Monday, May 30, 2011

7th Annual NBA Finals Preview

Just as a recap, in 2005, my NBA Finals Preview used Star Wars quotes. In 2006, I used Indiana Jones quotes. In 2007, I used Back to the Future quotes. In 2008, I used Aliens vs. Predators quotes from both AVP1 and AVP2 (because I hated both teams and because there were hardly enough quotes from any AVP movie worthy of a blog entry.) In 2009, I used quotes from Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story because I believed the Magic would topple the Lakers (though I was wrong as usual)... Without further adieu, it is time to analyze the classic NBA finals matchup that is before us. In 2010, I used quotes from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, mainly because I was sour that the Cavs didn't make the finals.

For the record, I have only been right in 2005 (Spurs) and 2007 (Spurs). This is pretty awful how wrong I am about the NBA Finals. I keep picking with my heart... 2006 (Mavs over Heat because I thought the Heat were too old), 2008 (Lakers over Celtics because I hated the acquisition of the big 3), 2009 (I believed in Dwight Howard too much), 2010 (I thought Bynum was injured).

This year, I really just need to laugh away the pain of possibly seeing LeBron and the Miami Heat win a championship in their 1st season without any suitable big men presence, so this year's movie choice? The Naked Gun! (Side note, I believe the Miami Heat would have had a lot more trouble with Orlando, Memphis, or the Lakers and their respective big men. Miami didn't have to play any of them due to the way the bracket shaped up.) Okay, enough about that, let's get to it!

Frank: Jane, since I've met you, I've noticed things that I never knew were there before... birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stoplights.

This goes out to Joel Anthony. I often make fun of the Heat center, but he actually is better at blocking shots and protecting the rim than I realized. Granted, I still think Tyson Chandler will outrebound him to no end, as Chandler had 17 rebounds in the 1st game between Miami and Dallas during the season (against 6 for Z and Anthony) and he then had 10 rebounds (against 10) in the rematch. Dallas won both games during the season... but Dallas also had Caron Butler in both games.

Frank: Interesting... almost as interesting as the photographs I saw today.
Jane: I was young! I needed the work!

This one goes out to Mike Bibby. He originally played for a crappy Grizzlies team, but he needed the money.

Frank: It's fourth and fifteen and you're looking at a full-court press.

This one goes to LeBron... because he usually does run into the paint with the velocity and power of a fullback hitting the hole.

Ed: Doctors say that Nordberg has a 50/50 chance of living, though there's only a 10 percent chance of that.

I think this is the odds of this NBA Finals working out for the Mavs... there is rationally a 50-50 chance of Dallas winning, but Dallas is probably only going to be picked by 10% of the public to win the series!

Frank: It's a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans!

Dallas's biggest problem is that they probably are at a lack of athleticism on the wings when dealing with LeBron and Wade. However, Dallas likes to play zone (unlike many other teams). In fact, according to Sports Illustrated, LeBron and Wade shot only 3 for 17 against Dallas' zone during the season! Playing more zone might be the one ace up Dallas' sleeve that could turn this series... but I'm still doubtful.

The one other area that Dallas could end up winning is with Dirk. Who is guarding Dirk? Haslem did a great job on Dirk in 2006, as reported by SI and others, but Bosh got more of the assignment during the season. If Dirk can be very efficient in enough games, he could try to tilt the series in Dallas' favor... but I'm still doubtful.

Perhaps the other biggest problem for Dallas is that they have gotten great offensive production out of JJ Barea. However, if he's on the floor, he would have to be guarding Bibby/Chalmers. The problem is that the Heat have been moving more and more to a 4th-quarter lineup of Bosh-LeBron-Haslem-M. Miller-Wade. In that situation, Barea would be forced to give up many inches to M. Miller? Or to be stuck on Wade? These don't seem like good choices. Against Ok City, it seemed to not be as bad because Westbrook wasn't nearly as efficient as Wade.

Frank: Wilma, I promise you; whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest one minute until he's behind bars. Now, let's grab a bite to eat.

This one goes out to Dirk and Terry. They are the only ones left who have dealt with the nightmare of being up 2-0 in the NBA Finals against Miami and being up double digits in the fourth in game 3... only to blow game 3 and the entire series. It's up to them to not rest and to seize this improbable second chance at a championship!
Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to happen. The NBA is probably going to let the refs call a loose game where D. Wade and LeBron get away with more than they should and the Heat will probably roll to victory in this series because the Mavs have to rely on DeShawn Stevenson and old-man Shawn Marion to guard Wade and LeBron respectively. I don't think Dirk's history with Haslem is encouraging either. Miami Heat in 6.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

NBA Conference Finals and other tidings 2011

It's been a while since I've written... so let's get to some NBA stuff!

