Andy LevitreGTEN201310.664.5-1.5 Average:7.96.8-1.1 Paul PoslusznyILBJAC201110.883.7-4.3 Nnamdi AsomughaCBPHI201120.8107.3-2.7 Brandon CarrCBDAL201221.188.0+0.0 Sidney RiceWRSEA201112.5710.3+3.3 Mike WallaceWRMIA201324.478.0+1.0 D. Rodgers-CromartieCBNYG201410.576.0-1.0 Johnathan JosephCBHOU201119.668.0+2.0 Branden AlbertLTMIA201419.588.0+0.0 Jared AllenDECHI201411.785.0-3.0 Jared VeldheerLTARI201412.81011.0+1.0 Jermon BushrodLTCHI201318.3106.5-3.5 Eric DeckerWRNYJ201411.384.0-4.0 With one splashy signing, the Miami Dolphins became nominal winners of one of the most anticipated bidding contests in the history of NFL free agency (for a non-quarterback). Their prize: The Detroit Lions’ three-time first-team All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh — and $114 million in contract liability. Of that, $60 million is guaranteed, a non-QB record.While big-time free agent signings are exciting, they don’t often end well.1Quarterbacks are an obvious exception — but mostly because the top QBs are almost certainly extremely underpaid relative to their true value. Players frequently regress to the mean or turn out to be less valuable in new circumstances. But even if Suh turns out to be as good in Miami as he has seemed to be in Detroit — which is far from certain — it’s unclear whether this could ever be a good deal for the Dolphins. With both a hard salary cap and salary floor, an NFL team doesn’t win by paying players exactly what they’re worth — it wins by paying them far less than they’re worth.To help explain why, come back in time with me to a lecture hall on Hillhouse Avenue, where I took Economics 159: Introduction to Game Theory. The teacher — an enthusiastic business school professor — illustrated concepts through a variety of amusing games, and he played for real money.“Who Wants a $20 Bill?” was one game we played. Nothing fancy, just an open auction for a $20 bill. The “winner” ended up paying $20.2This is how I remember things, anyway. It’s possible the names, structures and actual dollar amounts of these games were different. The follow-up game was: “I’m putting an undisclosed amount of money in this envelope and selling it to the highest bidder.” The envelope contained $10, but the “winning” bidder bid $20. (Prof showed no mercy.)3I only recall him showing mercy once: when we played War of Attrition, a game meant to show how out of hand things can get when both sides have steadily increasing incentives not to lose. It got out of hand.That game was meant to illustrate “the winner’s curse” — a well-known phenomenon by which the winners of certain types of auctions tend to overpay. In particular, the “curse” applies to auctions in which the bidding parties have varying opinions about the value of what they’re bidding on: Whoever overvalues the object is more likely to win — and vice versa.If there ever was a pool of people capable of a wide range of misestimates about commodity value, it’s NFL general managers. While a lot of discussion goes into “team needs” when it comes to potential free agent acquisitions, virtually every high-quality player has a number of teams that need them about equally. That constitutes their market. Of that group, the team that is most irrationally bullish on the player will be the most likely to sign him to a big contract.All of that is present in Miami’s commitment to Suh. The Dolphins weren’t much more “in need” of an All-Pro defensive tackle than most teams, but their bid “far exceeded” that of others.But how expensive is this contract, really? It’s not as simple as its top-line figures — the $114 million for six years. Looking at contracts only in terms of how much and for how long is generally very deceptive. Most NFL contracts aren’t designed to go the distance; they’re designed to work for a couple of years or so and then force everyone back to the table. But one thing a team can’t get around is guaranteed money.4While the timing of its impact on a team’s cap can be shifted around a bit, that’s all just smoothing out the edges: This is the money a team has committed to have that player do whatever he ends up doing for it. This is what it’s agreed to pay for that player’s exclusive services — everything on top of the guaranteed money is just indicative of the option to keep paying the player.Thus, a metric I like to use when comparing contracts is the amount of guaranteed money a team gives a player relative to the league’s salary cap at the time the contract was signed. By that measure, until this offseason, the richest non-QB free agent signing in the past four years was Mario Williams’s contract with Buffalo in 2012 that included $31.4 million in guaranteed money, or 26 percent of the league’s $120.6 million salary cap. Here are all the non-QB signings over the past four years in which the guaranteed money exceeded 10 percent of the league’s salary cap and in which the signing team had won between six and 10 games the year before.5I excluded the teams that had really good or bad records to avoid excessive regression to the mean. Also, if a team had more than one such signing, I listed only the largest acquisition it made that year. The change in each team’s average win total over the next three years is also included: Kamerion WimbleyOLBTEN201211.295.0-4.0 PLAYERPOSTEAMYEARGUARANTEE/ SALARY CAPPRIOR WINSAVG. WINS, NEXT 3 YRSCHANGE Greg JenningsWRMIN201314.5106.0-4.0 Jared CookTESTL201313.076.5-0.5 Mario WilliamsDEBUF201226.0%67.0+1.0 Robert MeachemWRSD201211.688.3+0.3 The average change in wins of these big-splash free agent signings: 1.1 more losses. That’s not how it’s supposed to go. Unless you’re an economist, in which case it’s exactly how you’d expect it to go.Of course, the sample is too small to draw conclusions based on the data alone. And as for Suh, they’re not even very good comparisons. Suh’s contract blows all of these out of the water:The $60 million guaranteed is 42 percent of the announced 2015 salary cap of $143.6 million.There’s a reason that free-agent contracts like this don’t usually happen: Teams don’t want to give big contracts to players they’ve never had in their own locker rooms. This is a perfectly rational response: They have less information