimble, Wells and Layman give this team 3 big time scorers that can carry them to as high as 2nd place in the Big Ten. They also have Iowa, OSU and UW on the schedule just once so they should make a big run down the stretch.

Smotryz has been coming off the bench but getting about 20 minutes now that he is healthy. Pack was sent to the bench in favor of better shooting freshman Nickens but continues to play starter minutes in relief. Dodd, Cekovsky, and Graham are holding down the center position on a defense that is surprisingly good. Outside of the Indiana loss their opponents have not reached 70 points in any game. This team has a good chance to get to 13 wins and 2nd place in the Big Ten.

MI- Prediction 9-9. 5-3 so far. I'm glad this team played well out of the gate as I think I was right in not predicting disaster for them after their horrible preseason. With the Lavert injury they may end up in disaster despite playing OK @Rutgers and vs UW without him. It's just hard to lose a player who leads your team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and not suck. MI's start was a bit of smoke and mirrors anyway as they did not beat a team with a winning record in conference play. With no Lavert and a tough schedule I doubt this team wins more than 2 games the rest of the season.

Iowa- Prediction 9-9. 4-3 so far. Iowa has already made it through the toughest part of their schedule at an impressive 4-3 including 2 wins over OSU. As predicted the frontcourt has been the strength of this team with White, Uthoff and Olesani leading the team in scoring. The backcourt is bad which has already led to the benching of Clemmons in favor of Jok who shoots even worse.

Iowa has 7 of it's last 11 games against teams that probably won't finish over .500 in Big Ten play so they have a chance to be better than the 9-9 I predicted. Success will depend partly on if Aaron White recovers from the stinger he suffered Saturday. If he does Iowa should end up near the top of the Big Ten with MSU, OSU, Maryland and Indiana. If White has to sit out any significant amount of time then Iowa may be looking at another late season collapse to the NCAA bubble.

Illinois- Prediction 9-9. 3-4 so far. I predicted IL would be about 2 games better than last season even though they lost Abrams before the season. After losing Rice, and now Cosby I don't think they can overcome all the injuries and will end up around last seasons win total of 7. The young kids Hill, Nunn, and Black are stepping up and taking advantage of the opportunity to play, but that's just too many losses to sustain. The seniors Egwu and Starks just aren't good enough players to step up to the challenge.

Nebraska- Prediction 9-9. 4-3 so far. Nebraska is doing just as I thought they would. They are 4-1 at home and have yet to win on the road. Petteway and Sheilds dominate everything about this team and they will carry them the rest of the year. They inserted Parker into the starting lineup over Webster several weeks ago. They got back Leslee Smith for some added bulk to their front court but lost David Rivers to injury. This team has to play 7 of it's last 11 games on the road and has some tough home games. They will have trouble making the tournament with some bad preseason losses.

Indiana- Prediction 9-9. 5-2 so far. IU is better than I thought they would be. They were bad defensively and too small before they lost Mosquera-Perea, but they don't seem to care. With 4 guards and either 6'7" freshman Holt or 6'6" sophomore Hartman at center they are finding ways to win by scoring, and boy can this team score. They are 9th in the country in PPG and 24th in FG% without having any big man to get them easy points inside. It's hard to see how this team doesn't get to double digit wins and get into the tournament.

Minnesota- Prediction 8-10. 2-6 so far. Minnesota may not reach my prediction of 8 wins, but I don't think I misjudged them. They started the season off 1-6 but with 5 of the 6 losses by 5 points or fewer and one in OT. Nate Mason is still one of my favorite freshman this year, and Morris and Hollins give them enough scoring to win some games. They are just an OK team that will only get another 4-5 wins and are bound for the NIT. With all the close losses they may end up below my prediction but I'm OK with that.

Purdue- Prediction 8-10. 4-3 so far. In my prediction I went 8-10 but said I wouldn't be surprised if this team made a tourney run. I'm still not sure if I was too chicken to predict this team as a 10 win club or dead on. They beat MI and Minn at home and needed OT to win @PSU. The only impressive win was against Iowa but that was without Aaron White which doesn't impress. Then again, they played well in the 3 close losses @UW, vs Maryland and @IL.

This team has a lot of balance with 6 players averaging between 9.5 and 10.7 PPG. Hammons was sent to the bench in favor of starting freshman Haas and the results have been great. It's not too often an upperclassman who has started since his freshman year and is kind of a head case gets better after being benched. All too often you see that player melt down and transfer or completely lose confidence, but Hammons has responded. He is currently leading the team in PPG, RPG, and blocks (although he still leads the team in turnovers).

PSU- Prediction 6-12. 1-6 so far. I thought Newbill would score enough to steal a few wins for this team by himself. He is leading the conference in scoring but they have just one win to show for it. They look like they will end up short of 6 wins at this point.

Northwestern- Prediction 5-13. 1-5 so far. I thought NW might play through their center Olah more as they are a slow it down team and he is the only efficient scorer. Instead they are having their guards Demps and McIntosh chuck it consistently. The results are predictable and they will struggle to get to 5 wins.

Rutgers- Prediction 5-13. 2-6 so far. This team is even worse than I predicted which makes the UW loss to them that much harder to understand. I don't know if they win another game this year. They also fall short of the lowly 5 win total.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Maryland at Indiana

This week's battle of Big Ten first place-ish teams continues tonight with Maryland at Indiana. (Wisconsin beat Iowa, resoundingly, in the first such clash.) Maryland is tied with the Badgers at 5-1, but Indiana is a surprising 4-1 and could make itself a legitimate contender with a win tonight.

Well, let's say a legitimate pretender. I'm still not buying Indiana. They are #55 in the T-Rank and #54 in Kenpom.  They have four close wins and one blowout loss in conference, which leaves them middle of the pack in adjusted efficiency even in conference play. (Among all teams, Indiana's conference-only adjusted efficiency is still just #57. Indeed, they've dropped in the computer ratings since conference play began.)

That said, how real is Maryland? They are clearly a decent team, led by an electrifying freshman. But I'm skeptical that they're truly a top-10 ten. And a game in Bloomington against even a mediocre Indiana team is a perfect chance for them to fall from their perch. This is probably why the Vegas line, which opened Maryland -1, has shifted to Indiana -1.5

Obviously, I think it would be better for the Badgers if Indiana wins, because I think it's much more likely that Maryland is a true contender. And I generally root for the home team in these conference tilts. But I'm going to go ahead and put on record my PREDICTION that Maryland wins. That way I'll be happy either way.