Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cap Space Ahoy!

Joe Johnson won't be signing the extension offered by the Hawks:
"My sole focus right now is on this team and what we're trying to accomplish this season. I have some goals set for this season for my team and I have some individual goals set for myself as well. I really feel like this team is ready to take that step to the next level. I also feel like I can be one of the elite players in this league, I feel like I'm right there, so it's going to be an exciting year."
I believe Joe Johnson just kept the organization from shooting itself in the foot.

Monday, September 28, 2009

ESPN.com: Marc Stein Believes; John Hollinger Is Tempered

In the inaugural edition of his 2009-10 NBA power rankings Marc Stein positions himself unequivocally in the zone of positivity regarding the Hawks, ranking them 9th and offering the following appraisal:
The Hawks are going to be better. They haven't improved enough to worry the elites, but keeping Bibby, Pachulia and Marvin Williams and adding Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith seals them as No. 4 in the East.
John Hollinger's outlook is similar to that which I've advanced this summer: 44 wins and 4th in the East:
The Hawks bring back the same team that won 47 games a year ago, with a few upgrades: Teague offers a vast improvement over the departed Law as a fourth guard, and Joe Smith provides a fourth big man that simply didn't exist a year ago.

On paper, all that should make the Hawks a better team than a year ago, but not so fast. Crawford is a better player than Murray if you're comparing careers, but he'll be hard-pressed to match the season Murray put together a year ago. Similarly, Pachulia and Bibby may also struggle to match their solid 2008-09 campaigns.

And the Hawks aren't as youthful as they once were. While they still own three 23-year-olds in the frontcourt, the four veteran backcourt players are 31, 30, 29 and 28; additionally, Smith is 34 and Pachulia's listed age of 25 is only believable if you use a 500-day calendar.

Between the limited scope for improvement and the lack of star power, it seems the Hawks shouldn't be much worse than a year ago … but neither should they be any better. It's quite possible they'll finish this season in the exact same position as last season -- at the top of the East's pretender heap, but miles away from the ruling Cleveland-Boston-Orlando trinity.
The emphasis is mine. Great minds and all that.

In Which I Offer Varying Levels Of Support To Four Training Camp Attendees

Here's the depth chart on the morning of September 28th...

Backcourt: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague
The Wing: Marvin Williams, Maurice Evans
Frontcourt: Josh Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, Joe Smith, Jason Collins

That's eleven guys. Randolph Morris may have the twelfth roster spot sewn up due to being under contract. That leaves at least one spot to be filled. I advocate giving that spot to whichever of Othello Hunter or Courtney Sims demonstrates a better ability to defend NBA power forwards (To repeat: I'm skeptical that Joe Smith can do so at this point in his career.) and rebound. If $855K can be spared, I'd give up on Randolph Morris and keep both.

Because the Hawks have just two guys capable of playing on the wing, I suspect that Mario West is next in line for a roster spot even though that spot could be better spent on Aaron Miles or Garret Siler if he shows a decent amount of competence and promise and the organization is willing to send him to Provo for the season or simply by acquiring an actual third-string small forward.

Miles isn't anything more than a generic third point guard: a poor shooter, a decent (if overrated) defender, and a good passer willing to push the tempo if the Hawks truly intend to do so. I think the Hawks would be well served to keep someone who fits the true point guard bill to serve as insurance behind Crawford and Teague should Bibby have to miss any time. Unfortunately for Miles, Mike Wilks is more veteran-y, a marginally better and far more aggressive offensive player (in terms of looking for his own shot), so he likely has the inside track for a job that, frankly, might not even exist in the minds of those who matter.

Sekou Smith Gets Mike Woodson To Open Up

The highlight of my Sunday morning sitting in the media center at East Lake was reading a sports section chock full of Hawks news. Training camp hasn't (quite) started yet but Sekou Smith revealed himself to be in mid-season form. I'm of the opinion that Smith does a great job at a job I don't envy. His ability to write for a general audience and provide useful information for serious fans is an achievement I don't even attempt to match, operating as I do, under the assumption that anyone who shows up here (and stays for any length of time) has a firm grasp of the fundamental issues at hand. Then there's the evidence that Smith reads the comments on his blog posts, demonstrating a degree of patience and tolerance from which I could learn.

