Monday, December 31, 2012

How the (AFC) West was Won

Against all odds, I have managed to make it a month without posting anything too blatantly biased or focused on any Denver team for this blog, at the risk of turning off the intended general audience of nationwide sports fans (which admittedly to this point consists of the three of us and four of our friends...but hey, we can still call ourselves nationwide). However, while home for break, I had the fortune of attending both Broncos home games and witnessing firsthand the surgical dominance of one Peyton Freaking Manning. As a lifelong fan of the team, I have witnessed the quarterbacking struggles they have gone through since Elway's retirement in 1999 - certainly nothing as awful as teams like the Browns (whose winningest quarterback by percentage since the team's return is amazingly a 2-2 Jake Delhomme) and the Bears (who haven't had a decent QB - and sorry Bears fans, you still don't - since Jim McMahon), but it seems like no team has had performance so consistently mediocre from the most important position over the last 10-15 years. Check out this random list of starters since Elway's departure: Brian Griese (defining "Replacement Level" performance at the QB position), Chris Miller (who?), Gus Frerotte (to my knowledge still the Broncos single-game yardage record holder), Steve "Why Is My Finger Bent This Way" Beuerlein, Danny Kanell, Jarious Jackson (again, who?), Jake Plummer, Smokin' Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, and some guy who got on ESPN a few times last season. Chances are if you know football, you have heard of most of those guys: primarily inconsistent, occasionally memorable, and always thoroughly mediocre.

After living through those 13 seasons, I was struck by how different the Broncos looked with a truly great quarterback running the offense. The offense took on a look than I had ever seen before (I was 8 during the last Super Bowl run), and was a complete 180 degree shift from our "Offense" last season. Some of the credit for this has to go to John Fox and co. for completely rebuilding the system in such a short time, but what other events caused such a complete turnaround in the last 12 months? For my money, here were the four most important moments in turning around the franchise:

Jan. 15, 2012: Patriots 45, Broncos 10

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Untimely Appearances

Between his first and second matches of the 2012 US Open, Andy Roddick called a press conference.  Impromptu press conferences are fairly rare in the tennis world; some thought he may be dropping out of the tournament, some thought he just wanted to get some more air-time next to his wife (the ultimate “I don’t care what you say about my career, I married hotter than you did/ever will” move), and some foresaw what actually happened: a retirement announcement.  This couldn’t be said to be a major shock – everyone not named Andy Roddick believed he was past his prime, attempting to compete in a game becoming ever more dominated by wildly athletic, conditioned, punishing 20-somethings.  Some thought he had another year or two of quality competition in him if he wanted it.

The truth is, Andy Roddick has always trained extremely hard, and always competed even harder.  When he first began training with the major US players, Agassi was amazed at the power and commitment of the young teenager.  You could never watch an Andy Roddick match, against anyone, and say at the end, “You know, it really looked like Andy folded in that final set.”  For a man who went 2-19 against the greatest player history has seen (thus far), that statement is perhaps a greater legacy than any set of numbers or accomplishments he achieved on the court.

Yet despite his commitment, enthusiasm, energy, athleticism, and love for the game, Andy Roddick retires having only won a single major. 


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

5 Bold Predictions for the NBA Season

As a huge NBA fan, I was happy to see the 2012-2013 iteration of the NBA season get under way a few months ago without the lockout-related shenanigans of last year. While its debatable whether the labor compromise actually solved the fundamental areas of concern for owners (namely, letting small markets keep star players and keeping their own GMs from doing anything too stupid), the sensible return to basketball last year and subsequent thrilling playoffs built up interest for this NBA season to its highest level in my lifetime.

