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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sam Cassell's Onions

When two-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells fought to have more control over personnel decisions he memorably reasoned that if he was going to cook the dinner then he wanted to buy the groceries. It turns out that onions are the ingredient that the Los Angeles Clippers have been missing for years. Broadcaster Bill Raftery is found of exclaiming "Onions!" after a player makes a key play that requires a lot of heart--only he is actually referring to a different body part. He was once asked why he uses the word "onions" and he explained that he wanted to keep his job. Sam Cassell is "onions" personified and after he makes a big shot he sometimes makes a gesture to let everyone know it--Sam, kids are watching and your track record as a crunch time performer is well documented, so the theatrics are not necessary. Cassell is fearless in the clutch, as he showed as a young guard on two Houston Rockets championship teams; he also hit many big shots during Minnesota's run to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. So, the discerning reader may ask, why didn't I pick the Clippers to be a playoff team? I never doubted Cassell's skills, but he only played in 59 games last year, averaging 13.5 ppg--his worst output since 1994-95, his second year in the league. I thought that the 36 year old Cassell's body had broken down, but so far he has appeared in every game and his numbers are back to their usual level. Through 15 games, Cassell ranks third on the Clippers with 16.3 ppg and leads the team in assists (7.4 apg), steals (1.13 spg) and free throw percentage (.906; bench warmer James Singleton is shooting .929 but only has 14 attempts compared to Cassell's 64 FTA). Whether or not the Clippers are "for real" hinges greatly on Cassell staying healthy for the whole season.

posted by David Friedman @ 8:40 PM

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Kobe's FGAs

Kobe Bryant is regularly attempting 30-plus field goals a game now, drawing the wrath of the studio analysts on TNT and ESPN. TNT ran a graphic indicating that Kobe has had more 30-plus FGA games this season than studio analysts Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith had in their careers. A moment of comedy ensued when Barkley asserted that anyone who attempts 30 shots in a game is hurting his team and that he never took 30 shots in a game during his career; of course, host Ernie Johnson then immediately pointed out that Barkley did have a few 30-plus FGA games in his career. A larger point (no pun intended) about Barkley's shooting was not mentioned: the Chuckster launched 2020 three pointers during his career, connecting at a .266 rate. Some of those were surely end of the quarter half court heaves, particularly early in his career when the three pointer was not a regular part of most teams' offenses; still, I'd be interested to know how exactly Barkley was helping his team with his bombs away approach from the perimeter.

The issue is not how many shots Kobe attempts but rather the quality of those shots. He is at his best when he posts up, drives to the hoop or attempts a mid-range jump shot after the Lakers run the triangle offense. The problem is that most of the Lakers do not yet completely understand how to run the triangle offense, upsetting the precise rhythm that is essential for that system to work. Sometimes this results in Kobe receiving the ball late in the shot clock with few good options. Other times the opponent's defense ignores Kobe's confused teammates and simply converges on Kobe; Kobe sometimes forces shots in that situation rather than passing the ball. I used to play some pickup basketball with Dale DeGroat (a member of the musical group Zapp) and he had a perfect way of describing what Kobe is thinking in those situations: "I can do bad by myself." In other words, Kobe has seen his teammates miss shots, fumble the ball out of bounds and not know where they are supposed to be on the floor. Even when multiple defenders converge on him, Kobe figures that he has at least as good a chance of scoring as his teammates do.

The worst thing that Kobe is doing now is shooting pull-up three pointers in transition early in the shot clock; these are low percentage shots that the Lakers have little opportunity to rebound if they miss. This is another instance of "I can do bad by myself" thinking. Kobe figures that the offense is going to break down anyway, possibly leaving him facing a double-team as the shot clock winds down, so he would rather take a deep shot against one defender early in the shot clock. If he would drive to the hoop in those situations or have enough confidence in his teammates to run the offense, his field goal percentage would rise.