In summary, here's what I learned from reading Smith Sunday morning...
  • Mike Woodson intends on playing Jeff Teague.
  • Woodson also hopes not to run Joe Johnson into the ground before Christmas.
  • Teague and Crawford will likely take minutes away from Maurice Evans as Woodson plans to play three guards together regularly.
  • Woodson isn't planning on playing more than four guys in the regular frontcourt rotation.
  • Woodson is talking about pushing the tempo and addressing last season's dreadful free throw shooting.
Each of those tidbits could fairly be categorized as positive news. Actions will speak louder than words, of course, and no one expects the head coach to express himself in raw, pessimistic terms on the eve of training camp but the quotes culled by Smith seem more honest than rote and, I believe, provide real insight. Only the absence of a mention about the need to improve the team's rebounding gnaws at this reader but it's a small worry and more than made up for by the feeling of excitement for the approaching basketball season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Basketball-Reference.com Blog: Early Win Shares-Projected 2009-10 Standings

I would look at these, as the title indicates, as standings predictions rather than win predictions. Or as Neil Paine puts it:
...remember that these projections will be unrealistically close to the mean for players, teams, and playing time numbers, because of the heavy degree of regression being used.
The Hawks are 9th in the projected standings. The distribution of minutes in Paine's projections is more conservative than what I used to project the Hawks to 43 wins 10 weeks ago (before the acquisitions of Joe Smith and Jason Collins).

I think we can all agree that if Mario West, Randolph Morris, and Jason Collins combine to play as many minutes as Zaza Pachulia and Joe Smith, then this season will be an uphill battle.

Converting Paine's win share rates to the minutes I used previously and adding Smith and Collins to the mix gives the Hawks 39.6 projected wins. With the exceptions of Josh Smith and Jeff Teague (interesting exceptions in that I'm high on both those guys) my rough approximations of win share rates were more optimistic than those in this more comprehensive effort.

Rare proof of optimism at Hoopinion.

NYTimes.com: Beck: Replacement Refs? A Look Back at 1995

Howard Beck remembers the last time the NBA locked out the refs:
“They need five of these guys to equal one of the regular refs,” Charles Oakley, the former Knicks bruiser, complained in 1995. He described the replacements in one word: “Terrible.”

On the night the regular referees returned, after a 68-day standoff, some players could hardly contain their joy.

“The real refs are back?” the Washington Bullets’ Chris Webber said. “Hallelujah.”
Expect the replacement referees to be inconsistent in different ways and their inconsistency to indicate, perhaps, some ways in which the league wants games officiated differently. Not that the lockout isn't primarily about money and power. Nor that the better replacement refs won't eventually be assimilated:
17 of the N.B.A.’s current referees began as replacements. That group that includes some of the league’s most respected referees, as well as some of its most controversial.

Joey Crawford joined the N.B.A. during a strike in 1977. Danny Crawford, Ken Mauer, Eddie F. Rush and Derrick Stafford got their start during a lockout in 1983. Twelve others, including Bill Kennedy and Leon Wood, broke into the N.B.A. during the 1995 lockout.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What I'm Looking For

What is the argument to support the opinion that the Hawks will win more games than last year?

AJC.com: Smith: Crawford Makes a Great First Impression

Sekou Smith quotes my second favorite source*, "a visiting pro from another NBA Team":
"They’re going to be (expletive) good this year. You throw JC and Joe Smith and this kid [Jeff] Teague, and they’ve got some wrinkles now that they didn’t have last season. They were already a dangerous team and now they’re really dangerous. And knowing these fans down here and what they like, they’re going to love the style this team can play. They’re going to love JC."
*After "an anonymous scout"

Wrinkles, eh?

More like reputations.