(Note: this is in stark contrast to the NHL labor dispute where, despite an entire missed season just 8 years ago, somehow Gary Bettman wasn't smart enough to outlaw 17 YEAR CONTRACTS worth over $100 million dollars; meaning, BECAUSE hockey stupidly locked everybody out 8 years ago and the general population [such as myself] stopped caring, thus steadily decreasing fan interest and team revenues, team general managers [who pretty much universally can't be trusted at this point] could continue to torpedo the league with, once again, 17 YEAR CONTRACTS, bankrupt the teams, and cause a lockout. Hockey lost enough fans in 2004 and they sure aren't getting them back any time soon - other American leagues which will soon pass the NHL in interest level include the MLS, the UFC, the PGA Tour, the WTA, the WWE, Arena Football, the Dew Tour, the PBA, Bassmasters, horse racing, the ESPN Timbersports Series, college hockey, college volleyball, college curling, club ultimate frisbee, college ultimate frisbee, and watching President Obama eat sandwiches in slow motion. Just further proof that David Stern placed Bettman in power to secure his legacy as the best current commissioner [almost by default at this point considering the strong PR work Roger Goodell has done recently, and of course the fact that Bud Selig is a large, floppy hand puppet]. But I digress.)

All I Want for Christmas is a QB

There’s a QB controversy brewing on a team with an offensive mascot name.  It’s not full blown yet, but during the off-season and throughout 2013 it will be one that will occupy the minds of players, coaches, management, and fans around the city and country.  It will be a decision that must be made with the knowledge that a division rival is led by a Manning; a decision on how to spend money, and on whom, and what the franchise’s goals should be; a decision on whether or not to promote a back-up, and perhaps which back-up should be given a starting role.

Nope, it isn’t the Washington Washingtons.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Build Your Own Batmobile: How Average NBA Players Would Make Incredible Intramural Teams

Brian: Gentlemen, good morning. We are happy to bring our readers (all 4 of them) a treat today - we will be live drafting teams that we would consider to be "the best intramural team" made possible with non-All Star NBA players. The intent is to pick guys that have never made an all-Star game or first-team anything, but would have any intramural team in the country begging on their knees to be allowed to bring the ball past midcourt.

We will pick 7 players each, snake draft style, with at least 3 guards and 2 post players on each team. To determine the first pick, Paul picked a conference, Jack picked a team, and I picked a random player and we each had 5 seconds to guess their career points total. We came up with Western-Blazers-Luke Babbitt and Paul won the rights to the first pick with an amazing guess of 310 (actual total was 297). My mediocre at best guess of 3500 was good for second pick, and Jack "Portland Soccer Mom" Peterson will be bringing up the rear with a mind-numbingly poor guess of 6,789. Without further ado, Jack and Paul!

Paul: Alright lets get it started! After an embarrassingly easy victory guessing the career point total of Luke Babbitt (really Jack you guessed almost 7,000 points?), for the first pick on any streetbal-style team, you want a player with a silky J, wicked crossover move, good size, and a little bit of a mean streak. My selection has checked all those boxes over the course of his 13-year career, but despite scoring over 50 in a game for 3 different teams and leading the NBA in all-time 4 point plays, has never been an all-star selection, with his career highlights including a 6th man of the year award. Generally shoddy defense non-withstanding (but really who plays D in intramurals), with the first overall pick, I select Jamal "J-Crossover" Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Closer Look at the "Kobe Assist"

Ten or fifteen years ago, basketball began to undergo a statistical revolution in much the same way baseball had ten or fifteen years prior with Bill James. Over the years, different schools of thought about player value have developed, but there are a few central tenets that most quote-on-quote "advanced statisticians" seem to agree on. One of the biggest such tenets states that points per game are a truly terrible metric for value; good teams do tend to have players that score a lot of points, but so do bad teams, and efficiency is far more important. A related tenet is that generating the most possible points in every possession is more important than generating the most points overall, meaning that if Carmelo scores 35 points but goes 10 for 30 in doing so, his team is highly likely to lose despite his high point totals. In short, the vast majority of players can take lots of shots, and making them is certainly important, but not missing shots is what truly adds value to a team. Missed shots, in all except certain rare end-of-game free throw situations, are bad.

