The Kings of November

November 29, 2012

Duke Basketball has had an unbelievable start to the season.  They have gone 7-0 against an impossibly difficult schedule including three top-5 teams.  After an exhausting start to the season Duke steps back now and plays a markedly easier schedule until ACC play starts.  This is the perfect time to look back on the season so far and what it means for Duke going forward.

 

1.  Duke owns November

Duke has been consistently excellent in November for as long as I can remember.  Coach K schedules numerous hard non-conference games early in the year to simulate NCAA tournament conditions, and has done remarkably well.  Duke has not lost a preseason tournament since 2006.  This is a staggering statistic considering the talent levels that the upper tier tournaments attract.  I have no idea what Coach K does differently than everybody else but Duke teams are consistently better at the beginning of the year than everybody else.  This advantage does not always continue until March, but it is still enormously valuable.  Duke gets a head start on a high NCAA tournament seed that proves important if they lose a game or two in ACC play.  Take this year for example.  After running the early season gauntlet Duke could lose at least 4 and maybe 5 conference games and still be essentially guaranteed a #1 seed.

2.  Seth Curry’s injury is the weirdest thing ever

Seth Curry is suffering from an undisclosed, and apparently undiagnosable, lower leg injury.  The current prognosis is that Curry can play, but will be dealing with pain all year.  It has consistently been described as the kind of injury that cannot be treated and won’t get better with time.  My question is a simple one.  What the fuck kind of injury is that?  This is 2012.  I thought we were past the “Just deal with it bro” phase of medicine.  How can the resources of the Duke sports medicine department not figure this out.

Many people have speculated that Curry is dealing with a stress fracture. (Jay Bilas harped on this last night.)  These people are wrong.  Firstly, stress fractures heal with time.  If Curry really had one he would sit out a month or two and be ready to roll by the spring.  Secondly, I had a stress fracture in high school and could barely walk.  There is no way someone with a broken leg could consistently play 30+ minutes per game.

(Regardless of the exact nature of the injury, Curry is showing serious balls by gutting it out.)

3.  Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon are the truth

Duke came into the season with big-time question marks in the back court.  Sulaimon and Cook have played exceptionally well however, and turned a weakness into a strength.  Cook was the MVP of the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and has made the whole team better with his play as a pure point guard.  Sulaimon has provided much needed perimeter defense and even flashed some serious offensive game last night against Ohio State.  Unfortunately, Sulaimon suffers from what many call the Zoolander disease.  He is not an ambi-turner and just cannot go left.

4.  Mason Plumlee learned how to shoot free throws

Plumlee’s horrendous free throw shooting was a big hole in his game.  He shied away from contact (a big problem for a center) and had to be taken out late in games.  Now that Plumlee can shoot free throws, he is over 80% for the year, he is unstoppable.  It’s like when Happy Gilmore learned to putt.  No one else stands a chance.

5.  Ryan Kelly has the best nickname in college basketball.  Maybe the world.

THE WHITE RAVEN

 

6.  Duke needs to develop some depth

The start to the season has been an unmitigated success for Duke, but there have been some causes for concern for those of us looking hard enough.  Namely, the complete lack of useable players after the starting 5.  Tyler Thornton is the sixth man and is a decent, but limited player.  He works hard and is a competent defender and ball handler but cannot create his own shot or even reliably make open ones. (Side note: if Thornton was white he would set the record for most times being called a gym rat.)

Beyond Thornton the bench has been disastrous.  The issue is not a lack of talent, but rather a lack of playing time and production.  Forwards Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson in particular were highly recruited and should be able to help the team if given the chance.  It is possible that Coach K will use the easier December schedule to work Murphy, Jefferson, or injured center Marshall Plumlee into the rotation. (Yup.  There is another Plumlee brother.  By all accounts he is the most Plumlee of the three.)  If not then this Duke team is in trouble.  Eventually foul trouble or fatigue is going to force Duke to go to the bench, and if Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton are the first two guys off it then the Blue Devils will fall short of their goals in March.