JAMAL CRAWFORD (career) vs. FLIP MURRAY (08-09)


Jamal Crawford is a better basketball player than Flip Murray but Flip Murray was a better basketball player than Flip Murray last year. Said another way, Crawford is extremely likely to be a better player than Flip Murray in 2009-10. Jamal Crawford is not very likely to a better player in 2009-10 than Flip Murray was in 2008-09. In very rough terms, the Hawks figure to add an extra assist every 21 minutes at the cost of an extra missed shot every 51 minutes. Plus the difference between Murray's average defense and Crawford's abominable defense.

JOE SMITH (career) vs. ZAZA PACHULIA (career)


At this point in his career, Joe Smith projects to offer little improvement over Zaza Pachulia, and what improvement Smith might reasonably offer--an extra point a game, a extra blocked shot every three or four games--will come at the expense of rebounds, especially offensive rebounds, which, unless everyone again has a career season from beyond the three-point line, figure to be a more important factor in 2009-10 than they were in 2008-09 when the Hawks finished a disappointing 19th in the league in offensive rebound rate.

But even if Smith is a similar player to Pachulia* whose skills don't complement his future teammates as well as do Pachulia's, the first 675 minutes Smith plays will be as a direct replacement for Solomon Jones. That's something positive.

JOE SMITH (08-09) vs. SOLOMON JONES (08-09)


Though Jones put up superficially decent numbers in limited minutes last season, Smith figures to surpass that production while playing non-garbage time minutes and providing much, much, much better defense both before and after an opponent's shot goes up.

*And he is. Joe Smith is a backup center who plays adequate position defense. Any extra blocks he gets are simply a function of his reach compared to Pachulia's.

Rick Sund undeniably made good decisions in replacing Solomon Jones with a better player and not expecting Flip Murray to replicate his career year. Those decisions, though, do not in and of themselves make the team better so much as they increased the chances of the team not getting worse. The positive impact of the difference between Smith and Jones will be reduced every time Smith takes minutes away from Pachulia, Al Horford, or Josh Smith.

Jamal Crawford is a better passer than Flip Murray but he'll shoot just as often thus continuing to limit touches for Williams and Horford. Crawford's inadequate defense will make it more difficult for Mike Woodson to hide Mike Bibby defensively.

If the Hawks are better in 2009-10 (and I'm not convinced they won't be) it will be because Williams, Horford, and Josh Smith stay healthy and shore up the defense for 82 games, because Jeff Teague plays just well enough to allow Woodson to feel he can rest Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby with limited risk, and because Josh Smith pulls his significant and disparate talents together. Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith are nice rotation players. They are not difference makers when added to a 47-win team.

Monday, September 21, 2009

ESPN.com (Insider): Offseason Buzz

John Hollinger and Ric Bucher look at the Hawks in the 28th installment of the Offseason Buzz series. Hollinger pegs breakout candidate Josh Smith as Trending up* and writes:
Smith is only 23 years old, and while he hasn't figured things out as quickly as Hawks fans might have hoped, it's easy to forget the considerable progress he's made. Atlanta's addition of more perimeter players may help him focus on sticking to his knitting in the paint, and it would help him further if the Hawks' play calls gave him something to do besides stand 20 feet from the rim waiting for a kickout.
Ric Bucher writes about the other Smith, Joe:
The Hawks' talent, envied around the league, is undercut by immaturity and sometimes an appalling lack of discipline. Hence the contractual vote of no confidence for Woodson; the overwhelming sense is that the Hawks listen to Woodson only when it suits them.


Does ol' Joe have enough game left for Josh Smith to heed any cautionary tale he might offer? Will the older Smith even offer it? He spurned Cleveland to sign with Atlanta because the Cavs shelved him come playoff time. At this point in his career, he doesn't want to sit on the bench, even if it affords a better chance of getting a ring. He'd rather make an impact with a playoff team trying to reach that championship level. There's no bigger contribution he could make than convincing the young Hawks that as early in their careers as it might seem, the clock moves fast, and sometimes early opportunities to make a mark are the only ones a player gets.
Emphasis mine and not because I have a problem with Joe Smith or any other player wanting to play but rather because I already worry that Mike Woodson won't recognize that, at this point in Joe Smith's career, he deserves to be the fourth** big man in the rotation and should never get a minute that could reasonably go to Josh Smith, Al Horford, or Zaza Pachulia. Now the specter appears of a disgruntled Joe Smith rather than a positive veteran influence Joe Smith if Woodson relegates him to an appropriate role in the rotation.