about those players (not just about their skills, but how they will fit with teammates, etc.). This uncertainty is like a tax that the player’s previous team doesn’t have to pay.But we all know Suh is great, right? So maybe this uncertainty tax shouldn’t apply. From this perspective, Suh’s contract is a tiny bit less unprecedented. In recent years, teams have shown a willingness to give even non-QBs some pretty big money, with J.J. Watt, Gerald McCoy, Calvin Johnson and Patrick Peterson all getting deals with more than $50 million guaranteed. But even including players re-signed by their own teams, Suh is a huge outlier for defensive tackles:Of course, the goal of signing Suh is to improve the Dolphins’ defense, and it would be pretty surprising if that didn’t happen. But evaluating these kinds of deals can be more complicated than that. The consequences of overpaying can manifest in any number of ways. Perhaps tying up 10 percent to 15 percent of their salary on an interior lineman every year means the Dolphins are unable to pursue a quarterback in future offseasons, etc. And, similarly, a lack of defensive improvement doesn’t necessarily mean that a defensive signing isn’t working: If a team gets a really good player at a good price, it may decide to spend less money on the rest of its defense and spend more on the offense, etc.It’s tough to condemn the Dolphins and Suh’s fate based on only a few years of solid contract data (though other historical salary data generally backs up the idea that paying big money to non-QBs isn’t a value play). And granted, these signings sometimes work out under the right circumstances — like when one player drastically affects the balance of power or when the timing coincides with the arrival of a Hall of Fame quarterback. But for every Deion Sanders in Dallas or San Francisco, there’s an Albert Haynesworth, or a Dana Stubblefield, or a Deion Sanders in Washington.The tricky thing about the free agency game that the Dolphins are playing isn’t the worst-case scenario, which is when a team pays a big chunk of its money to a bust. It’s that the best-case scenario is still pretty much paying $20 for a $20 bill.
Embed Code Our sports podcast Hot Takedown previews March Madness. If you’re filling out your bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and want some statistical background to the broader forecasts, you have a slew of options. Start at Sports-Reference.com: powerful search tools; team rankings for anything from pace to point differentials adjusted for strength of schedule; and player pages with stats such as usage percentage, win shares and Box Plus/Minus. Ken Pomeroy’s site offers more detailed and adjusted team rankings and a wide array of individual player metrics. For $100 a year, Shot Analytics delivers detailed spatial analysis of shot selection, including weighted shot charts.If you’re looking for similar information to help you fill out an NCAA women’s basketball tournament bracket, you’re out of luck.Last week, leading into the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Sue Bird wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune about this analytic gender gap, noting, “The disparity between NBA data — even data across all male sports — and WNBA data is glaring. Data for the WNBA is relegated to basic information: points, rebounds, steals, assists, turnovers, blocks. While worthy of being noted, those are the most rudimentary numbers in our game.” There are a few slightly richer sources of data for the women’s professional game — Basketball-Reference.com will let you see the true shooting percentage and usage rate for WNBA players, for example — but Bird’s overall characterization of the data disparity is dead-on, and the effect is even stronger in college basketball. That’s true this month more than most.Until recently, the one repository for advanced statistics such as usage, true shooting percentage, pace-adjusted player statistics and adjusted team ratings for women’s college ball was WBBState.com, a vertical of data company National Statistical. But that source disappeared Feb. 29, when ServerAxis, the company that provided server space to National Statistical’s hosting company, suddenly took all its equipment offline. There are reports that ServerAxis was having financial problems, but the company has so far not responded to requests for comment. National Statistical also declined to comment on the situation on the advice of lawyers as it works to recover its data and bring the site back online.Exactly how a web hosting company pulls up anchor, ditches its Miami headquarters, and ends up 1,300 miles away in Chicago, allegedly waiting for its servers to find their way home, is almost certainly a fascinating story, but it’s secondary to the reality that an entire sport’s advanced metrics wing can be wiped off the map by a few nerds absconding with a few hard drives and turning off their phones. This is a corollary to the more global lack of statistical interrogation of women’s basketball — the data isn’t just shallow, it’s scarce, and that scarcity makes it fragile.What’s left behind is a patchwork collection of disparate scraps of data. ESPN has some statistics available for players and teams, but these cover only basic stats and are organized as leaderboards, so they can’t be searched or sorted beyond the top 50. You can find the full lists for most of those statistics, and a few others, on the NCAA’s website. It’s a thin statistical slice, and they are available for only the current season. Right now, if you wanted to find out where Breanna Stewart’s true shooting percentage ranked this season, or how many points per 100 possessions Baylor allowed, you’d need to scrape the data and calculate it yourself.A paucity of data in any sport doesn’t just trim down the “analytics” branch — it fundamentally changes the types of stories that can be told about teams and athletes. “The more data you have,” says Howard Megdal, a contributing editor for the women’s sports site Excelle Sports, “the more you have the ability to parse it, and to compare it, and to do it more easily, the more stories that are out there.”That’s no small point. In the landscape of women’s sports, college basketball in general and the NCAA Tournament in particular are enormously important. The nation’s attention has turned to college basketball, expecting rich, compelling and thorough analysis, and the women’s side, already handicapped by neglect, has lost one of its legs to a freak woodchipper accident. This leaves the writers who cover the tournament, missing servers be damned, in quite the lurch.