Week of March 22, 2015

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Christian Laettner thinks this NCAA Tournament is heating up.

The Media is Public Enemy No. 1 in the Thunder Locker Room. Why?

The Oklahoma City Thunder are stacked with talent. They have two of the top five players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But something is amiss in Oklahoma City. There is a growing divide between the Thunder players and the local media that covers the team. Things have gotten overtly hostile at times. Grantland’s Bryan Curtis dives deep – attempting to figure out what is going on and why. -TOB

Source: “Distant Thunder: What Did Oklahoma City’s Media Do to Piss Off Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant?”, Bryan Curtis, Grantland (3/20/15)

PAL: Fascinating read. What role do beat reporters play in today’s sports world? Athletes can communicate directly with fans or followers and have exponentially more reach than that of local newspapers. Regional cable sports affiliates (think CSN Bay Area) – business partners with the teams – have sideline reporters and bloggers (hardly objective), and the the team’s PR folks hover like chaperones at a Middle School dance during the post-game “scrum”. We all get shortchanged as a result. As Thunder beat reporter Berry Tramel puts it with regards to Westbrook, “I’m just going to be writing about how great he is. I’m never going to be writing about who he is.”


Steve Nash’s Legacy

The NCAA basketball tournament and the NFL free agency madness might have muted the retirement of an all-timer. Steve Nash, back-to-back MVP and the prototype of the modern point guard (Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook all have a pinch of Nash in their games) finally called it quits. Writer Lee Jenkins nails this summary of what Nash meant to his country (he’s a Canadian kid) and to the way the point guard position is played. Here’s a guy who received one D-1 scholarship offer from Santa Clara, and who was third string in Phoenix behind – get this – Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. He’s given back to his community (his charity has granted nearly $5 million for child welfare) and has mentored the Lakers young draft picks while battling back and leg issues over the past couple years. What’s more, he’s established credibility to Canadian basketball. In fact, he’s the General Manager for the national team up there. Remember, the last two number 1 draft picks are from our neighbors to the north. All in all, he was a great shooter who also seems like a straight shooter. He was a pleasure to watch. – PAL

Source: “The Overflowing Legacy Of Steve Nash”, Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated (3/21/15)

TOB: I’ve been a Steve Nash fan since his college days in the mid-90’s, when he helped lead my parents’ law school alma mater (later mine, as well) to some classic tourney upsets. He is impossible to dislike – he made watching basketball more fun. He seems intelligent. He has a good head on his shoulders. This retirement announcement was a formality, as Nash has effectively been retired for a couple years now. But it’s a good opportunity to thank him for years of entertainment. And for a lot of NBA players, perhaps a time to thank him for their huge paychecks (I’m looking at you, Tim Thomas and Channing Frye). Nash, more than any player in my lifetime, made everyone around him better. That’s about the best thing you can say about an athlete, especially a point guard.


Old Man Does Not Trust Lady in iPhone

Thanks to 1-2-3 Sports! reader Michael Kapp for sending in this short but amusing story about New York Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin and his negative experience receiving driving directions from Siri. Choice quote:

“I don’t trust the lady in GPS, I don’t trust her, because they don’t send you the right way. I hit the button and I go ‘Park Ridge, New Jersey.’ And she comes back on, she’s giving me directions. So now I figure out where I am. I hit the thing and I said, ‘Thank you very much, I know exactly where I am now.’ And she comes back and says, ‘You don’t have to thank me.’ I swear to God that’s what she said. And then I couldn’t get her to shut up. Every turn. ‘Take a right here.’ I know where I am. I know where I am. I’m a block away from my house and she’s telling me where to go. I said, ‘I know where I’m going.’

He is definitely a grandpa (no offense, dad). -TOB

Source: Tom Coughlin Battles Siri”, Tom Rock, Newsday (03/25/2015)

PAL: Wait, this isn’t a story about my dad? There’s nothing more dangerous than a grandpa behind the wheel of a car with a smartphone in his hand. Nothing.


