Saturday, June 30, 2007

On This Particular NBA Draft (NBA)

OK, so I’m going to see if I can get through every single team here. I have no idea how long this post is going to be, but brace yourself, it will not be short.

The Nuggets, Cavs, Raptors and Pacers did nothing. They should be unaffected.

The Spurs drafted a couple more foreigners. They should also be unaffected.

The Wizards drafted a couple of guys from California, but I don’t know how great they’re going to be. The Mavericks drafted a guy from Nevada, who is probably going to be all right. Not much to change on a 67 win team, though. The ruling on both of these teams: dressed up a little, largely unaffected.

The Jazz drafted some guy who scored like half of Rice’s points. That’s actually someone they could maybe use. Still, unaffected.

OK, this is getting boring. Let’s try the Trail Blazers. Definitely affected. Oden was inevitable, but then Portland really got going. They bought two European guards at the end of the first round—yes, you can buy and sell draft picks in the NBA—and added Taurean Green and Demetris Nichols to the backcourt too, apparently just for the hell of it. They also managed to get Josh McRoberts in the second round, even though almost everyone thought he’d go in the first (and he would’ve been in the lottery last year).

Oh yeah, and they traded the current best player on their team, too. Zach Randolph may be what basketball insiders refer to as a “lunatic,” but he can average a 20-10 and be the dominant offensive post player to go with Oden’s dominant D. And they’re giving him away for Steve Francis and Channing Frye? What gives? Is it just the insanity factor?

Nope. Randolph has four years remaining on a huge contract, and Francis only has two years left on his. Also, I believe Raef LaFrentz and his absurd deal ends after 2008-09 as well. Since rookies are not eligible for mega-bucks contract extensions until their fifth year, this means that last year’s Blazer duo of #2 LaMarcus Aldridge and Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy will still be counted on their rookie contracts. I could be wrong, but does this put the Blazers under the cap? If so, they could add a premier free agent (and who wouldn’t want to come) to the lineup below. Bear in mind NBA players start to peak around their third or fourth season:

G Jack (5th year)
G Roy (4th)
F Webster (5th)
F Aldridge (4th)
C Oden (3rd)

Bench Frye (5th), Green/McRoberts/Foreign Guards (3rd)

Now that’s a team. They’ll both be cohesive for having played together for years (ask the Pistons and Spurs if that’s important), and then all peak at pretty much the same time. I can’t wait.

Oh, and the NBA uses a soft cap. So when all the extensions do kick in, the only upper bound on how much they can spend to re-sign their guys is how much money Paul Allen has. Which is a lot.

On the other side of the trade, the Knicks are apparently determined to stay in salary cap purgatory forever. Zach Randolph is a little better than Eddy Curry, although exactly the same type of player. And even more expensive. I think the best case for the Knicks is that Randolph leads them into the end of the East playoffs, thus depriving them of a lottery pick and forcing them into another expensive quick-fix. I love how the Knicks’ best and worst cases always seem to blend together.

Let’s see, I don’t think the Rockets or Magic did anything interesting…or, while we’re in Florida, the Heat. If Daequan Cook has an impact for Miami next year, it will probably be in the dunk contest. The Lakers drafted Javaris Crittenton, a project at PG. It’s a dare to Kobe, I think, to make a pick both at the same position they took last year and without a high probability of the new player stepping in and contributing immediately. Apparently they think he doesn’t want any help after all.

The Pistons and Suns both set themselves for one more run next year. Rodney Stuckey, by all accounts, is a great fit for Detroit, but since he was on Eastern Washington and I’ve never ever seen him before, I’ll just take Jay Bilas’ or somebody’s word for it. I think Afflalo is their type of player too. But the perfect fit to team is DJ Strawberry to Phoenix. He is as good as any two-guard in the draft on pure speed and athleticism, plays good defense and scores most of his points in transition. Marcus Banks, you can just give him your jersey now.

Now let’s go back through the lottery for a minute. My hypothesis that Al Horford is going to be the bust of the draft gained a lot of momentum the instant he put an Atlanta Hawks cap on, although Atlanta sadly took Acie Law IV instead of Crittenton. Law deserves better. The Grizzlies took Conley, which can’t make Kyle Lowry too happy. I did like the pick, though. Yi Jianlian wanted to play pretty much anywhere but Milwaukee, so (surprise!) the Bucks decided to go with the Asian player who didn’t want to come and who may be Danny Almonte-ing his birth certificate, instead of, say, anybody else. The Timberwolves very sensibly went with Corey Brewer, which ensured that Joakim Noah (both Florida guys would’ve been prime anybody else candidates, by the way) would go from probable top-3 overall last year to third picked from his own team. How dare he win a national championship again? The Bobcats must have pleased their fans by staying in-state to draft the best pure non-Oden/Durant talent in the draft, Brandon Wright out of UNC, so of course they promptly traded him (more on that later). After Noah finally went to Chicago, who is good for a reason, the Kings decided to take Spencer Hawes at #10, possibly because they couldn’t decide which of the five wing players who went 12-16 would help them the most. They are bad for a reason.