“The NCAA has the standard points and rebounds,” Megdal says, “but I’m writing today and trying to make the point that South Carolina’s offense is actually more efficient than its defense. You know people talk about South Carolina’s defense all the time. I only knew that because of WBBState, and being able to see the tempo-free stats. So when I went to go and prove it, I can’t right now; I can’t reference those numbers. All I can do is say that they’re 17th in points per game, or whatever. And as I’m doing it, I’m well aware that I’m using a highly flawed stat that doesn’t begin to capture what I’m after.”In a way, that sums up the state of analytics in women’s basketball: Everyone knows that there are more powerful tools of observation waiting just out of reach, but there just isn’t much to do about it. Sometimes that’s because women’s leagues lack the financial might or institutional support to run in the lead pack; other times it’s because the wrong web host picked the wrong month to blow town. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed By Ian Levy
Ledecky’s performance at 800 meters is the most any swimmer has dominated any distance, followed by her performance at 1,500 meters. The next three most-dominant swims were all set in the controversial summer of 2009 record frenzy4In fact, Paul Biederman’s 200m, Lin Zhang’s 800m and Federica Pellegrini’s 200m freestyle records were all set on July 26, 2009. that led to FINA’s banning of full-body and nontextile swimsuits. Then there’s Ledecky’s 400 meters.And don’t sleep on her raw speed. Despite having unparalleled stamina, her 200-meter performance is nearly two standard deviations above the mean — of the top 50 of all time — in its own right. While she failed to qualify for the 100 meters at these Olympics, she is still well within the 50 fastest women (37th fastest since 2000) at that distance, and she’s still improving.Rapidly.Just the beginningWe know that the dropoff in speed that Ledecky shows over distances is uncannily flat. We don’t know how fast Ledecky can get.We do know that her trends look good at every distance. USA swimming has times from all of Ledecky’s officially recognized races going back to her youth. But let’s pick up in 2010 — just two years before her London gold — when she was 13: “She has a chance.”That was the best the commentators at the 2012 Olympics could muster for the introduction of 15-year-old Katie Ledecky, who entered the finals of the 800-meter freestyle event as a virtual unknown. She had the third-fastest time in qualifying, but had no track record and no other medals in a year when the vaunted United States swim team ultimately won 31. Eight minutes, 15 seconds later, she was a gold medalist. Four years later, she is the most dominant swimmer on Earth.That Ledecky will repeat in the 800 meters this year is certain, save for whatever allowances we must make for the potential for injury or planet-killing asteroids. Her mark of 8:06.68 is over 7 seconds faster than any other woman in history. She hasn’t been challenged at this distance for so long that it’s unclear how fast she can go. She’s almost as much of a favorite in the 400-meter freestyle, where she owns the world record and is the first woman to swim the event consistently in under 4 minutes.1The first woman to swim 400 meters in under 4 minutes was Federica Pellegrini in 2009, prior to FINA’s ban on body-length and non-textile swimsuits. Since then, a sub-4-minute time has only been done by Ledecky. And despite being known as a distance swimmer, she is also the world champion in the 200-meter freestyle and the fourth-fastest woman in the event this decade.But Ledecky’s expected gold medal tally doesn’t do her justice. Not even close.Katie Ledecky is all aloneThere are swimmers with more versatile repertoires — Michael Phelps’s 18 golds (and counting) is safe for now — but Ledecky specializes in the stroke designed to get you from point A to point B as fast as possible. Her races and her career essentially follow the same pattern — the more she swims, the more she separates from the field: The black line is the average of the 50 best times at each distance since 2000. The top 200 times for each distance since 2000 are also plotted, with light orange lines each representing one swimmer.As you can see, Ledecky is pretty much the Secretariat of swimming.It’s a shame that the Olympic Games don’t include the women’s 1,500-meter event. Ledecky is so fast that her pace over 1,500 meters is faster than any other woman in history has managed over 800 meters. Wrap your head around that for a second: If Ledecky’s 1,500-meter record in 2015 were her only swim, she would have broken Rebecca Adlington’s 800-meter world record — that had stood since 2008 — in her first 800 meters.2Possibly in her last 800 meters, as well. I don’t have the 100-meter splits for that race, but her pace over both the first 800 and the last 700 meters was slightly faster than Adlington’s.With no real competition at distances of longer than 400 meters, we need new points of comparison. As I’ve written about before, her 800-meter record is marching its way through history as among the fastest swum by man or woman. She’s faster than the 1960 Olympic gold medal-winning men’s 800-meter relay (4×200) team, and she’s faster than any single person in history through 1975. She has cleared Tim Shaw and most of Stephen Holland’s records and could soon erase the Australian legend completely.There’s dominant and there’s dominant and there’s dominantEntering these Olympic games, at just 19 years old, Ledecky is already the most dominant freestyle swimmer in the modern era.3FINA’s downloadable archives go back to 2000. To demonstrate, I looked at the top swims by the 50 top male and female swimmers