*Mike Bibby is pegged as Trending down but not disastrously so.

**At best, he says, thinking optimistically about Othello Hunter and Courtney Sims.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jeff Teague Proposes A Point Guard Theory

Jeff Lenchiner of InsideHoops.com interviewed Jeff Teague. On comparisons to Jason Terry:
InsideHoops.com: Jason Terry is an interesting one, because that's how you've been described, more of a scoring point guard than a regular one. How do you describe your own game?

Teague: I feel like everybody that plays the point guard position in this league has the ability to score, so they can be scoring point guards. In college I had to be a scorer first. But I can play either way. I can be a classic point guard. I can score. I'm just an all-around basketball player.
May words become actions.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Josh Smith: 2009-10 Breakout Candidate

Now that Josh Smith has renounced the three-point shot, the discussion about what this means for 2009-10 centers on whether the relatively small number of three-pointers Smith attempts will be replaced by shots he's more likely to make.

First let's look at Smith's overall shooting percentages. The graph below shows Smith's career eFG% and TS% at the conclusion of each of his five seasons.

(click on graph to enlarge)

Without eliminating, either by pronouncement or action, the three-point field goal Smith has steadily improved both his eFG% and TS% over the last three seasons. How so? By reducing the percentage of his field goal attempts which are two-point jump shots.

(click on graph to enlarge)

Reducing the two-point jump shots helps because, though Smith makes a higher percentage of those than his three-point attempts, the difference is not enough to overcome the difference in value between the two shots.

(click on graph to enlarge)

For his career, Smith has made 36.2% of 1748 two-point jump shots, providing the Hawks with 0.72 points per possession (before accounting for offensive rebounding*), and 27% of his three-point shots, providing the Hawks with 0.81 points per possession (before accounting for offensive rebounding). Over five seasons, Smith attempting a three-point jumper has been the lesser of two evils for the Hawks.

*The value of all the offensive rebounding opportunities created by Smith's missed jumpers is debatable, though likely marginal. Over the last two seasons the Hawks have had a higher offensive rebounding rate when Smith is off the court than when he is on the court which would, I believe, support the argument against Smith taking low-percentage shots.

In the interests of thoroughness, let me digress by showing that the upward trend in Smith's True Shooting Percentage (TS%) is not fueled by his free throw shooting. Smith's FT Rate has been remarkably consistent throughout his career...

(click on graph to enlarge)

...despite fluctuations in his FT%.

(click on graph to enlarge)

Yes, Smith's 58.8% shooting from the foul line last season reduced his career FT% by almost two-and-a-half percentage points. A return to competence at the free throw line would, by itself, significantly increase Smith's offensive production and efficiency, though not as much as turning as many of his jump shots into closer two-point attempts. Smith made a career-high 64.4% of non-jump shot two-point attempts last year. Smith's increases in eFG% and TS% stems directly from simultaneously taking and making more non-jump shots over the last three years.

(click on graph to enlarge)

Sharp-eyed readers might notice that the lower bounder of this graph is 52% where the upper boundary of the two- and three-point field goal percentage graph is 40%.

Smith has used more than half of his career field goal attempts on shots he's made (collectively) 34% of time and less than half of his career field goal attempts on shots he's made 57% of the time. Shot selection that poor provides Smith with ample opportunity for improvements in both scoring and efficiency, as does last season's inexplicably poor free throw shooting. Furthermore, the ankle injury that cost Smith 13 games likely contributed to Smith posting career lows as an offensive rebounder and shot blocker (both per minute and per opportunity) and failing to match his career average on the defensive glass.