The assertion that Kobe is selfish ignores the fact that Kobe served as the primary facilitator in the triangle offense on three championship teams. Someone once did a study that showed that more of Shaq's assisted field goals came on passes from Kobe than from any other Laker. Remember the lob from Kobe to Shaq that punctuated the Lakers' dramatic seventh game win against the Portland Trailblazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals? The problem with the Lakers is not Kobe's FGAs but the steep learning curve that the rest of the team is experiencing with the triangle offense--and a lack of consistency on defense. Last night Kobe shot 9-16 from the field and had nine rebounds and eight assists, but the Lakers squandered an 18 point lead, surrendering 39 points in the fourth quarter to lose 113-108 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kobe's inflated FGA totals are a result of the Lakers's struggles, not the cause of them.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:55 PM

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Mainstream Media Misinformation

Recently we had an interesting exchange at the Association for Professional Basketball Research (APBR) discussion group http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/APBR/
on the subject of the reliability of various forms of media. One poster indicated that he does not read blogs at all because he only trusts information that comes from mainstream, commercial media; he believes that there are more controls in place there to ensure accuracy and accountability. I countered that every source of information should be consumed with a critical eye/mind. I have written for mainstream outlets such as Hoop, Basketball Digest and Sports Collectors Digest in addition to maintaining this blog, so I do not have an ax to grind relating to this issue.

Informed readers/viewers of mainstream media realize that name brand outlets sometimes convey information that is misleading, deceptive or just flat out wrong. Here are a couple examples from the first month of the NBA season. On Friday's edition of the ESPN show "Rome is Burning," Jim Rome and his panel discussed Larry Brown's coaching legacy. One of the panelists suggested that when Brown is eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame it will take a big quilt to include the logos of all the teams that he has coached. Neither Rome nor the other panelist pointed out that (1) Brown was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2002 and (2) the Basketball Hall of Fame does not induct an individual as a member of a particular team (the panelist was probably thinking of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which creates a bust depicting the player wearing a cap from the team with which he is most identified if he played for more than one franchise).

Before we look at the next example, consider these two statements: "(Eddy) Curry is not just a good defender but is in actual fact an excellent defender..."; "...on average, Curry's poor defensive rebounding, subpar shot blocking makes for an overall poor defensive presence in the middle." What do you notice? If you said that the author should have used "make" when referring to multiple items instead of "makes," you are probably an English teacher; of course, what stands out is that the two statements make completely opposing assertions. Each statement was preceded by a lengthy recitation of statistics. What's so unusual about this? Well, the same author produced both sentences--the first appeared at the APBR Metrics forum in March and the second in an SI.com article in November. As the saying goes, the author feels strongly both ways about Curry's performance on defense, which is very convenient; whether or not Curry plays well on defense during the rest of this season, the author of these statements will be able to write that he predicted correctly.

The March statement came in response to my contention that Curry is a poor rebounder and defensive player. The quote that defines Curry's rebounding shortcomings came during his time as a Chicago Bull when his exasperated coach Scott Skiles was asked what the 6-11, 285 Curry needs to do to rebound better. "Jump," Skiles replied. With Curry the physical tools have always been present, but the rebounding and defensive production have been poor. Needless to say, I was surprised when the author not only argued against what is plainly obvious but also resorted to ad hominem remarks during the course of the exchange. In face to face conversations, usually the first person to lose control and start screaming is the one who knows that he has nothing substantive to offer to make his case, so he is forced to resort to distracting histrionics--"sound and fury signifying nothing." In the online world, insults and snide remarks are the equivalent of screaming.