at each distance. Using those as a baseline, I charted the top swims by the top 200 swimmers for each gender at each distance, relative to the top 50 (in standard deviations). In essence, this shows us how good each swimmer is relative to the best that each event has had to offer this century, and allows us to compare across events and genders: The gray dots each represent one of the 500 swimmers (of any age) at each distance who posted the fastest times5The data goes back to 2000, though only those who posted their fastest times since 2010 are shown in this chart. and reflect those times versus the dates they were posted.Ledecky has favorable-looking trends — both over all races and for her personal bests — at every distance. She has set personal bests in the 100, 200 and 800 this year already, after having personal bests in the 50, 100, 800 and 1,500 last year. Her best events are flattening out a bit (as we would expect), but even there it is difficult to gauge because she has been so far ahead of the pack that she hasn’t been pushed.Even if Ledecky’s progression is normal, at 19 she should have years of improvement ahead. Generally, top female swimmers peak at older ages over shorter distances. The average age of a swimmer posting a personal best in the top 50 in a distance event (800m-1,500m) is 20. At middle distances (200-400m) it’s 22. At sprint distances (50-100m) it’s 25.6Specifically, those swimmers with one of the 50 best times since 2000 who posted it before 2014Ledecky’s consistent improvement at sprint distances, combined with her continuous, almost nonchalant dominance over longer distances, leaves me highly intrigued about the future possibilities.Could she be the first woman to swim 800 meters in under 8 minutes? How about the first person to set world records at four different distances since Tim Shaw more than 40 years ago? Those are both fair bets for the future — and unlikely but still on the table for these games.Beyond that, who knows? How about 1,500 meters in 15 minutes? Or becoming the first person to hold all five major distance records simultaneously since Shane Gould?She has a chance.We’re on the ground in Rio covering the 2016 Summer Olympics. Check out all our coverage here.
Lawyers for one of Jerry Sandusky’s adopted sons said the man has told authorities the former Penn State assistant football coach abused him.The lawyers issued a statement Thursday naming Matt Sandusky, one of Jerry Sandusky’s six adopted children, and saying that the 33-year-old had been prepared to testify on behalf of prosecutors at his father’s sex abuse trial.“During the trial, Matt Sandusky contacted us and requested our advice and assistance in arranging a meeting with prosecutors to disclose for the first time in this case that he is a victim of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse,” Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici wrote in the statement. “At Matt’s request, we immediately arranged a meeting between him and the prosecutors and investigators.“This has been an extremely painful experience for Matt and he has asked us to convey his request that the media respect his privacy. There will be no further comment.”The statement was issued after jurors in the ex-coach’s child sex abuse trial began deliberating 48 charges against him. The jurors are sequestered during deliberations.Lawyers for Matt and Jerry Sandusky and prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.Matt Sandusky went to live with Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, as a foster child and was adopted by them as an adult.Shortly after the former coach’s arrest in November, Matt Sandusky’s ex-wife went to court to keep her former father-in-law away from their three young children. Jill Jones successfully obtained a restraining order forbidding the children from sleeping over at their grandparents’ home.At around the same time, details emerged that Matt Sandusky had attempted suicide just four months after first going to live with the couple in 1995. He had come into the home through The Second Mile charity, which Jerry Sandusky founded, and was first a foster child before being legally adopted.During testimony last week, an accuser known as Victim 4 said Matt Sandusky was living at the Sandusky home at the time he stayed there overnight.When asked by prosecutors whether Jerry Sandusky ever engaged him in a soap battle in the showers, he recounted the time when he and Matt Sandusky had been playing racket ball. After they were done, he said, they went back to a locker room. Matt got undressed and got into the shower and then Victim 4 and Sandusky followed him in there, he testified.“Me and Jerry came in. He started pumping his hand full of soap,” he said.At that point, Matt shut off his shower and left and went to another locker room to shower, the witness said.Asked by prosecutors about Matt’s facial expression when the soap battles started, he replied: “Nervous.”Jurors began their deliberations Thursday after prosecutors described him as a serial molester who groomed his victims, while his defense lawyer said the former Penn State assistant football coach was being victimized by an overzealous prosecution and greedy accusers.Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/06/21/sandusky-adopted-son-says-former-penn-state-coach-abused-him/#ixzz1yT5eOWAr