Of those five wings players, Julian Wright landed in the best situation. The Hornets’ lineup is a really effective team. In the post, Tyson Chandler provides rebounding and defense, while David West takes care of the scoring and helps on the glass. Julian Wright is a great passer and good defender, but doesn’t have a consistent jump shot. But that’s okay, because on the other wing, Peja Stojakovic can’t do much besides shoot. And Chris Paul can score and distribute with the best of them. In the unlikely event of a healthy season, New Orleans will be very good.

The other wings not mentioned already are the Clippers’ Al Thornton, who is already about as good as he’s ever going to be, and the Sixers’ Thaddeus Young, who is not even close to as good as he’s going to be. Not coincidentally, the Clippers are the one expecting to decent this year. Philadelphia is building for the future with Andre Iguodala, Young, and other draft picks such as Jason Smith. Like Stuckey, I have never seen Smith play; he is supposedly a skilled and athletic 7-footer, but considering Colorado State was a poor team in the Mountain West, I have trouble believing it.

In Noah, the Bulls added another asset. Last year, they were reluctant to pull the trigger on any deal for a superstar that required them to give up rookie Tyrus Thomas, but Noah’s presence makes that more possible. Alternatively, Ben Wallace could be packaged with Luol Deng or Ben Gordon, in order to match salaries with a super-duper star like Kobe or KG. If the Bulls stand pat, Noah and Wallace will give team an unmatched one-two punch in shotblocking and post defense. And hair.

Also, in an underrated move, the Bulls took Oklahoma State’s JamesOn Curry. Having apparently improved his decision-making since he had a scholarship offer from North Carolina revoked for selling marijuana, Curry didn’t hire an agent. That way, if he had gone undrafted, he could have returned to college, a la Randolph Morris last season. But since he was selected in the second (non-guaranteed contract) round, Curry will get an early start on what I’m sure will be a long and fulfilling career in Europe. Especially if he lands with a team in Holland.

On a related note, the Nets’ only pick, Sean Williams, was kicked out of Boston College for drug-related reasons. Last year’s Williams, Marcus, had his problems with stealing laptops. And their old Williams, Jayson, had gun issues. So it looks like New Jersey is headed in the right direction.

OK, two more trades and we’re there. As discussed before, the Warriors acquired Brandon Wright for Jason Richardson and a pick (which became Jermareo Davidson, which may or may not ever matter). This is both eerily similar to last year’s Shane Battier/Rudy Gay trade, and completely different. This time, the playoff team gave up the veteran for the young guy with long arms, great potential, and a distressingly indifferent attitude toward the game. Last year, the Rockets got a glue guy who helped them win 50 games and get the #4 seed, and the Grizzlies got a raw but high-potential guy who helped them lose 60 games and get the #4 pick. Everyone’s happy. Now the Bobcats are paying $12 million for Richardson, who might get them into the edge of the playoffs, but probably not quite, and the Warriors are giving up Richardson, without whom, especially considering Portland, Seattle and New Orleans promise to be improved, they might stay at the edge of the playoffs, but probably not quite. Everyone’s going to be sad.

Last, but certainly not least, the Sonics decided to build around Durant the same way Portland built around Oden—by trading their current star. Boston, foiled in their efforts to make a panic trade for Garnett or Jermaine O’Neal, decided to make one for Ray Allen (and a second-rounder). Now, for Seattle, this trade does make some sense. It’s a classic sell-high, as Allen as at the end of his peak. Delonte West replaces a lot of Allen’s shooting and can play point if needed, and Wally Szczerbiak can also score, and his contract is quicker than Allen’s to expire. Also, getting the #5 pick is always good, even if I’m not totally sold on taking Jeff Green ahead of Brewer/Noah/Wright/Wright.

On the other hand, beyond the obvious benefit of uniting Allan Ray and Ray Allen at a single position, which is awesome, what do the Celtics get out of this? For this answer, I turned to my statistical ratings. I assumed everyone stays healthy, which is generous, since Allen’s lower body has been mostly reconstructed. I also used conservative estimates for how good Jeff Green is going to be, frankly because I wanted to give the C’s every benefit of the doubt. According to my ratings, this trade will make Boston about—drumroll, please—two games better in 2007-08. Two. Please note the Celtics were 24-58 last year. Now, I’m not saying that we can pencil in 26-56. Jefferson and Rondo will continue to improve, and Pierce probably won’t miss 35 games again. But, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, that would have been true whether they made a trade or not. And within two years, when Green and West will be better than they are now and Allen will be worse, the Celtics’ gain should be around zero. Unless Big Baby Davis, who Boston took with the Sonics’ pick, turns into a monster. Or if Allan Ray will be able to step into Ray Allen’s shoes. Then all bets are off.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On the NBA Draft (NBA)

Thursday is the NBA Draft, and like the 30 NBA teams, I am interested in how to find the next big star, and, as importantly, the next big bust. I have a guess as to who this will be on Thursday, but first I’m going to go through my entire learning process. I won’t be offended if you skip to the end.