When I read the SI.com article that made exactly the point that I had stated in March--and completely contradicted what the article's author had so vehemently asserted at that time--I wondered what had caused the article's author to change his mind; I also noticed that the article erred in stating that Shaquille O'Neal led the NBA in turnovers in 2004-05. He in fact did not even lead his own team in that category. So I posted a comment at APBR Metrics noting the mistake about Shaq's turnovers and asking if Curry has done something in the first 10 games this year that merits such a completely different evaluation of his defensive play. The author chose not to respond and the APBR Metrics administrator suggested that I should write to him privately. It seems odd that someone would write bold, contradictory statements for public consumption and then be unwilling to explain them publicly but I did email this author; I have not received a response. Eventually, others also chimed in on the subject and the author finally posted a response at APBR Metrics, making references to Prozac and the evolution versus creationism debate. He concluded that he will not waste his time explaining what he is saying to anyone who is not smart enough to figure out what he meant. Although this is apparently intended to be a shot at me, in fact it is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who read his contradictory statements and is not able to understand how both assertions could be accurate. Then the APBR Metrics administrator locked the topic, preventing anyone from making further posts on the subject. When someone resorts to ad hominem remarks, it is extremely tempting to fire back in kind--but that just lowers the level of discourse even further. I make a point of responding quickly and cordially to any feedback that I receive about my writing--there is no reason or justification to insult one's readers. It is disappointing that not everyone adheres to this approach.

Interested readers can find the whole APBR Metrics discussion of this topic here:
http://sonicscentral.com/apbrmetrics/viewtopic.php?t=440/

The original Curry statement appeared in a topic about Antoine Walker, a discussion that began with a simple question about Boston's resurgence after trading for Walker but degenerated into non-productive, off topic comments (including bringing Curry, a one-dimensional center, into a discussion about Walker, a power forward who rebounds, shoots threes and is a good playmaker). You can judge for yourself how/when that transformation happened. That topic can be found here:

http://sonicscentral.com/apbrmetrics/viewtopic.php?t=132&highlight=antoine+walker/

I later had the opportunity to speak with Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn, Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers and longtime NBA writer Bob Ryan about Antoine Walker. I used their quotes in my two part article about Walker. Here are links to that story:

Part I:

http://www.suite101.com/print_article.cfm/basketball_spotlight/117473
/


Part II:

http://www.suite101.com/print_article.cfm/basketball_spotlight/117474
/

posted by David Friedman @ 6:30 PM

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Coach Popovich Helps Raise Money for Pediatric Cancer Patients

My October 30th post mentioned a benefit wine tasting event in Illinois featuring an appearance by San Antonio Spurs' Coach Gregg Popovich; here is the link to that item if you missed it:

http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2005/10/benefit-event-in-illinois-with-spurs.html


Damien Casten, one of the hosts of the event, says that the charity wine tasting held on November 6th at A Taste of Vino, a wine shop in Hinsdale, raised $25,000 for Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Casten described the evening's festitivies (via email):

"Coach and Sean (Elliott) arrived about 6:00 and the event started around 6:30. We had a high end Chicago restaurant called Naha with us who donated all the food. Michael and Carrie Nahabedian, the owners, came out themselves to prepare and serve. The wine was different than any wine I've ever had before. I have never had as clear a sensation of tasting a living thing as with these wines. They literally changed in the glass any number of times. It was remarkable. We tasted various years from 1996 all the way back to 1966 at the end...

The event was interrupted in the middle by smoke alarms that brought out the fire engines thanks to a little too much smoke from the foie-gras that was being seared in the back. Coach and Sean were nice enough to sign one of the menus we had made up,
which I ran out to the truck. Hopefully it made some of the hoops fans who pulled Sunday night duty at the station happy.

Sean is really an informed and curious wine lover. Every time I poured him a wine, he had questions, comments and reactions. Seeing as its what I love to do as well, it was a real pleasure. Coach spent most of the evening tasting and chatting as well, though from what I heard he might have been asked a few more basketball questions...

The shoes, jerseys and ball that were donated by the Spurs generated $3500 on Ebay for Bear Necessities. Amazing. We also had tickets to the Bulls--Spurs game the next night donated by CBS. We gave two of them to Bear Necessities as a "Small Miracle" for one of their kids. As a result, a young girl fighting cancer sat with her Mom in the CBS corporate seats for the evening and saw a great game (the Spurs beat the Bulls in OT) and hopefully forgot about trips to the hospital and cancer for a while."