It's difficult to identify an area of his game where Smith is more likely to regress than he is to improve in 2009-10. If he's really beginning to the see the light regarding his own strengths and weaknesses he could make the leap from talented but maddening player to legitimate All-Star.

Sources: 82games, Basketball-Reference.com

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

All 82 Hawks Games Will Be Televised

Press release and complete TV Schedule

No word on HD broadcasts yet.

Programming Update

In deference to the minor injury Josh Smith suffered yesterday, reportedly to his left hand, the publication of a series of graphs designed to further discussion of his shooting have been postponed for at least one day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Josh Smith Says Some of the Right Things

Sekou Smith quotes Josh Smith:
"I wanted to work more on my decision-making than anything. I handle the ball so much on the fast break and in transition that I wanted to make sure I’m thinking the game the way I need to be. I also worked on my handles and knocking down that mid-range jumper. I’m really not worried about the 3-point ball right now. We have so many guys on this team that can make that shot.

I don’t have any business being out there this season with Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Jamal Crawford, Marvin, Mo and [Jeff] Teague all doing work out there. I have to focus on working in the cracks and making sure that people respect my mid-range game. And if they don’t, we have to make them pay for not respecting it."
Like most of us, Josh Smith could improve his decision-making. Like most of us, Smith has no business attempting three-point shots in NBA games. Good on him recognizing those limitations.

This business about making teams respect his mid-range game gives me pause. Smith's ill-advised three-point jumpers (87, making 29.9%) were not nearly as damaging to the Hawks as his ill-advised two-point jumpers (306, making 32.2%). Josh Smith has no business attempting jump shots, full stop.

In the abstract, I've no absolute objection to Smith developing a mid-range game but he's the starting power forward on a team without an impressive post presence and he made less than 59% of his free throws last season. The mid-range game should be well down the list of his priorities and my suspicion is that people will continue to disrespect Smith's mid-range game and only the Hawks will pay for that disrespect.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Possible Atlanta Hawks Numbers To Be Retired

Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub wrote a thought-provoking piece about the probability of San Antonio retiring Bruce Bowen's number:
Most statistics show that Bruce Bowen contributed nothing to an NBA team.

And yet, despite an almost complete lack of visible basketball ability in a box score (and beyond) sense, Bruce Bowen is likely going to have his number retired and go down as one of the most memorable players of the last 15 years among hoops junkies. And there are two reasons—and only two—why he made this happen.

1) He became a tenacious, aggressive, relentless man-on-man defender. I’ll leave it to the Spurs blogs to tell you about that, but you probably know about it already.

2) He mastered the corner three.

Bowen's contributions did, of course, show up in the box score though largely in the difference between San Antonio's opponents' field goals attempted and made but that's not how any of us actually read a box score. Lowe goes on to acknowledge both the unique nature of Bowen's contributions and the history of teams retiring role players somewhat similar (Dave Twardzik, Mark Eaton) to Bowen or markedly inferior (Brad Davis).

The Hawks have been admirably stingy in retiring numbers. Only three players, Bob Pettit, Lou Hudson, and Dominique Wilkins, each of whom scored prodigiously and shone brightly for the franchise for at least a decade have their numbers retired. No other Hawks players approach the accomplishments of those three and none have joined them in the rafters.

For the purposes of this post, though, what if someone were to join them?

Ignoring active players (in deference to the unknown), assuming there's little impetus for retiring the number of an excellent supporting player from the St. Louis Hawks days (no disrespect to Bill Bridges or Cliff Hagan), and setting a minimum of five years service with the Hawks (thus eliminating Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith, and Pete Maravich) I've identified four possible candidates that could garner some support were the Hawks to lower the bar for retiring numbers.