Oh, and don’t forgetThe men’s bobsled winner of “Scouting Camp – The Next Olympic Hopeful” — just a walk-on, essentially — won 4 medals with the team for Team USA at the North American cup. We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe Things That Caught My EyeLuck runs outMost teams that get good breaks in close games in the first half of an NFL season will regress, and likewise many teams that lose a lot of their close games will do better in them in the back half. Lots of teams have won or lost lots of games decided by one score or less: the Giants are 0-3, Browns are 0-4, and 49ers are 0-5 in those contests, and on the other hand Washington and the Cardinals are 3-0, the Panthers and Dolphins are 4-1 and the Eagles, Pats, Steelers and Titans are 3-1. If fortune’s favored your team so far in that kind of contest, don’t get cocky is all we’re saying. [ESPN]The Jags are sneakyThe Jacksonville Jaguars have a really, really good defense this year, but don’t fret if you didn’t expect that going in. Through the first nine games they’re number one in the league on points, passing yards, and expected points added. Last year they were 25th, 5th and 13th by those same metrics, respectively, and in 2015 they were 31st, 29th and 24th by them. To say their ascent has been rapid is an understatement. [FiveThirtyEight]Notre Dame in prime timeCollege football sees two marquee matchups this weekend, with Georgia a 55 percent favorite over Auburn and Notre Dame a 61 percent favorite over Miami. The Notre Dame-Miami matchup has bigger playoff implications for each team. A win for the Irish would raise their chances of making the playoff from 30 percent to 47 percent. A win for Miami would crank up their playoff chance from 26 percent to 47 percent, and would effectively eliminate independent Notre Dame from the postseason. [FiveThirtyEight]The greatest pitcher of the millenniumRoy Halladay was killed in a plane crash Tuesday. His time pitching for Toronto and Philadelphia for 16 seasons saw him pitch over 2,700 innings and winning 203 games. Based on wins above replacement since 2000, Halladay is the greatest pitcher of the millennium despite not pitching for four years. [FiveThirtyEight]Four nations this weekendThe Olympics are right around the corner, and the Four Nations Cup — a tournament for the Finnish, Swedish, Canadian and American women’s national hockey teams — is an excellent preview for some of the top talent in that group. Sunday will be the championship games in Tampa. [The Ice Garden]LeBron needs four other people to make shotsCleveland’s win on Tuesday pushed its offensive efficiency in the NBA from seventh place to second place, but there’s a lot of reason for concern. Essentially everyone alongside LeBron who’s name is not Kyle Korver needs to step it up. Looking at how his teammates are shooting off passes from LeBron, Channing Frye, J.R. Smith and Jae Crowder are underperforming on observed effective field goal percentage compared to the expectation. [FiveThirtyEight]Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions? game!Big Number50 in 50Only five NHL players have scored fifty goals in their team’s first fifty games. As it stands, there’s been a drought of people scoring 50 in 50: The last time someone pulled it off was Brett Hull in the 1991-92 season. As it stands, Nikita Kucherov of Tampa Bay is nearly on pace for the achievement, with 15 goals in Tampa’s first 16 games. Still, it’s the next 30+ games where this milestone is truly won, and this year may look different defensively than previous years thanks to some rule changes that favor offense. [FiveThirtyEight]Leaks from Slack: Trust The Process (almost.)walt:!!kyle:lolthat aggressive shrugging off of the offseason reversionis delightful“actually, model, we didn’t get any better. in fact we’re even worse now”Predictions NFL All newsletters See more NFL predictions neil:Sixers have finally almost dug out of the Hinkie eraneil [4:38 PM]
Finally, after a seismic NBA free-agency stretch that was like nothing we’ve ever seen before, things have quieted down, and all the moving and shaking has just about ceased. This is the calm before the storm; one in which a wide array of teams may feel they have a shot at winning an NBA title.With all this in mind, we pieced together four questions that lie ahead for a handful of teams before the league goes into its late-summer slumber.Will the Warriors have enough defense?Losing Kevin Durant was an obvious blow for Golden State, but even if you set aside his departure, you could intelligently argue that the club lost its heart and soul this summer.This isn’t a reference to Andre Iguodala alone. (Though some would make the claim that he is — or at least was — that vital all by himself.) Instead, it’s more a nod to the smothering style of defense the Warriors figure to lose without him, Shaun Livingston and, to some extent, Durant.Simply put: It’s not clear if Golden State will be elite again on the defensive side of the ball without the versatility, speed, synchronization and smarts they once enjoyed. The Warriors will always be known for their incredible perimeter shooting. But what was often lost was their ability to repeatedly pull off ridiculous comebacks because of their defense, which exposed other teams’ inability to play small.There were signs that the “Death Lineup” was beginning to lose steam throughout this past season, something that became apparent as Iguodala (and even more so with Livingston) were growing older and slowing down. But there will be a steep learning curve this season with so many new faces on the team — especially without the rehabbing Klay Thompson in the lineup for months.Golden State, which ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency in 2014-15 — the first season of their five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals — has since finished sixth in 2015-16, second in 2016-17, No. 11 in 2017-18 and No. 11 in 2018-19. And by plugging in D’Angelo Russell and Willie Cauley-Stein,1A player who was a beast defensively in college, but hasn’t come anywhere near that level on D at the pro level yet. it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Warriors fall into the bottom third of the league defensively.There are some potential upsides to this, of course. Former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green could view this situation — critics counting the Warriors out now, the lack of standout defenders around him2With the exception of Thompson when healthy and center Kevon Looney, and his upcoming free agency3If he doesn’t sign an extension this summer — as a personal challenge. And if the Warriors do end up being lackluster on D, it could make for some fun shootouts.But on some level, it really does feel like the engine that once made this team unbeatable — their suffocating defense — has been replaced with one that simply doesn’t have the same gears.How will the Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon gamble play out?There will understandably be considerable