Casten stresses that all of the proceeds from the event went to Bear Necessities. About a fourth of that money was earmarked for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Casten notes, "To date the money has provided any number of gas cards to families commuting back and forth to the New Orleans Children's Hospital, which has recently reopened, and 14 Small Miracles to kids affected by both Katrina and cancer. Check out the Small Miracles link on
http://www.bearnecessities.org/
for more info on what they do."

I asked Casten how Coach Popovich and Sean Elliott developed their interest in wines and this is Casten's reply: "Coach told me that he became interested in wines while working for the Air Force in California. He was close enough to Napa Valley that he could make the trip in one day with friends and he just became hooked. He's taken it with him ever since. Apparently he and Sean try to share good meals on the road when they can as it is a shared passion. Clearly, the two of them are friends. They have certainly been through a lot together.

Sean did not have a specific moment that he mentioned, but did say that tasting with Pop has taught him quite a bit. Whenever I poured him something he had specific questions and would compare the smells and flavors to other wines he has tasted in the past."

Casten notes that anyone who lives in the Chicagoland area--or has plans to be there for New Year's Eve--can welcome in 2006 and help Bear Necessities at the same time by purchasing a $125 ticket to a New Year's Eve Concert featuring Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, who will be performing at the Blue Bayou in Wrigleyville; $50 from each ticket purchased will go to Bear Necessities' Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. He says, "I saw the band at a bar in New Orleans at Jazz Fest two years ago and have wanted to do something with them ever since. The only group I've ever seen that had as much energy was Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley--James Brown's former horn section. They are just a huge amount of fun to see live and I cannot think of a better way to ask people to help out than to bring a bit of New Orleans to Chicago and have a great time doing it." You can find out more about the group here:

http://www.dwaynedopsie.com/

posted by David Friedman @ 11:47 PM

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Errant Shooting Ends Cavs' Home Winning Streak

Powered by Troy Hudson's 11 fourth quarter points, the Minnesota Timberwolves dealt the Cleveland Cavaliers their first home loss of the 2005-06 season in front of a sellout crowd of 20,562 in Quicken Loans Arena. Hudson finished with 18 points in the 89-85 victory. Kevin Garnett led Minnesota with a season-high 26 points, shooting 10-14 from the field while grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing four assists. Garnett hit a 21 foot jump shot just before the shot clock expired with 56.9 seconds left in regulation to give Minnesota an 84-82 lead. The Timberwolves would not trail again en route to their first road win in five tries. LeBron James paced the Cavaliers with a season-high 38 points, including a sensational one-hand driving dunk over Eddie Griffin near the end of the third quarter and a three pointer with 5.9 seconds left that cut Minnesota's lead to 87-85; Hudson calmly nailed two free throws to close out the scoring. James shot only 7-18 from the field in the second half after going 6-11 in the first half. The rest of the Cavs shot 8-35 from the field in the first half and 7-24 from the field in the second half. Zydrunas Ilgauskas shot 2-10, Larry Hughes 3-16, Damon Jones 0-6 and Donyell Marshall 0-9.

Cavs' Coach Mike Brown offered these comments in his postgame standup: "It's going to be tough to win a ball game shooting 32%. I thought that we had good looks, the drive and kick stuff, but the ball just didn't go down. Like I told our guys, there are going to be nights when that does happen, when you get some good looks but the looks don't go down. When that happens, we have to get stops, and tonight we did not get enough stops." Brown was impressed by Hudson's performance: "Troy Hudson was terrific. He hit some tough shots. I thought that he hit a couple of them with a hand in his face...they hit tough shots and we didn't. Some of our shots that we missed were wide open. Again, it goes back to when that does happen we have to find a way to defend better for a longer stretch of the game."

Prior to the game I interviewed Cavs' assistant coach Hank Egan, who was a member of Gregg Popovich's staff during the San Antonio Spurs' 1999 championship season. Egan coached Popovich at the Air Force Academy and Popovich later joined his coaching staff there as an assistant coach. Egan has been a first hand witness to the evolution of defensive concepts on the collegiate and professional levels and I look forward to posting the complete transcript of his remarks soon.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:15 AM

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