#10: Mookie Blaylock

PROS: Criminally underrated. 9th in franchise history in minutes played. 1st in 3-point field goals made and attempted. 1st in steals, steals per game, and assists per game. 2nd in assists. First- or second-team all defense in six of his seven years in Atlanta. Finished in the top three in the league is steals per game in each of his first six seasons in Atlanta. Every Hawks team he played for made the playoffs. Until I saw Allen Iverson in the 1996 East Regional, Blaylock was the fastest basketball player I'd ever seen. Whatever Blaylock lacked comparatively in foot speed he made up for in hand quickness and strength. Billy Tubbs might attend ceremony. Would not let Pearl Jam name themselves after him.

CONS: Played only seven years in Atlanta. Those teams won just four of eleven playoff series and never advanced beyond the second round. Was noticeably past his peak (though still useful) in his final two years in Atlanta and as inscrutable as possible for a man named Mookie. Liked by members of Pearl Jam.

#14: Lenny Wilkens

PROS: Played for seven years and coached the team for seven years. As a player, 4th in franchise history in assists, 8th in minutes, 10th in points. As a coach, 3rd in wins and 4th in winning percentage. The Hawks made the playoffs in six of the seven years he coached the team. Named amongst NBA's 50 greatest players and 10 greatest coaches. Member of Naismith Hall of Fame as both player and coach. Seattle Supersonics no longer exist.

CONS: Played only for St. Louis Hawks. The teams he coached went 17-30 in playoff games. Hawks coaching career accounts for just 22% of games coached in NBA. Number 19 already retired by Seattle Supersonics.

#30: Tree Rollins

PROS: 2nd in franchise history in games played, 7th in minutes played. 1st in franchise history in blocks, tied for 1st in blocks per game. 5th in franchise history in rebounds. 1st in franchise history in personal fouls. 2nd in field goal percentage. 1st team All-Defense in 1983-84. Ably supported teams both John Drew and Dominique Wilkins for a full decade. Key figure in Hawks/Celtics rivalry lore.

CONS: A true role player, he has nothing in common with Pettit, Hudson, and Wilkins. The Celtics/Hawks rivalry burns briefly and irregularly ('57-'61, '86, '88, '08). Honoring someone, even in part, for having bitten Danny Ainge is in questionable taste and a poor hygenic example to the nation's children.

#42: Kevin Willis

PROS: 4th in franchise history in games played, 5th in minutes, 3rd in rebounds, 6th in points. Played ten seasons for the Hawks, seven of them being winning seasons, including the best four year run (1985-89) the franchise has had in Atlanta. Is a pleasant, ubiquitous presence around town. Makes quality jeans for a demographic traditionally underserved by denim companies.

CONS: Played another eleven seasons for another eight teams. He made only one All-Star team, generally struggled in the play-offs, and the limitations of his game helped make the Dominique Wilkins/Danny Manning trade worse even though it isn't Willis's fault that Stan Kasten failed to realize that Manning and Willis wouldn't complement each other at all.

Vote for your choice below. Choose other if you feel I've overlooked someone or reject any of the parameters I set for myself and name your choice in the comments.

Assuming the Hawks retired another number, whose number should they choose?
Mookie Blaylock
Tree Rollins
Lenny Wilkens
Kevin Willis
Other (please specify)
pollcode.com free polls

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Links To Tims

At SLAM Online, Tim David Harvey tips Al Horford to be the Eastern Conference's most improved center in 2009-10:
If the Hawks pass the ball inside to this young big more often he could eat up most Eastern donuts and help his team digest long playoff runs.
At TSN, Tim Chisholm has written as good a team preview as you're likely to read from a national continental outlet:
Think of it this way: last year, Atlanta was the sole team that sat between those aforementioned powerhouses and the virtually indistinguishable crew that made up slots five-through-fourteen below them. They had too much talent and execution to be considered one of the pack, but they were also a far cry from the three teams that sat in front of them, as their second round walloping by Cleveland demonstrated. So, logic would dictate that they would make moves this summer to move them closer to the teams that sit in front of them. However, the moves made by Boston, Cleveland and Orlando this summer outstripped those made by Atlanta, while the teams below Atlanta like Toronto, Washington, Indiana, Chicago and even Charlotte believe that they are narrowing the gap between themselves and the Hawks. So, despite their best efforts to have a summer that by all accounts stands as a positive, the Hawks will have to redouble their efforts on the court just to keep pace with their output from a year ago.