A Lesson In Class

We wrote and posted about Dean Smith following his death in February, but this little nugget was too good to pass up. A quick story worth your time about Smith’s final gift to every letterwinner at UNC (he coached for 36 years). I didn’t know much about Smith while he was alive, but now I understand what the fuss was about. He was a legitimate educator and community leader to the point where, if he hadn’t excelled at coaching college basketball (879 wins, two national championships, 11 Final Fours, 13 ACC Tournament championships, Olympic Gold Medal coach), his life would’ve still been extraordinary. – PAL

Source: “Dean Smith Used His Will To Buy Every One Of His Lettermen A Nice Dinner”, Samer Kalaf, Deadspin (3/26/15)


A World Series Game 7 “What If?”

Game 7 of the 2014 World Series was a classic, but it almost had one of the most bizarre and exciting endings in World Series history. With two outs in the 9th, the Royals’ Alex Gordon hit a line drive that skipped under Giants’ centerfielder Gregor Blanco’s glove, and rolled all the way to the wall. Gordon made it to third, but many wondered what would have happened if he had scored. Everyone involved (especially Royals manager Ned Yost, who says that Gordon would have been out by 40 feet) agrees that it would have been a huge mistake to send Gordon. But Tim Kurkjian still put together a great article – interviewing all the people involved in the play and using math to determine definitively what would have happened had the Royals sent Gordon. -TOB

Source: The Penultimate Play”, Tim Kurkjian, ESPN (03/25/2015)

PAL: Like Tommy, I dig the oral history approach to analyzing this play. As dominant as Bumgarner was, it is more likely that Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey would’ve executed a throw and catch from 120 feet apart than it was for something to go badly (for the Giants) during the next at bat. With Gordon on third, any hit, passed ball, or error ties the game. As odd as it sounds, Kansas City had more positive options facing Bumgarner than it did taking a chance with sending Gordon.


Video of the Week

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Week of February 23, 2015

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Who wore it best: Madison Bumgarner or Duane Kuiper?


The NFL Combine is Pro Sports At Its Absurdist Extreme

Whenever Matt Taibbi writes for Grantland, it is a treat. The guy has made a living writing on some of the biggest and most important stories of our time – he is smart, funny, and has a way of drawing out the absurdity of every situation. This time, that task was pretty easy, as we were blessed with Taibbi’s take on the NFL Draft Combine. He absolutely laid waste to this ridiculous spectacle that has somehow become a TV ratings boon for the NFL Network. Every year, millions turn on their TV during the middle of the day (or watch the re-airing that night) and watch college aged kids run, jump, and lift weights. It is absolutely absurd. As Taibbi writes: “As live television, the combine is a marathon effort at extracting something out of not too much of anything. It’s 45 hours of watching guys the casual fan has never heard of run wind sprints. You have to be brain-damaged to love it, but millions, including myself, do.” -TOB

Source: “America’s Second-Greatest Reality Show: A Visit to the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis”, Matt Taibbi, Grantland (02/24/2015)

PAL: I’m trying to understand why so many people watch the combine and the draft. The best I can come up with is this: There are phases of fandom over the course of any sport’s season, but these phases are condensed because football is a short season. Whereas in baseball a team can start off 6-15 and you’re still invested as a fan, you more than likely know the outcome of your football team’s year if they start 0-3. There needs to be time for hope, potential, and futures with franchise quarterbacks. The combine and the draft create that time, venue, and show to feed the ignorant bliss central to fandom. Of course, all of this is ludicrous, which is why Matt Taibbi – a writer way above this story – is the perfect guy to pen this piece.


Jocks vs. Nerds, Exhibit No. 782

Here’s a fresh perspective on the analytics “debate” in sports. On February 10, Charles Barkley (now a part of the media), laid into a NBA General Manager, calling him an “idiot who believes in analytics…it (analytics) is just some crap some people who are really smart made up to try to get in the game because they had no talent.” I hope we can agree applying more specific analysis when it comes to quantifying athletic performance isn’t idiotic. In this article, Bryan Curtis offers up this take on what the debate might actually be about: “This clash doesn’t pit a blogger versus a newspaperman in a debate over the value of PER. It pits media versus athletes in a battle over who gets to tell the story of basketball.” That makes a lot of sense, especially since we have more and more former athletes transitioning into the media. Additionally, this story makes me wonder, as fans, what experience we want with our teams. Do we find comfort in the metaphysical, the data, or some combination of the two? -PAL

Source: “Moneyball II: Charles Barkley, the Sports Media, and the Second Statistical War”, Bryan Curtis, Grantland (02/26/2015)