Western Conference: Grizzlies run out of gas; Ok City in same position now?
The Grizzlies fell just short of knocking out Ok City after Durant literally carried Ok City in the crucial game 7 last week. The Thunder-Mavs conference finals has been interesting thus far, with Dallas leading 2-1. However, much has been made of Westbrook's meltdown then getting benched in game 2 for the 4th quarter, while OkCity ended up winning.

Westbrook vs. Maynor - pick your poison/positive trait?
While Westbrook's backup, Eric Maynor, played very well in the 4th quarter of game 2 (0 turnovers), he interestingly also had only 1 assist in his 19 minutes. In game 3, everything fell apart for OkCity, and Westbrook got in early foul trouble... and Maynor came in and for 6 minutes, OkCity went -11, and he had 0 assists and 1 turnover.

This led me to do some Maynor more of a shooting guard and thus doesn't commit turnovers or assists, which could be destructive to the offense since no one is generating assists? Of course, as has been widely documented, Westbrook is maddeningly inconsistent. The answer: it appears that the coach is choosing between a wildly inconsistent player (who still generates offense), or Maynor (who takes less risk, but where the offense can get very stagnant, since he's not as adept at generating assists and getting easy shots for his teammates).

This conclusion is based on looking at the game logs. If you look at Maynor's game log, you will see that Maynor has two outlier games - one against Memphis when he played 22 minutes because OkCity beat them by 27 points, so Maynor racked up 9 assists in 23 minutes. The other was during a 17 point victory against Denver, when he racked up 5 assists in 15 minutes. Thus, he only has 19 assists in about 152 minutes, or just 4.5 assists per 36 minutes (and 2.8 turnovers per 36 minutes). In contrast, Westbrook has about 6.3 assists per 36 minutes (and 4.6 turnovers per 36 minutes). Interestingly, Westbrook gets you an extra 1.8 assists... and also gives up an extra 1.8 turnovers thus far. I think that the OkCity coach has to continue to pull Westbrook if he has a tantrum of course, but for OkCity to succeed and to generate some offence, it's more important that he's out there using his speed to help create and run the offense.

Back to the series at hand though... it looks like Dallas will end up winning... probably because Ok City has such trouble guarding Dirk.

Out in the Eastern Conference, we will see what happens tonight with the Bulls and the Heat... I hope the Bulls can get their swagger back, punish the Heat on the inside and the glass, and get another victory like they did in Game 1.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Baseball Predictions: Nearing 40 games

As we near the magical 40 game mark (I'm not sure what makes it magical but hey why not) it probably is time to take stock to see what is sustainable and what is not. The past few years first place in early May is no guarantee of future success as on average about only half of the teams in first place at this time of year finish the year in first place. So which teams are most likely to fall off the map?

Baseball prospectus currently guesses at LA Angels and Colorado. I have no reason to disagree with the mighty BP but I would also add Cleveland to the mix. Cleveland is outperforming everyone's expectations. Why I'm starting to hesitate to immediately dismiss the North Coast revival is who in the AL Central is going to step up to catch the Tribe? Detroit's hitting and monetary constraints on Minnesota/Chicago make each passing day more likely that there's something sustainable for Acta's crew.

The one interesting race to watch might be Philly v. Atlanta. Pythag (run differential) has Atlanta and Philly neck and neck although it's hard to imagine Philly faltering with it's pitching staff. Nonetheless something to keep an eye on......

What's others predictions and thoughts?

Monday, May 02, 2011

2011 Memphis Grizzlies - Keys to Success

The 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies have been shocking the world, with their 6-game defeat of top-seeded San Antonio and already taking a 1 game lead against Oklahoma City. There are some very interesting things to note in this team's rise to shocking heights:

1) The Grizzlies are - WITHOUT Rudy Gay

This is the most important development with the team in the 2nd half. On February 15, Rudy Gay got injured and ended up having to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. The Grizzlies won that game (against the 76ers) and ended the season 15-8 without Rudy Gay. This run included victories over San Antonio (twice), Boston, Ok City, Dallas, so it wasn't like they were just beating bad teams. The main reason the team is better without Rudy Gay is...