Book Review: Shoooting Stars by LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger

Shooting Stars, the LeBron James autobiography co-authored by Buzz Bissinger, is a consistently alienating read--the story of a 24-year-old African-American midwestern product of the Akron public school system and the basketball industrial complex told in the first-person by a 54-year-old white northeasterner who spent his formative years at Phillips Academy and the University of Pennsylvania.

Not that such differences of age, race, class, and geography are impossible to overcome, just that Bissinger* strikes me as an especially unlikely candidate to accomplish the feat.
(He may have his doubts, too.) Not that he had an easy task as, on the basis of the book, LeBron James has no interest in revealing** anything of himself. The combination leaves the reader with Bissinger, in an attempt to overcome the absence of particulars to report, providing a tonally unconvincing (and generically "literary") account of James's life spun out of the occasional telling detail presumably provided by the book's putative narrator via interview. Take the following examples, all of them from the first chapter (i.e. before I stopped noting each and every passage that stood out):
If you went up North Hill in the 1980s, you could tell that life was not like it once was: the obsolete smokestacks in the distance, the downtown felt so tired and weary.
The more I rode my bike around, and you could ride just about everywhere because it was midwestern small and compact...
There was something wholesome about it, the best of the Midwest, Cleveland without the 'hoods where you could go in and never come back out. One of my favorite spots in town was Swensons, which, straight out of Happy Days, still served up a burger and fries and Cherry Coke on a tray that was attached to the window of your car by a goofy-looking teenager still dealing with acne.
Now maybe LeBron James has been enrolled in a mediocre*** Creative Writing program quietly working toward an MFA in the off-season and perhaps I'm making my own assumptions about class and race but these passages (and there are many, many more like them throughout the book) lack verisimilitude. I don't doubt that Akron's decline was visible to a child nor that young LeBron rode his bike a lot nor that Swensons made a tasty burger and kids like drive-ins. None of this, though, is expressed with any sort of immediacy or authenticity. For that, the book suffers fatally and is to the credit of none who were involved in its creation, the inspiration for which is perhaps best indicated by this passage in the acknowledgments:
I would like to give a special thank you to my friend and manager Maverick Carter. Maverick, who also is the chief executive officer of LRMR, the marketing and branding company that handles all my business affairs, played an invaluable role in helping to create the vision for Shooting Stars.
The book improves as it begins to feature stories of James's AAU and high school teammates in chapters that recall the best of Bissinger's achievements in Friday Night Lights and wherein the combination of Bissinger's voice and recognizably direct recollections from James combine better than in the passages written in the first person.

Bissinger made his reputation as a writer about sports with Friday Night Lights, the success of which was fueled as much by a provincial shock (both Bissinger's and the literary establishment's) at the revelation that some Texas towns might take high school football a bit too seriously as by Bissinger's talent as a reporter and writer. Michael Lewis's valentine to Billy Beane is a more recent example of the potential success of old news breathlessly reported to a new audience.

The composition of those who blurbed the book (Jay-Z, Bob Costas, John Grisham, Mike Krzyzewski, Warren Buffett, Steve Lopez, and Madeline Blais) suggests that this is a book designed to appeal to media, cultural, financial, and athletic establishments rather than to be interesting.


Friday, September 04, 2009

More Jason Collins Analysis

Neil Paine at the Basketball-Reference.com Blog (HT: @3QCMagic) offers lots of tables and a revealing, damning factoid:
...the majority of his shots in recent seasons have been jumpers, despite the fact that he's one of worst jump shooters in the game (witness the unthinkably low .128 eFG% on J's last season)
but the key passage is this:
I was once a big Jason Collins supporter because of his tremendous defensive impact, as quantified by his adjusted +/- and his on/off team defensive efficiency numbers. And I wasn't the only stat guru high on Collins' D, either. But in recent years, it's been harder and harder to find anything redeeming about Collins' play, even on defense. His 2-year adjusted plus/minus, one of those "hidden impact" numbers where Collins once thrived, was an horrifying -8.66, meaning that for every possession he was on the floor, he'd cause an otherwise average team to play like a 20-win one. Yikes.
Let's all hope that Collins remains firmly ensconced as the fifth-best (at best) big man on the roster and his minutes reflect that status. Should Mike Woodson perceive there to be an option between playing Collins or playing Zaza Pachulia the team will be fighting an uphill battle.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