attention surrounding Brooklyn and possibly Philadelphia out East heading into the regular season, but it will be intriguing to see how the Bucks fare following their 60-win season. Going into the summer, we knew that Milwaukee was going to be doing damage control in free agency, with Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic all hitting the market.The club batted .500 in terms of retention, losing Brogdon4While getting a first-round pick protected in the top-14 from 2020 to 2025 and two future second-rounders from Indiana — an admittedly decent consolation, but not one that figures to move the needle considering this team needs to win now in hopes of convincing Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign a long-term extension. — a restricted free agent the Bucks could’ve kept had they been willing to go into the luxury tax — and Mirotic (to Europe) while maxing out Middleton and hanging onto Lopez.How successful this summer was for Milwaukee will ultimately come down to whether the Bucks can take the next step, and much of that is rooted in the team’s guard play. Brogdon was solid as could be, and now will hand the reins fully to inconsistent playoff performer Eric Bledsoe5Whose postseason true-shooting percentage numbers have now dropped from 62 percent and 55 percent in 2012 and 2013 to 51 percent and just 49 percent in 2018 and 2019, respectively. and 33-year-old George Hill, who was impressive in the postseason. Surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo with catch-and-shoot threats like Kyle Korver and Wes Matthews6Milwaukee would be wise to tell Matthews that posting up isn’t allowed after how that went last season, when he shot 39 percent from 2-point range. could also help, as could Robin Lopez, Brook’s long-haired twin brother, who will make an impact defensively and on the glass.Of course, Giannis could render much of this moot if he makes another leap this season. (Shooting more consistently from three — which he showed glimpses of after New Year’s — would be one way of accomplishing this.) Still, Brogdon’s ability to handle, defend, shoot and create competently was really integral to this team. It remains to be seen whether the Bucks can replace enough of those things piecemeal with this new roster, but it certainly feels like a lot could be riding on the answer to that key factor.The Thunder are still kind of interesting. But are they a playoff team?There’s no question that this has been a tough offseason for Thunder fans to swallow, even if it was relatively clear that the Russell Westbrook-and-Paul George-led team wasn’t going anywhere.The franchise has cashed in its stagnant present for a future full of first-round picks, yet still has a lot of talent left on the roster, including a 34-year-old Chris Paul (with a contract that could age like a used diaper); Danilo Gallinari; Steven Adams; and talented guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.Understandably, most have written off Oklahoma City for this coming season now that the rebuild is just about in full-swing with George and Westbrook out the door. But people shouldn’t mistake that the team can’t compete on the court — at least not yet.Yes, the wheels may come all the way off health-wise if Paul and Gallinari log heavy minutes (it seems a safe bet that one or both won’t finish the season on the Thunder roster). But it’s also not inconceivable in the slightest that OKC’s new core could make an unlikely run at a playoff spot. The team, deficient in shooting for the longest time, now has some perimeter threats. Turnovers will decrease by swapping Westbrook for Paul. The club’s defense could also take a step forward with the new cast and by bringing back Andre Roberson, one of the league’s premier stoppers before getting injured and missing all of last year.This isn’t a suggestion that the Thunder will be better. They probably won’t be. But our current projections have them finishing 41-417Surprisingly better than both the Blazers and the Spurs, who made the playoffs last season. — a mark that would leave them just two games out of the projected No. 8 spot out West (while getting them into the East playoffs somewhat comfortably). So while few, if any, would give OKC a chance of reaching the playoffs in the crowded West, crazier things have happened. Until the club sells off more parts, there’s still enough talent.Will the Pistons’ smaller moves make up for the bigger one that didn’t happen?No, Detroit didn’t land Westbrook via trade. But even without the former MVP — who would’ve clogged their cap space even more, all without definitively making them even the third-best club in the East — it’s easy to see how the Pistons might have gotten at least slightly better for this coming season.Similar to the Thunder, Detroit had issues with outside shooting — even when opponents abandoned defending the perimeter altogether. As such, the Pistons made a draft-night deal with the salary-shedding Bucks to acquire Tony Snell — and the 30th pick in the draft, which Detroit opted to flip for multiple second-rounders — who’s knocked down triples at around a 40 percent clip each of the past three seasons in Milwaukee.Beyond that, you might remember how mightily the Pistons struggled last season when backup guard Ish Smith, of all people, was out of the lineup. (The team saw one of the biggest win-loss-percentage swings in the entire NBA depending on whether he played.) So the team sought to find a bigger, higher-scoring replica in Smith, and did so by signing Derrick Rose.The obvious question here is whether Rose, who for years was railroaded by his own injury problems, will be healthy enough to be a consistent enough upgrade at the position. But if he is and can score anywhere near as efficiently as he did last season, it would give Detroit another much-needed scoring threat, and another player, aside from Blake Griffin or Reggie Jackson, to set up players like Snell and sharpshooter Luke Kennard. And on some level, Rose, doing that would give the Pistons a poor man’s version of Westbrook — and a former MVP who doesn’t further cripple the team’s future cap scenario the way a Westbrook acquisition would have done.