Not surprisingly, I started attempting to work by the numbers. Since high school players don’t have useful numbers, and I didn’t feel like finding Europeans’, I should point out this immediately limited me to college players. I was, and am, okay with this. So, in 2001-02, I invented a statistical system to rate college basketball players. It was meant only as an indicator of value to a player’s college team. When I became interested in predicting NBA success, I had to make some modifications to adapt it for that purpose. The three adjustments were for:

Height relative to position

These were all reasonable changes, and made the system more accurate. Four years ago, it identified Carmelo and Wade as the two best college prospects, in that order. The first test for any statistical system is to recognize the obvious.

However, outside the obvious, the system had one major flaw. It couldn’t really identify the type of player whose game would struggle to make the jump to the NBA. I had adjustments for age and schedule strength, which was a start, but I didn’t have a good way to tell whether a star player was also a superior athlete. Anyone who watched a decade of Duke basketball, for instance, would see that someone like Grant Hill was a far superior pro prospect than someone like JJ Redick. But the system would see superstar players on the best team in the best conference.

John Hollinger, who has my dream job, solved the problem by testing for statistics that indicated pro success. As it turns out, blocks, steals and rebound rate are effective proxies for athleticism. In retrospect, I probably should have figured that out on my own. If I had my dream job, maybe I would have.

Instead, I went in a different direction. I decided that to evaluate college players for the NBA, I would determine for myself who looked like they should be a good pro, while watching college games I would watch anyway. Then, when I crunched the numbers at the end of the year, I would rank players statistically. Players who graded out well both ways should be sure things; players who did well but not the other were possibilities.

Last year, I formalized this process by giving out A’s to players I was confident would become solid NBA players, and B’s to the other players I felt had a chance. I estimated that only about 15 college players, in a given year, will go on to have careers of a decent length and quality. I have found that my list tends to be about 25 players deep, about a third of which are awarded A’s. The goals of the system are that no A player should be a bust (barring injury), and that every college player who goes on to be a good pro should receive an A or a B.

Since the system is only one year old, it is too early to tell for sure how accurate I’ve been. However, let’s take a quick look back anyway. In alphabetical order, the A’s:

LaMarcus Aldridge
Dee Brown
Jordan Farmar
Adam Morrison
JJ Redick
Brandon Roy
Marcus Williams
Shelden Williams

And the B’s:

Ronnie Brewer
Rodney Carney
Paul Davis
Quincy Douby
Randy Foye
Mike Gansey
Rudy Gay
Paul Millsap
Steve Novak
Patrick O’Bryant
Kevin Pittsnogle
Allan Ray
Rajon Rondo
Craig Smith
Tyrus Thomas

In the A group, the results were only so-so. Brandon Roy was the ROY, which I predicted, and Aldridge was good in Portland too. Shelden Williams is off to a decent start, despite the handicap of being drafted by the Hawks. Interestingly, all three point guards fell out of the lottery. Marcus Williams did well, Farmar solid, and Dee Brown gets an incomplete due to injury. The college stars Redick and Morrison were the worst. Morrison was somewhere between disappointing and awful, depending on what factors you value, and Redick was injured and then invisible. I think that because of their shooting ability, they will still both develop into quality role players (I’m sure Cleveland would be happy to take one), but I wish I had gone with B’s for them instead.

In the B column, I did make a couple of good catches. Aside from Daniel Gibson, who didn’t really make an impact until the playoffs, Smith and Millsap were the best two players of the second round.

The third group of interest is those first round choices that did not make the A or B list. This consisted of Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons, Shawne Williams, Renaldo Belkman, Josh Boone, Kyle Lowry, Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager and Mardy Collins. With the possible exception of Belkman, this group was decidedly ineffective.

This year, the lists consist of nine A players and sixteen B’s. I have also introduced plusses and minuses to the equation. Also, while I’m writing this now, I would like to point out I made this list shortly after the close of the college basketball season, before the parade of workouts and mock drafts that influence opinions for very little legitimate reason.