New Blog Roundtable

All the usual suspects sound off on the following subjects:
  1. With the 2009-10 drawing near, how do you grade the team's moves over the offseason?
  2. Which other Eastern Conference team do you think has improved the most since last year?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hawks Add One Half of One of the Top Two Sets of Twin Centers From Stanford

Jason Collins can't score*, never could. He never rebounded well for a center. For all intents and purposes, he doesn't rebound** at all anymore. But he was a great defensive center and a significant factor in New Jersey's success during the first half of this decade. He may still be an above average defensive center. Unfortunately, his weaknesses have likely become so apparent as to negate any defensive value he may retain and his limited minutes in Minnesota last season throw into doubt that retains his one, true skill.

In a best case scenario, the Hawks cut Randolph Morris, use his roster spot on someone useful, and Collins proves to be what Mike Woodson thinks Mario West is: a good enough defender to make it worth playing 4-on-5 on offense for short stretches. In a worst case scenario, Collins plays minutes that could have gone to any of Pachulia, Horford, Smith, or Smith, in doing so demonstrates that he can't even make a defensive difference anymore, and I look back on this day as the one I began to worry that a lack of "strong character and leadership qualities" (to quote Rick Sund) was legitimately a greater concern than a lack of rebounding.

*Over the last four years, he's averaged less than 5 points per 36 minutes played while shooting below 40% from the floor and below 50% from the free throw line.

**His career rebounding rate is slightly higher than Marvin Williams' career rate. Over the last three years, he's been a significantly worse rebounder than Williams.

The Best Basketball Post on the Internet

iveregima2 at Blazersedge has compiled an exhaustive study of the 2008-09 Portland offense (the league's most efficient). There are Xs and Os, video compilations, annotated videos, and cogent analysis aplenty.

I suspect the examination of good spacing and the use of Brandon Roy in isolation sets will be of particular interest to Hawks fans. I'm especially taken with this video which doesn't look especially unlike a Hawks' possession except that the Trailblazers begin running the set three seconds into the possession rather than six or seven seconds into the possession which allows them to work their way down to the third option and still get a good shot off with 12 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Too many of Atlanta's difficult halfcourt possessions are caused not by poor design or execution but by letting the opposing defense both set up and only have to play 15 rather than 20 seconds of defense.

I'm still working my through the volume of excellent work in the post and expect to return to it over the coming days but thought I'd share my excitement while it's fresh.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

ESPN.com: Eastern Conference Standings Predictions

The wisdom of the ESPN crowd looks eminently reasonable to me and not just because the collective essentially shares my earlier speculation regarding the Hawks.

My current estimation: 44 wins and the fourth seed.
The professionals' average prediction: 45 wins and the fourth seed.

There are few surprises (to me, at least) in the results. It's interesting that a large sample produces a conservative prediction even a for highly variable team such as the 2009-10 Wizards. Overall, I think the four-tier hierarchy* in the East to be a fair bet even though the bottom of the second and top of the third tiers will likely become enmeshed.

*Championship contenders: Boston, Cleveland, Orlando
Playoff probables: Atlanta, Chicago, Miami
Mid-table mediocrities: Charlotte, Detroit, Indiana, Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington
Awful also-rans: Milwaukee, New Jersey, New York

FIBA Americas Quarterfinal Round Beings

The Dominican Republic tip-off against Uruguay at 1:30pm EDT. This round lasts four games with the top four teams advancing to Saturday's semifinals.

Through four games Al Horford is averaging 13/9/3.