Recently, a Kirk Goldsberry article entitled "The Kobe Assist" generated a lot of discussion amongst the statistical world for attempting to disprove the theory that all such missed shots have equal, negative, value for a team. I encourage reading the entire thing, but for those of you who don't want to/can't access Grantland at work/want to get through this article before your shit is over, Goldsberry's basic thesis is that each player's missed shots are not created equal. In other words, some players are far more likely to get their missed shots rebounded by their own team, leading to (typically) an easy putback. The stats will record this as a miss (a negative event) by the shooter, and an ORB and made shot (positive events) by the rebounder, but since the first shot led to the second, easy shot, some of this positive value should transfer back to the shooter. Unsurprisingly, Kobe Bryant (famous for many reasons, notably large point totals and correspondingly large numbers of missed shots) is the king of this stat, with over 200 such instances over the last two seasons, so Goldsberry names the stat after him.

So, the obvious next question is, does this throw a major wrench into the entire notion of advanced statistics in basketball?

Even Royalty Must Choose (Yes, that means you, KC Royals)

The great questions most of us face in life are obvious: Could I be making more money if I had started my own business?  Why do the pockets on my shorts always come out of the wash inside out if I don’t put them in that way? Is three kids too many? If the best parts of any talent show on TV are the discoveries of weird people with amazing voices, why does the show need to be anything other than just a series of auditions?  And how the hell is Survivor still a show?

For a general manager of a major sports franchise, these are easily answered (no, I don’t wear shorts, with my first wife, I think we can all agree this is the case, and because seeing people starve and fight at the same time is some sort of weird human-impulse turn-on).  The real question is: Do I build a team to have success in the future (potentially sacrificing success in the present), or do I do what I can to put my team in a position to succeed every single year?

(Perhaps the actual question is: Is my fan base willing to let me build a franchise that will succeed in the future – and not fire me before it gets there?)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

NFL All-Criminal Team

NFL All-Criminal Team

Role play time: pretend you are the president of the United States in 2016. The prisoners at ADX, with the help of the real-life Bane (known in some circles as “Gary Bettman”) have perfectly executed the prison breakout scene from The Dark Knight Rises and have taken control of the country. Instead of waging full-scale civil war, the prisoners agree to play in a regulation football game at the Meadowlands for control of the country, winner take all. Their only stipulation is that we must pick criminals to play them. Think Space Jam meets The Longest Yard. As the president, you have the honor of handpicking the squad that will determine that future of mankind. Who do you pick?? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the NFL All-Criminal team.

Let’s lay out the guidelines for a minute: any player picked for the team must have at least one arrest to his name. So even though I’d love to have a mauler like Jake Long taking on the inmates, that would violate the terms that were laid out. Since we are already suspending reality in the aforementioned scenario, pretend we can have any player in NFL history in his prime. This opens up the door to some of the all-time NFL bad boys, guys who won’t back down if the free safety is hiding a shiv made from his toothbrush under his hip pads. With that being said, let’s proceed to the picks.

QB – Ben “Big Ben” Roethlesberger

Monday, December 3, 2012

There is no buzz-beater for greatness

Kobe Bryant’s story is an interesting one.  Filled with talent, promise, money, fame, set-backs, slumps, awe-inspiring finishes, dunks, friendships, friends he says would not have been successful without him, and friends that call him super old.  He’s produced some of the NBA’s greatest plays and moments of my brief lifetime.  He’s also produced some of the more character-less acts done by professionals - which is saying something.

And yet, despite all that, “Kobe!” is what any kid calls out when he practices his buzzer-beating fade-away.  (Ok, let’s be honest – it’s also what all high schoolers, college students, and young adults call out as well.)  Take a poll – who is the “clutchest” player in the NBA, who is the best closer, who would you most like to have taking the final shot for your team? Kobe.  (Challenged in the last year by Kevin Durant.)  Who sells the most jerseys around the world – most notably in China? Kobe.