Kevin Durant


Corey Brewer
Mike Conley
Joakim Noah
Greg Oden
Brendan Wright


Jeff Green
Acie Law IV
Julian Wright


Glen Davis
Sean Williams
Thaddeus Young


Aaron Afflalo
Aaron Brooks
Javaris Crittenden
Jared Dudley
Nick Fazekas
Aaron Gray
Spencer Hawes
Mustafa Shakur
DJ Strawberry
Alando Tucker


Daequan Cook
Josh McRoberts

Three notes:

First, the fact that I listed Durant as my only A+ does not necessarily mean I would take him over Oden. The case for Durant is pretty good, though: he had the best freshman season in recent memory. The only one close was Carmelo, and he was a minor star immediately. Thus, Durant should be starting out at minor star quality. In addition, he is much less physically mature than Oden, meaning he has more improvement to gain that way. Also, from how good Conley has been, even when Oden was out, it may be that Conley has contributed to making Oden look better, whereas Durant took over games by himself. Also, teams were sometimes able to get Oden in foul trouble, an issue likely to only get worse at the next level, whereas Durant played tons of minutes every game. Finally, Oden’s wrist injury is a tiny red flag Durant doesn’t have. Therefore, Durant is an A-plus because he is a safer bet to become a solid NBA player. He, without any doubt at all, is one already.

The case for taking Oden, though, is like this. First, centers are harder to find than forwards. Second, no one argued with Oden being #1 in high school, when he was healthy. Third, he didn’t match Durant’s numbers because he had a good enough supporting cast to make the national title game, AND BECAUSE HE PLAYED ALMOST THE ENTIRE YEAR LEFT-HANDED. Then he dropped 25 and 12 on Florida when he got better. Because of that, and the scarcity factor, I would probably take Oden. But there’s no question in my mind Durant will be the score tons of points, win Rookie of the Year, and become a really good NBA player.

Second, I would probably have given Sean Williams an A if he hadn’t gotten kicked off his team. Sure is talented, though.

Third, the probable #3 pick, Al Horford, didn’t make my list at all. This seems odd, to say the least. But he has several issues, in my opinion. First, he is a little short for a post scorer. Usually, the very fact that he scored so easily in college would make me feel better about that, but Florida is a little bit of a special case. Since four of their starters may be first round draft picks, and the fifth was a shooting specialist, Horford avoided more double teams than a similar big man in any other situation. On the other end of the court, Joakim Noah protected Horford with his shot blocking. On a team that good, that well-coached, and that cohesive, one player’s weaknesses can be hidden. I believe at least one of the Florida players will be exposed without his teammates. Brewer had to play perimeter defense on an island, and Noah’s strengths of hustle and athleticism are obvious. I think that leaves Horford as the one who benefited most from the others.

There you have it, the draft preview. When Strawberry makes a team, when you see Big Baby getting minutes, when someone is wishing they’d taken Wright or Noah over Hawes, when Durant is scoring 20 points a game while the Blazers are still curing Oden’s foul problems, remember you heard it here first. When Horford’s an All-Star, well, just forget I said anything.

The UD hosting lockout is broken

So I’m back. For those of you familiar with my house at The University of Dayton, I’m sure you can figure out where the title of this page came from. For the rest of you, Stonemill was the street I lived on senior year in college. This street, therefore, contained the room in which I came up with a lot of the ideas I’m going to put forth in the following days, months, and potentially even years. No less importantly, it provided, in the form of the residents of both sides of my duplex, many of the people with whom I watched, played, and argued about sports with throughout college. Which is important because they both helped me refine these ideas, because they helped me continue to enjoy sports so much, and because they cared enough to make fun of the Bills, Orioles and Jayhawks constantly. Actually, I hate you all.

Also, when I discussed things that are not related to sports, the people on Stonemill helped me with that too. In the non-sports vein, I intend to write about anything I find entertaining and worth sharing. This could mean movies, music, books, or anything else that you already know I like to talk about. For instance, in honor of Book 7 coming out in July, I am currently at work on “Superior Works of Fantasy to Harry Potter.”

Anyhow, some of you will probably be disappointed to learn that not a whole lot of these features will be about baseball. This is because one of my favorite things about sports are the statistics.

I know this is a counterintuitive thing to say, because baseball is obviously flooded with numbers. However, what I like about statistics is combining them into new and interesting ways to answer questions about the reality behind the raw data. In baseball, most of this work has already been done, and the level of sophistication and time required to improve the state of affairs is too costly for me. In other areas, such as basketball and football, the work is not quite so far along. Currently, basketball is my greatest area of interest.

This is not to say that I will never write about baseball, and it is also not to say that I will only write in relation to statistics. But, since they do color my thinking so heavily, some quantitative analysis will almost always be present, at least in the background.

I hope you enjoy my site. If so (or if not), please feel more than welcome to comment and let me know what you think.