Playing Catch Up

November 26, 2012

The past few weeks have been very eventful for the sports world.  I have had a ton of Raw Thoughts that never made it into the blog either due to my own laziness or the fact that they didn’t quite warrant an entire post.  I am going to try and catch up and go rapid fire until I run out of things to say.  Duke Basketball has obviously been very active but will get it’s own post later this week

 

-NC State was wildly, terribly overrated to start the season.  I know this isn’t exactly breaking news since State has already been blown out once and barely beat UNC Ashville over the weekend but I have been saying this for weeks if not months.  Trust me.  Anyone who predicted State to be in the top 5 or to win the ACC should have their press passes revoked.  Picking State to win the conference is like picking France to win a war.  They might have a bigger army but they are still fucking France.

 
-UNC also sucks which makes me very, very happy.

 

-The NHL is absolutely killing itself.  They evidently didn’t get my letter and are still continuing a lockout that is going to kill the league.  Figure it out hockey

 

-The ACC sucks balls at football.  The conference only has six bowl eligible teams and only two of them are decent.  To make things worse the two good teams, Florida State and Clemson, just got beat at home pretty easily by SEC schools.  Sadly, I don’t really see this changing in the near future.  Miami looks promising but will probably be in NCAA sanction hell for the next couple of years.

 

-Conference realignment has gotten out of hand.  The Big Ten has expanded again grabbing Maryland and Rutgers in a move that makes absolutely zero sense for any of the parties involved.  The Big Ten hopes to lock down the NYC and D.C. television markets with this move and is paying through the ass to make it happen. (Maryland has to pay the ACC 50 million bucks to leave)  The problem is that no one gives a shit about Maryland or Rutgers football.  There is no way that people in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic are going to pay for the Big 10 network so they can see Minnesota and Iowa beat Maryland 14-9.

The move makes even less sense for Maryland.  They have built up a solid basketball tradition pretty much solely because they play in the ACC and get to pretend to be rivals with UNC and Duke.  Their recruiting is going to dry up and they will lose basketball without reaping any benefits in football.  The ACC however is adding Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse, and is gonna be just fine.  Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out Terrapins.  (This actually might make sense for Rutgers.  I just don’t know or care at all.)

 

-The Chiefs are the saddest team in recent professional sports history.  They completely suck and cannot stop cropping up in really embarrassing articles and videos.  First, a man’s obituary cited the Chiefs poor play as the reason for his death.  Then to make things worse an old lady heckled Chiefs receiver Dexter McCluster as he delivered her Thanksgiving dinner.  The Chiefs can’t even win at community service.

Oh yeah.  And Pro Bowl safety is deathly afraid of the Chiefs mascot.  A fucking horse.

 

-The Thunder screwed themselves (and everyone who hates the Heat) over by trading James Harden.  They are still good but have almost no chance of beating the Heat now.  I realize keeping Harden would have been expensive anyone who buys a professional sports team with the goal of making money is an idiot.  Because the Thunder were too poor to pay Harden we are most likely going to have to watch the Lakers and the Heat in the finals.  This is my nightmare.

 

-The General Petraeus/CIA/army/cheating scandal doesn’t really interest me that much.  The only thing I care about is the side story involving Jill Kelly.  She has been repeatedly described as a “Tampa Socialite.”  How the hell does Tampa have a social scene that merits socialites?

 

-DUKE FOOTBALL IS IN A BOWL GAME

I don’t care that we backed into it.  I don’t care that it’s going to be a sheisty bowl and I don’t really care if we win.  After 19 years of horrendous football Duke is back in the postseason.

 

The AL MVP Race

November 15, 2012

Miguel Cabrera just won the American League MVP.  Cabrera won the triple crown and by any measure had a spectacular season.  In most years he would be a very deserving winner.  This year however he was not the best player in the league.  That distinction goes to Angels rookie Mike Trout.  Trout had one of the best seasons in baseball history but did not win the MVP because people are fucking stupid.

I do not want to get too bogged down in each players statistics and respective merits.  These have been extensively written about all over the internet. (Two of the best are Jonah Keri and Joe Posnanski.)  Mike Trout has had a better year by every possible metric except for batting average, runs batted in and home runs.  He stole more bases, scored more runs, was a massively better defensive player, and was actually a stronger offensive player if you go by advanced statistics.  No one on either side of the argument debates any of these points.  And yet somehow Miguel Cabrera won the award.

