Friday, March 13, 2009

How Important Is Winning Your Conference Tournament?

In the last few days we've seen many a high seed fall in conference tournaments. Kansas and Oklahoma fell in the Big 12, while UConn and Pitt fell in the Big East, and that's only a few.

The question that must be asked, however, is just how important these tournaments are for a team's national championship hopes. I'm not talking about schools from one-bid conferences, or bubble teams, but rather teams in the top fifteen or twenty teams in the nation that are already guaranteed a spot in the dance.

I took a look back at the last twenty seasons, this season not included, to see how NCAA finalists did in their conferences prior to the season. It turns out that, in this 25 year window, only nine of twenty-two teams that played in a conference with a tournament won that tournament prior to winning the title. Similarly, six of twenty-two runner-ups won their tournament that season.

So in total, only about a third of the finalists from the last 25 seasons have won their conference tournament (when possible) in that same year. It's good to have, but by no means a necessity or a predictor of future successes.

While it seems obvious that regular-season conference championships would be a good predictor of tournament success, since there's at least two dozen games involved, I took a look for that same same of 25 winners and runner-ups.

A notably higher 17 of 25 winners and 12 of 25 runner-ups won at least a share of their conference title for that year, as one would expect. Still, this still means over 40% of finalists didn't win the regular season either.

The last four years, however, have been a bit of a different story. Seven of eight finalists, with the 2005 champion UNC team as the exception, won both a share of the regular season title and the conference tournament.

So, maybe these tournaments are important after all? Do these highly ranked teams with early losses have something to be worried about?

This post also appeared on [BleacherReport]

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Yankee Priorities: Guilting Alex Rodriguez Into Risking His Health

Recently, news broke that Alex Rodriguez had a torn labrum in his hip, an injury that should be quite notable considering the frequent turning motions of both swinging a bat and throwing across the body to first from third.

Initially, we heard he would go in for surgery and miss up to four months, as reported by his "cousin." However, the Yankees were having none of that, insisting Rodriguez should instead try to play through the pain this season.

This struck me as a strange decision, especially in the long term, for the New York Yankees. After all, Alex is under contract for almost a decade more, and it wouldn't be worth it to risk his long term health (see: revenue potential) for the first half of a season, regardless of the big free agents they've picked up to go after the 2009 World Series.

Is Brian Cashman really short-sighted enough to think making Alex be "selfless" and play through the pain in order to quiet all this steroid talk is a good plan? If this goes wrong, instead of missing the first half of the season, A-Rod would likely miss the playoffs, which has been a sore subject for them recently.

On top of that, the revenues for what we all presume to be an eventual run at Barry Bonds' home run record would be very much endangered should this hard-headedness lead to further injury.

The strangest part is that this decision appears to be the team's and not Rodriguez's. When it comes to risking long-term injury for the good of the team, that decision almost always rests in the hands of the player, as we saw with Shawn Merriman on the San Diego Chargers this year (which, of course, failed).

I can only picture Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner taking Alex into a corner and saying "You've gotten us all kinds of negative press this month, don't think you can go hide just yet! You're going to get us out of this with good press!"

Alex, of course, has agreed to play through the pain. He's trying everything he can to improve his image, and who can blame him?

I just hope it doesn't backfire to career-damaging lengths. Oh wait, yes I do, I'm a Red Sox fan.

Carry on then.

[Also appeared on BleacherReport]

Friday, March 6, 2009

Just how historic is CP3's season?

New post up at Celtics 17, excerpt below:

As he proved once again Thursday against the Mavericks, Chris "CP3" Paul is the best point guard in the NBA. He's carried the Hornets through injuries this year to a 38-22 record thus far, including the current six game winning streak.

He's managed to put together a line of points, rebounds, assists and steals thus far that hasn't been achieved by a player since they started tracking steals as an official statistic, and on top of all of that, he's starred in some of the worst deodorant ads I've ever seen.

This isn't the first year of dominance for CP3, as he finished second in last year's MVP voting, with 28 first place votes, more than Kevin Garnett and LeBron James combined. So the question then becomes: Where does Chris Paul stand in NBA history?

Check it out at [Celtics 17].

Monday, March 2, 2009

Notable Stats, March 1st

A few goals were scored

Final score: TB wins 8-6

Players with 5 or more points: Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi
Players without any points: 15 out of 36

Combined goalie save percentage: 80.3%
League median save percentage: 90.3%

Longest time without a goal: 11:07 (to start game)
Shortest time without a goal: 38 seconds (Lecavlier, 2nd period)
Goals scored less than 3 minutes after another goal: 7
Largest lead: 2 goals (Calgary, 2nd period; TB, 3rd period twice)
Lead changes: 4 times

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Under-appreciated Role Player: Chris "Birdman" Anderson

In what's sure to become an incredibly irregular segment, here's "Under-appreciated Role Player", where I examine someone random who contributes to his team more than you'd think, and doesn't really get the credit.

Chris Anderson - Denver Nuggets F/C

After a complex history of disappointments, both with his slam dunk contest hilarity of 2005 and his expulsion from the NBA in early 2006 due to drug abuse, Chris Anderson has turned out to be a solid piece of the Denver Nuggets.

