Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Around the League

Some quick notes that I thought were important enough to pass along. Apologies for the bullety form, work is starting to settle down, and hopefully I'll be able to go home and do this at more reasonable hours starting soon.

- I don't want to comment on the game itself, but do want to address briefly the Trevor Ariza foul that led to Rudy Fernandez's injury. I think Matt Moore's point that the foul wasn't dirty so much as reckless was pretty accurate. I would point out, though, a couple of things. One, players probably need to be judicious in how they approach a situation where they're behind the play on a fastbreak and want to challenge the shot (from behind). However, I can see how Ariza might have thought he had a shot, he made a similar play in the first game of the season against Jerryd Bayless, and it resulted in a clean block. Further, Ariza, and others like Josh Smith or Andrei Kirilenko, use blocks from behind as an important part of their games, as a way of capitalizing on their length and athleticism. But there's a difference between blocking a player from behind in the halfcourt and coming across his body from behind when he's at full speed on a fast break. The problem wasn't, as the announcers tried to argue, that it was a 30-point game and Ariza should have just let him go -- that is stupid. The problem was that the probability of causing an injury there was much higher than the probability of defending the shot. Anyway, the main reason I'm bringing the episode up is that I happened to be watching a Portland feed of the game. Now, I've never met Rudy Fernandez myself, but as soon as the play went down, I was horrified and all of my thoughts were along the lines of "I hope he's ok" and "I hope that wasn't as bad as it looked." So why was Portland's color commentator, who I assume actually knows Rudy personally, obsessed only with how the referees would hand out techincal fouls for the resulting skirmish or whether Lamar Odom would be suspended for briefly leaving the bench, even as Fernandez was laying motionless on the ground? You can mention those things, of course, but can't you at least pretend to be concerned for the player who might have just been seriously injured and is being taken out on a stretcher? The color guy, whose name I can't recall right now, didn't say anything about Fernandez. That's disgusting.

- I am really glad to hear that Fernandez will be ok. After watching replays, I was relieved to see that a head, neck, or spine injury seemed very unlikely. I sort of thought that it might be one or more broken ribs. As it turns out, it is "soft tissue damage." I have no idea what that means, but the reports make it sound not as serious as the other possibilites.

- I only caught the first half of the Rockets-Nuggets game last night, but wow, the Rockets' defense is fantastic. Right now in the standings, the Rockets are third in the West. That would match them up with the Hornets in the first round, and I don't think the Hornets make it out. Watching Ron Artest and then Shane Battier at times guard Carmelo Anthony was obviously big, but I was more taken by how Yao played both in team defense overall and specifically against Nene.

- Speaking of the Rockets, Bill Simmons had Houston GM Daryl Morey on as a guest on his podcast, and it is worth listening to if you get the chance. Some roundabout dithering on statistics: the podcast includes a few pretty clear digs at Dave Berri and the Wages of Wins, and I hear that Mark Cuban also referred to the WOW as dumb. As the volcano said to the riverbed, "I share your sediment." Although I have some theoretical disagreements with Berri et al's approach to basketball statistics, the real issue I have is with the style and tone that the blog has taken. This idea that repeatedly debunking "conventional wisdom" while being dismissive of any other work done in the field and treating the audience like it is stupid is . . . well, it makes analsysis in general look bad. And it serves as some sort of confirmation to those who are resistant to any quantificational analysis that there is nothing of value there. What I found interesting about the Morey-Simmons conversation was that Simmons is one of those resistant types, and he goes into what he thinks is important, discussing, basically, context. And that's interesting to me because I think that's what a lot of people who care actually are trying to uncover using numbers. As I've said here before, as a fan, I have no interest in using statistics to show "who's better" or "who's the best player in the league?" or whatever. I want to know things like "what would Philadelphia look like if they had a better outside spot-up shooter who didn't disrupt their defensive style?" or "would this team benefit more from a center who always comes out of the paint to defend the pick and roll (Kendrick Perkins?) or someone who sits back in the paint but is a great shot-blocker (Marcus Camby)?" I guess what I'm saying is that Simmons is right, there, but his point isn't a strike against statistical analysis, it's a strike against stupidity and oversimplification. (This is a subtle recommendation to read the recent work at basketball geek, for instance). Anyways, as fans we don't have a ton of access to data outside of what's in play-by-plays, like how a player shoots off the dribble as opposed to spotting up, how efficient he is going right or going left, or how well a player defends under different strategies of defending the pick and roll. But that's data that I'm pretty sure is available to a lot of teams.

- I didn't see yesterday's Heat-Bulls game, unfortunately. I know I just rambled about the uselessness of the boxscore and whatnot, but look what Dwyane Wade did: 48 points (shooting 15-21), 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals, and three blocks. Good lord. I realize that the NBA is a league of outliers. When we talk about 450 of, probably, the 1,000 best basketball players in the world, that's more than one or two standard deviations from the mean -- we're talking about really exceptional players, the top .0001% or something. So the fact that, even among this group, there are a handful of players who are just that much stronger, faster, smarter, than their peers, is remarkable. I'm looking at you, Lebron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade. Kind of the athletic successors to the younger Kevin Garnett and Orlando Tracy McGrady.

Again, apologies for the lack of structure. There are well-formed essays swimming around my head, I'll do my best ot get them up in time for when the NCAA takes over all the attention.

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