Cabrera won for a number of completely inane reasons.  The first of which is that he is the first triple crown winner since Carl Yazstremsky in 1967.  The Triple Crown is a very difficult feat that has a lot of history behind it.  MVP voters, and pretty much everyone over 30, seem to automatically tie this accomplishment with the MVP award.  There are a ton of problems with this logic.  The first of which is that the Triple Crown stats are not a very good way to evaluate a baseball player.  They only consider offense, and they do a poor job properly judging that even.  RBI’s for example are an essentially worthless measure for judging an individual player’s performance.  Far too many factors outside of a player’s control factor into RBI’s.  (Quality of teammates, position in the batting order, teammates baserunning abilities, etc.)  RBI’s have essentially been discredited as a valid metric and batting average is nearly as worthless. (On Base Percentage is now used instead) Leading the league in either RBI’s or batting average is not the least bit significant anymore, but since Cabrera was able to combine all three categories these outdated statistics have suddenly become relevant again.  The fact that Cabrera led the league in the only three stats available in 1930 is impressive but it shouldn’t mean that we have to evaluate players the same way we did during the depression.

(One last problem with the Triple Crown.  It is completely dependent on the performance of the rest of the league.  if Josh Hamilton had stayed healthy and hit 3 more home runs then he would have led the league and Cabrera would have fallen just short of the triple Crown.  He would have provided the exact same value to his team but would have had no chance at the MVP.)

The other big reason that Cabrera won the MVP is because many people feel that since his team, the Tigers, made the playoffs and Trout’s did not that he provided more value.  This logic completely ignores the individual nature of baseball.  Baseball is unique among team sports in that an individual’s impact is pretty much limited to their own performance.  A great quarterback can make the entire offense better, and someone like Lebron or Jordan can almost single-handedly win games in basketball.  A historically great baseball player can’t make his teammates hit better, or his pitcher stop serving up meatballs.  I think the argument that an MVP can only come from a playoff team is flawed in pretty much any sport but it is just downright wrong in baseball.

More importantly, the Angels won more games than the Tigers.  The only reason Cabrera was able to “lead” his team to the playoffs was because the AL central was a historically bad division. (This also means that Trout’s numbers were produced against tougher competition.)  Arguing that Cabrera deserves the MVP over Trout because his team made the playoffs is both illogical and unfair.  What would people have Trout do?  He can’t magically put the Royals in the AL West.

It is pretty clear that there really aren’t any good arguments to be made for Cabrera to win the MVP.  In addition to the ones listed above people often bring up nebulous qualities such as “clutchness” or leadership that range from difficult to impossible to quantify.  (For the record the best current metric of clutchness favors Trout.)  People arguing for Cabrera are really doing so because they do not believe in the more advanced statistics.  Baseball is easily quantifiable because each plate appearance is it’s own specific event.  As such hitting stats are the most accurate in sports.  Things like Wins Above Replacement, runs created, and OPS+ help us very accurately evaluate baseball players and even serve as effective predictors of future performance.  Writers, pundits, and old people hate this. (Obviously not all people in these categories, but enough to create a travesty out of the MVP vote.)  They do not want to believe these numbers are accurate or effective because evaluating and predicting baseball players is their job.  The older generation of baseball media in particular feels threatened by the statistical advances and is choosing to bury their heads in the sand and ignore all the evidence.  (I propose a mandatory viewing of Moneyball for anyone who voted for Cabrera)

If you can’t tell by now I feel very strongly about this issue.  Not because I truly give a shit who won the MVP.  Mike Trout got screwed, but he is a 20 year old future millionaire who plays baseball for a living.  I shed no tears for Mike Trout.  He can do things like this.

The world is his fucking oyster.
The real reason that this whole situation bothers me is that a lot of people, many of them very influential, still use such flawed logic to make big decisions.  I watched a debate about this on MLB TV today and had to listen to a grown ass man (radio host Chris Russo for the record) argue that a win counts more in September than it does in May.  This is classic sports narrative logic that has been repeatedly disproven by things like numbers and math.  And yet we hear things like it on TV all the time.  And not just in sports.  Nate Silver, and pretty much everyone else doing statistical modeling, was very certain that President Obama would win the election.  Rather than accept this information as the science that it was, many talking heads ignored it and attacked Silver personally to discredit him.  The information did not fit with the narrative they preferred so they pretended it didn’t exist.  This is a very dangerous way to make decisions.