We’re on the ground in Rio covering the 2016 Summer Olympics. Check out all our coverage here.Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (Aug. 10, 2016) we look at the different ways to appreciate the performances by U.S. swimmers and gymnasts at the Olympics. Is it better to marvel at the statistical dominance, or just sit back and be in awe of the athleticism on display? FiveThirtyEight’s very own Allison McCann also checks in from Rio, where she says things are going relatively smoothly. Then, an extended significant digit segment on Ichiro Suzuki, who just tallied his 3,000th hit in the majors. Neil Paine wonders: What would Ichiro’s career stats look like had he played his entire career in Major League Baseball?Links to what we discuss are here:Ben Morris on U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky’s prowess, and how others may join her assault on the record books.Allison McCann’s dispatch from Rio: a bit rocky, but overall no different from other major sporting events.The New York Times breaks down how Simone Biles completes her signature floor move, “The Biles.”In a sport usually decided by fractions of points, the U.S. women crushed their gymnastics opponents.Neil Paine says Ichiro Suzuki is a rare combo: “old and good.” If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code FiveThirtyEight
But by hanging closer to Walker so he doesn’t get open looks, his opponents have inadvertently become a major part of the reason that Walker has shot so well when defenders are crowding him. Because Walker is so quick (and because he can run directly off the shoulder of his screener, which helps him shed his man), he can often set his feet and rise for a pull-up jumper before the defender has fully gotten back into the play.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/kembamagic.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.I watched film of Walker’s most closely contested threes, and I discovered two things: 1. Almost all of the plays are like the one in the video above, in which a defender is trailing behind Walker after a pick is set for him and 2. because of that, even though opponents are quite close to Walker, they have no way of bothering his shot from behind without risking being called for a three-shot foul.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/kembaspurs.mp400:0000:0000:11Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Some of this highlights the screen-setting value of Charlotte big man Cody Zeller,1Zeller’s injuries have been backbreaking for the Hornets this season. Charlotte is beating opponents by nearly 9 points per 100 plays when he and Walker are both on the floor, but the Hornets get outscored by one point per 100 possessions when Walker is without Zeller, per NBA.com. who ranks fourth in the NBA with 5.4 screen assists per game, per SportVU.“This year, it’s a huge difference, just because I want his defender to go over the screen,” Zeller told Bleacher Report earlier in the season. “In other years, I had to make sure the defender didn’t get under it, you know, set it a couple steps lower.”But a huge part of it is also Walker’s quick trigger following the screen. By taking the shot so soon after the pick, Walker is essentially boxing out his defender and preventing the opponent from getting a hand in his face. And that explains how he’s managed to shoot just as well with foes breathing down his neck as when he’s had plenty of space to launch a shot.Check out our latest NBA predictions. 2013-1412.433.3 Defenders often go under screens when they don’t think a shooter will make an outside shot. As Walker has gotten more accurate, they’ve had to guard him far more closely.Source: NBA, Synergy Sports Those familiar with the first few seasons of Walker’s career might dismiss these numbers as an aberration — his output this year is a huge improvement from his 27 percent mark when tightly guarded the prior three years, and the six-year veteran was a below-average shooter from deep until last year.But there are a handful of reasons to think the 26-year-old can continue hitting the closely guarded shots at a better-than-expected clip. For starters, he’s been working with Hornets assistant coach Bruce Kreutzer, who has made a few small changes that seem to have made a tremendous difference the past two seasons. Kreutzer had Walker adjust his jumper by using the balls of his feet for lift instead of his heels, which improves his accuracy, and moving his release point an inch or two to his right, which prevents Walker, a righty, from needing an extra split second to pull the ball over from his left side to shoot.And the improvement from distance has prompted defenses to play Walker much differently in screen-and-roll scenarios. Teams used to duck underneath the screens set for him more than 20 percent of the time, according to Synergy Sports, daring the UConn product to shoot and hindering the Hornets’ spacing. Now, opponents know Walker is dangerous from outside, and they are fighting over the top of the screens more than ever in hopes of staying with him. In today’s pace-and-space NBA, competent defenders are more valuable than they’ve ever been, thanks to the unprecedented level of shooting and the sheer number of versatile players who double as unicorns. Ideally, a defender gets as physical as he can without fouling the shooter. And at a minimum, he should sprint toward the player with an outstretched arm, throwing off the shooter’s rhythm and concentration and potentially forcing a misfire.But what if getting closer to the shooter doesn’t make any real difference?That is the conundrum of guarding a Kemba Walker 3-pointer.The Charlotte Hornets’ All-Star point guard, who is enjoying the best season of his career, is shooting 45 percent from the 3-point stripe when he’s left wide open, with more than six feet between him and the closest defender. Somewhat unbelievably, he’s also shooting an NBA-best 44 percent from 3 when he’s smothered, with less than two feet separating him and the closest defender, according to SportVU, which uses cameras to track movement on the court. 2014-1514.130.4 Kemba has gotten better from deep, even as defenses have tightened Is James Harden As Good As He Says He Is? 2012-1323.432.2 2015-1614.337.1 2016-1712.240.2 2011-1221.7%30.5% Related: Hot Takedown SEASON% OF TIME DEFENDER WENT UNDER THE SCREEN3-POINT %
Embed Code FiveThirtyEight More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s basketball podcast. On this week’s show (Nov. 8, 2017), Neil and Kyle break down the news that the Phoenix Suns have agreed to trade Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks. We also get into what exactly is going on with the Cleveland Cavaliers — and just how their latest woes may affect their playoff chances. Next, Baxter Holmes joins for a discussion of ESPN’s “schedule alert” project, which identifies games that NBA teams are likely to lose because of the punishing 82-game schedule. Plus, a significant digit on the Detroit Pistons.Here are links to what we discussed this week:LeBron can’t do it all alone, writes Kyle.Baxter Holmes’s schedule alert project.Neil investigates the Detroit Pistons’ new, improved habits on offense.