2) Tony Allen is playing more minutes

Tony Allen is averaging 13.3 ppg, 3.9 rebs, 2.2 assists, and 1.96 steals per game, in 29 minutes per game since February 15th (when Rudy Gay got injured). (Before-hand, he only played 17 minutes per game) Perhaps more telling is this though... Rudy Gay is averaging 0.123 win-share per 48 minutes and Tony Allen is at 0.152 Win-share per 48 minutes (which is at an All-Star Level, and I can't imagine what the win-share would be for just the latter part of the season, I just can't sort the data in that way). Despite what I originally exepected, Shane Battier is playing just 24 minutes per game on Memphis since playing on Feb. 26th, and only an average 0.097 win-share per 48 minutes.

Basically, Tony Allen is playing at an All-Star level if not beyond, because defensively, he has blossomed into one of the best defenders in the league. The best part was during Game 4 of the Spurs series with the game still close in the 3rd quarter, and there literally were 3 possessions in a row where Tony Allen either caused a steal, or a deflection that led to a steal. The most amazing part of his swarming defense was when Tim Duncan got the ball at the top of the paint, he faked left, and then immediately passed right, but Tony Allen KNEW THE PLAY, and ran at full speed to the location of where the pass was going to be, resulting in a 3-on-1 dunk. Tony Allen had no problems creating havoc for Ginobili, and in the Ok City game, he presumably helped out on Westbrook (9 of 23) and certainly on James Harden (2 of 5).

Tony Allen, as it turned out, may have been the most important free agent acquisition of 2010 (from Boston), outside of Miami and Boozer on Chicago.

3) Zach Randolph is... amazing after leaving New York and after 2009.

Zach Randolph's NBA career is mystifying. It started out with him hardly playing on Portland, then putting up huge numbers on a bad team, then becoming a character/problem issue, getting traded to the Knicks and doing absolutely nothing, getting traded to the Clippers and doing absolutely nothing, then the Grizzlies deciding to give him a chance, and Randolph suddenly becoming... an NBA All-Star?!?

His win-share /48 this season is a career-high 0.185, and in the playoffs is a preposterous 0.255. Zach Randolph used to never help you win... and now he's all about it!

I can't explain the sudden change the last two years, but it's funny because all I can think back to is the 2007 NBA draft, when NY traded for Zach Randolph and I didn't think too much of it because of Zach Randolph's negative influence. MJ thought it was a great trade because of Zach Randolph... as it turns out we were both right to some degree... it's just that Zach Randolph didn't prove to be a game-changer until he left NY, and I was right in that he had behavior problems then (just not forever).

I also have to apologize to the Memphis GM. I wrote a scathing piece when he acquired Zach Randolph's massive contract in 2009 (in exchange for a smaller, shorter expiring contract of Quentin Richardson). I said Memphis fans would throw up in their mouths... but I was really wrong. I'm not sure who's advising Zach Randolph or what has finally motivated him, but the Grizzlies are on a great ride, and it is due in large part to the acquisition of Randolph!

4) Marc Gasol is one of the best centers

I already knew this, but most of the league didn't. I think most of the league underestimated the amount of production Gasol and Randolph can do when it's the postseason and they play monster minutes. If OK City doesn't get Kendrick Perkins healthy soon, they too will be in serious danger against the Grizzlies.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

NFL Draft Recap

The NFL draft, the NFL activity for awhile, has come and gone. Here are my 5 thoughts on the matter

1. This is an even harder draft to judge the normal given the inability to know how free agency will affect teams. What holes will team have due to free agency and which holes will be filled by free agency? Without knowing it's particularly hard to say which team is well positioned for next year.

2. One of the more baffling picks was the Ryan Mallet to New England. Yes there was value there but given Brady's new contract...what's the object of this selection outside of getting a good player.

3. I have to give a tip of the cap to the Browns' GM Tom Heckert for picking up the draft picks they did from Atlanta. Analysts that like quality over quantity gave Atlanta high marks but even Julio Jones turns into a star he isn't going to improve a defense that was slashed and burned by the Packers last year. I think it's a risky at best and stupid at worst move by the Falcons.

4. I honestly think none of the QBs selected in the first round will amount to anything. All seem to have serious shortcomings but it does go to show teams' desperations that they would throw huge amounts of money and high picks at such questionable talents.

5. I was impressed by both New Orleans and the Green Bay's picks. Solid players, hit needs, didn't give up picks for next year. Well done....

Your thoughts?