TOB: Good article, but I don’t agree with the premise that this is “Moneyball II”. The war between athletes and media has been going on for as long as the press has covered sports. Even athletes vs. analytics is nothing new. When I first read Chuck’s comments, it reminded me of Joe Morgan’s stubborn and outspoken opposition to baseball analytics, despite the fact that Joe Morgan, a Hall of Famer, is actually seen as underrated by the analytics community. They love him. Joe didn’t care. Chuck isn’t quite so resolute. During a panel discussion at All-Star weekend, Barkley was presented with a Grantland article that showed how advanced stats love him. From the article: “Barkley got a big smile on his face. Analytics were suddenly OK, even helpful, when they confirmed something Barkley already knew: He was great.” The latest flare-up is just Chuck being Chuck, and this “new” battle between media and athletes has been going on since before “Moneyball I” even began.


The NCAA Can’t Get Out Of Its Own Way

The NCAA imposed recruiting restrictions on LSU this week. Last summer, LSU signed a player to a Financial Aid Agreement (FAA), with the intent to enroll him in January (in the parlance, this is known as a “Greyshirt”, and allows a player to delay the start of his eligibility clock). But come January, the player decided to attend Alabama instead. Here’s where it gets screwy: the rules allow a school unlimited contact with a player once an FAA is signed. But the player is not bound to the school, and if the player changes his mind and decides to attend another school, the school is punished – ostensibly for too much contact with the player. This is absolutely illogical and insane and thus the perfect example of an NCAA rule. -TOB

Source: “Hefty LSU Recruiting Sanctions May Be Related to Alabama Signee”, John Taylor, College Football Talk (02/26/2015)

PAL: Remember when you were a kid playing at the park with the rest of the kids from the neighborhood and you made up some game to pass the time and ultimately said made up game would fall apart because there’s always that one kid who starts making up rules in the middle of the game? The NCAA is like that kid who always messes up an otherwise fun game.


Hey, Uh, Vivek: Players Are Not Guinea Pigs

Since taking over the Kings, Vivek Ranadive has floated some insane basketball strategies. One that has gone largely  unnoticed, though, is that the team’s NBDL affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, hired David Arseneault, Jr. to implement the Grinnell System (to middling success – the Bighorns are just 14-21 on the season). Grinnell has intermittently made headlines, most notably in 2012 when Jack Taylor scored 138 points in a single game. It appears that management is evaluating this as a possible strategy for the NBA squad, despite the fact that it would not work in the NBA.

Grinnell’s system is simple: (1) only shoot threes and layups, and shoot them immediately; (2) full-court press on defense and try for steals at every opportunity; (3) if your man beats you, let him score and get back to the offensive end; and (4) everyone but the shooter tries to get offensive rebounds. To keep players fresh, they make full five-man substitutions every 2 minutes, like in hockey. As a result, the Bighorns are averaging 140 points and 50 three-point attempts per game.

But the most interesting aspect of this story is how the Bighorn players, hoping to impress someone and make an NBA team, are being treated like guinea pigs. In the article, the players openly wonder if teams will take their abilities seriously – especially on the defensive end. This charade only serves to hurt the players the Kings employ, and to damage their own credibility. Thanks to 1-2-3 Sports! reader Brett Morris for this story. -TOB

Source: “140 Points – But are the Reno Bighorns a Basketball Experiment Too Far?”, Les Carpenter, The Guardian (02/20/2015)


NBA Inside Stuff (Sans Ahmad Rashad)

What’s it like to guard Tim Duncan and get beat even when you know exactly what he’s going to do? What differentiates Anthony Davis’ shot-blocking from other bigs in the NBA? Why does Pau Gasol draw more fouls than DeMarcus Cousins? NBA vet Tyson Chandler breaks down a list of players who “do certain things better than anyone else in the world.” Chandler is great on these assessments, providing specific insights that dig deeper than a player’s natural abilities. Chess matches take place all over the court throughout the game. 1-1 battles within a team game. Sounds like a baseball article. In fact, Chandlers’ assessment reminds me a bit of a July post we had on what makes Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright so tough to hit. – PAL

Source: “Elite Bigs 101”, Tyson Chandler, The Players’ Tribune (02/18/2015)


Video of the Week

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