In a little under 20 minutes per game, Birdman is averaging six points, five boards, and more than two blocks. Using Hollinger's PER metric, his 18.32 matches Carmelo Anthony's, mainly because of his above-average blocking and offensive rebounding rates.

This isn't to say he's as good as 'Melo (he's not), but that in his limited minutes Anderson is an important spark to the Nuggets' second unit, a unit which has helped Denver surge into that second tier below the Lakers in the west with the Spurs.

Anderson's high-flying style is a great fit with the Denver style, providing little drop-off from Kenyon Martin and Nene. Not bad for a guy that only went to junior college and came up through the Chinese and International Basketball Leagues.

KG and the mid-range jump shot

In addition to my work here, I've begun contributing to Celtics 17, a Celtics blog on the MVN network of blogs. This way I can keep my homer-ism there, while trying to continue to be objective here.

My first post is up at Celtics 17 now, discussing the shift to more jumpers for Kevin Garnett, and the effect on his game as a whole. An excerpt is below:

I remember when KG came to the Celtics, I was initially confused with his style of play. The Garnett I saw on ESPN and in all the highlights was at the rim constantly throwing it down, and sometimes featured a baseline fall-away when teams over-committed to defending the rim. However, suddenly watching him season-long, I was surprised how much he relied on the 15-18ft jumper for his production.

So I decided to take a look at the numbers, to see if he'd always played this way and I'd been blinded by small sample size, or if KG's play had really changed that dramatically with his appearance in Boston, using the current and prior seasons compared to the 2004-05 KG.

The results, in a way, showed both my options were in a way right.

More at [Celtics 17]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jerry Sloan: Too good to be coach of the year

Now this title may not seem to make too much sense: Isn't the Coach of the Year award supposed to reward, well, the best coach in the NBA?

Not really, if you think about it. Most of the time, the Coach of the Year is just another way of saying "Coach who presided over the biggest single-season-turnaround of the year", unless there's one team that's just too dominant to ignore.

Lets take a look at the last few years for some examples here.

Byron Scott (2007-08)
Scott brought the Hornets from 39-43 a year before to 56-26 this season, in the first season back in New Orleans after being displaced from Hurricane Katrina. Big turnaround + big story = sure thing.

Sam Mitchell (2006-07)
Mitchell led the Raptors to a 20 game turnaround from 27-55 to 47-35 and a division crown, setting records for the expansion franchise. Jerry Collangelo was the real key to this turnaround, as Mitchell has already been fired less than two seasons removed from this honor.

Avery Johnson (2005-06)
Another coach that didn't last long after winning his award, Johnson only led a 2 game swing, from 58-24 to 60-22, but helped a completely reconstructed team around Dirk make the NBA finals. The 2007 playoff upset by Golden State started the ball rolling, and by the end of 2008 Johnson was clearly losing his job.

Mike D'Antoni (2004-05)
D'Antoni's turnaround is the most dramatic we've seen, swinging from 29-53 up to 62-20 thanks to ditching Stephon Marbury and picking up free agent Steve Nash. D'Antoni created the most entertaining style in recent memory, and with fantastic the regular season. As popular belief became that his system would only fail in postseason, he was forced out and headed to MSG.

Hubie Brown (2003-04)
In a shocking development, Brown's Grizzlies were the biggest turnaround of the year, jumping from 28-54 to 50-32 thanks to some Hubie Magic, also known as adding Bonzi Wells and James Posey to a good Pau Gasol core. There's a reason Jerry West won executive of the year, and Hubie retired shortly after this season.

So that's four out of five years where the biggest turnaround coach won the award, and the year Avery won there wasn't an incredibly notable turnaround team. Further examples exist in selections such as Larry Bird in 1997-98, while the occasional dominant force such as Phil Jackson's 72-10 Bulls in 1995-96 fill out the other winner prototype.

So, what about Jerry Sloan?

Jerry Sloan's teams have never fit into either of these buckets, and as you've noticed, he's never won the award as a result. Sloan came into his post with the Jazz, after a poor stint with the Bulls, with the gift of Stockton and Malone, and immediately began running off his record 16 straight winning seasons.

In this consistent performance, there's little room for the big turnaround needed to be a media darling for coach of the year. The one time he had a chance with that angle, bringing the Jazz from 26-56 to 41-41, Avery Johnson's Napoleon angle won the battle.

Perhaps one of Sloan's years would be so dominant that he could win an award that way? Sloan's Jazz had the best record in the West for three straight years from 1996-97 to 1998-99, but Pat Riley, Larry Bird, and, of all people, Mike Dunleavy stood in his way.

The closest I can remember Jerry Sloan coming to actually winning the award was in the 2006-2007 season, where two years removed from a 26-56 season Utah won the division, but the genius of Sam Mitchell ended up on top...for a year or so at least.

Will he ever win it?

I'm not sure how many years of coaching the man has left in him, but this year could possibly be a compelling enough story to make it as possible as ever. Between the long-term injury to Boozer and the half-healthy early work from Deron Williams, if Sloan can squeeze 51 or so wins out of this squad (17-8 in the remaining games), it could be possible.

If not, Jerry Sloan can just take his 16 straight winning seasons straight to the Hall of Fame, for the first award he'll receive, and I'm sure he'll be just as happy.