Since this is America, ignorant people will always be allowed to twist the facts to suit their beliefs.  My hope is that someday these people won’t be the ones who get paid to speak on television.  We don’t let our doctors use techniques form the 1940’s.  Why do we let our newscasters?

The Whitest Team in the NBA

November 6, 2012

I am a huge NBA fan, but due to geographic constraints I don’t really have a favorite team.  There is no team within three hours of Raleigh, and none of the closest teams (Bobcats, Wizards, Hawks) have either the storied tradition or recent history of success that inspires loyalty.  As a result I am something of an NBA free agent.  I pick a few rooting interests at the beginning of each year based on how fun I think they will be to watch.  And I always root against the Heat.  Thanks to the magic of NBA league pass I am able to watch my adopted teams and any other games that seem fun.  It is a weird, low-pressure kind of sports fandom and the polar opposite of the way I consume college football, basketball and the NFL.  It would suck not to have a team in most sports, but it works with the NBA.  I usually like to watch every team once before I pick my favorites for the year, but this year I can definitively say that I am standing behind the Minnesota Timberwolves.

I am choosing the Timberwolves because I respect their bold experiment to try to field the whitest professional basketball team in history.  I watched them play last night and in crunch time the Wolves lineup included 4 white guys.  This was so shocking to me that I looked up their roster and found that 10 of the 15 players on the team were white.  This is an absolutely astounding statistic.  This 66% white player rate is by far the highest in the league.  The Cavaliers are closest at 40% and most teams are between 10-20%.

The percentage of white players isn’t even the craziest thing about this year’s Timberwolves team.  By this metric they are the whitest team since the mid-80’s Celtics teams, but I think their whiteness runs deeper than that.  When everyone is healthy for Minnesota is is possible, likely even, that their best starting lineup will consist entirely of white players: Ricky Rubio at point guard, Alexey Shved at shooting guard, Andrei Kirilenko at small forward, Kevin Love at power forward and Nikola Pekovic at center.  Even more remarkable, out of their top 9 players (NBA teams usually go 9 players deep) 8 of them could be white.  Joining the starting five could be Chase Buddinger, J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour, with Dante Cunningham as the lone black rotation player.  While the 80’s Celtics and probably a few other teams have been whiter percentage wise, its has been a really long time since an NBA team rolled out an all white starting line up on a regular basis.

Line-up data from the early years of the NBA is relatively sparse, but near as I can tell the last team to rock an entirely white starting lineup for a full season was the 1957-58 Syracuse Nationals.  The 57-58 Syracuse team played in something called the Onondaga War Memorial Arena, and featured the “National Basketball Association’s last two-handed set shooter.”  Yup, its been a long fucking time since there has been a whiter NBA team than the Timberwolves

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves roster is so startlingly white that it has drawn the attention of local civil rights leaders and has even confused some of the players on the team.  In a Minneapolis Star Tribune article that looks like something out of The Onion, civil rights leaders express their concern that this was an intentional ploy to sell tickets. (Timberwolves management emphatically deny these accusations and point to the international nature of the team as a defense.)  Dante Cunningham chimes in stating, “Day One, we were all in the elevator and I kind of looked up and I was just like, ‘Where is everybody?'”

The shock and outrage over a team of exclusively white players is absolutely hilarious to me.  The modern-day argument that a team needs a few black players is just as absurd and offensive as the 50’s and 60’s era argument that teams needed at least a few white players to provide leadership and stability. In a way the 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves are a bizarro version of the 1966 UTEP team.  Battling stereotypes and (hopefully) winning games all year-long.  I would love to see Minnesota in the finals against the Heat.  It would be like the final scene from Glory Road.  Except the exact opposite.

Of all the many storylines in the NBA this year, the Timberwolves utter whitewash of their lineup is by far the most unusual.  There is almost nothing that could feasibly happen this year that hasn’t happened at least once since the 57-58 season.  We’ve seen 100 point games, massive on court brawls, full season triple doubles, and even talent stealing aliens since the last time a team regularly took the court without at least one black player.  I don’t know how this is going to work out (I can guess) but I am excited to find out.

Plus the T-Wolves team pictures look like One Direction posters

 

 

My sincere thanks go out to Minnesota GM David “The Bizarro Branch Rickey” Kahn for assembling this roster and at the very least ensuring that The Racist Announcer Watch has its busiest year ever