Quite a lot is happening in the Western Conference playoff race. Postseason fixtures like San Antonio and Oklahoma City are struggling. Minnesota is without Jimmy Butler for the foreseeable future. The Pelicans are surging, but thin. This has set up a power vacuum behind the top two teams, Houston and Golden State, ripe for just about any team in the contending peloton to push into a high playoff seed and home-court advantage. Maybe even an upstart like the Portland Trail Blazers.With 19 games to play, the Blazers sit third in the West, looking as likely as anyone to hold onto home court over the final month and change. Portland is on an 8-1 run, including six straight wins. Damian Lillard has averaged 33 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds over that stretch. He has jump-started an uncharacteristically dormant offense, and the wins have followed. But it isn’t Lillard’s outbursts that have lifted Portland’s profile above where it’s been in past seasons. That would be the defense.After years of playing some of the worst team defense in the league, the Blazers are seventh in defensive rating on the season, according to NBA.com. It hasn’t been entirely smooth — after a strong start to the season, the team ranked just 22nd in January and 12th in February — but Portland seems to have righted the ship during this latest stretch. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the team had a 102.9 defensive rating during that stretch, which would put Portland at the top of the league if that were its season-long figure.The curious thing is the Blazers have done this without many of the obvious tells of a good defense. They don’t force many turnovers (third-fewest per 100 possessions); they give up free throws at an average rate; they are average to below-average defending the pick-and-roll and drives, according to data from Second Spectrum; and they don’t block an extreme number of shots or keep opponents out of the paint. In a way, it’s the opposite of the Milwaukee Bucks conundrum: The team gets results without the typical stats that go along with them.What Portland does do is stay in good position and limit high-value shots. According to Second Spectrum’s quantified shot quality stat, which takes into account shooter and defender position, as well as other variables, the Blazers give up the lowest quality shots of any defense in the league, at an implied 49.5 effective field goal percentage. This is in part because the team denies 3-point attempts, ranking fourth in opponent 3-point attempts per game, and keeps high-value corner-three attempts down.In fact, if we think about the Portland defense as a longer term proposition, there’s some reason to believe that the team’s defensive slide in January had as much to do with random chance as anything else. Over that month, the Blazers improved their defense as far as opponent shot quality goes, posting an implied 49.3 eFG% in that month, better than its current league-leading 49.5 figure. More goes into a defense than the X and Y coordinates of opposing shooters, but given Portland’s contain-first system, it’s crucial that the fundamentals held up even when the defense was struggling.The way that system works also allows for Lillard and backcourt partner CJ McCollum, not exactly lockdown defenders, to contribute to the defense without having to stick with their opponent. It involves dropping the defending big man very deep into the lane in pick-and-roll coverage and daring the ballhandler to shoot a pull-up. From there, the defense is set up to defend a drive or a pass to a roller, thanks to the deep-lying big man, and if the ballhandler pulls up or hesitates for even a half-step, Portland’s guards can fight over the screen and get back into the play to challenge.This isn’t always a sure bet — Lillard can still be bullied by bigger guards like Russell Westbrook when isolated — but overall it engages weaker defenders into the plan rather than leaving them to their fates and hoping they don’t spring a play-ending leak. In all variations on the design, the goal is to take the responsibility of containing dribble penetration away from the backcourt and to put it on center Jusuf Nurkic in the middle or more capable defenders on the wings. (Nurkic defends the most shots on a per possession basis and does so while holding opponents to an acceptable eFG and, crucially, not fouling at an astronomically high rate as he did early in his career — an important task for any defender playing the garbage-man role. This volume is a big reason the guards can play as they do. It’s also likely a big reason that Nurkic gets clocked in the face so often.) It doesn’t always work. But the team didn’t need a league-stopping defense; it needed to dredge its defense out of the depths of the league table.Ironically, it’s been the Blazer offense that has been holding the team back for much of the season, which is why Lillard’s recent dominance has translated so neatly into wins.Lillard isn’t as efficient as other star guards, such as Steph Curry or James Harden, but he’s having a career-best year running the pick-and-roll, creating 101 points per 100 chances, according to Second Spectrum, and 103 points per 100 chances on drives. These are very good numbers, particularly for a player burdened with as much defensive attention as Lillard typically gets, but not quite good enough to carry an entire team. McCollum has had a slightly down year, but he’s still hugely productive.Aside from Lillard and McCollum, no other Blazer can produce on the drive, which makes creating space difficult for this offense. Bad things happen when Shabazz Napier and Evan Turner drive. And insofar as the Blazers even have a post game, it’s not one that anyone would want to claim. They rank 27th in points per direct post-up, according to Second Spectrum, down among bottom-dwellers like Atlanta and Memphis. Nurkic takes the biggest share of blame here, registering fewer than 80 points per 100 chances created out of post-ups. There are some brights spots, such as the Lillard-to-Al-Farouq Aminu connection, but when every functional piece of the offense shares a vector through one or two players, the team will rise and fall as its stars do. Luckily, the Portland stars can thrive on their own, at least to a point. Lillard is one of the premier practitioners of the pull-up 3-pointer, a staple of the best offenses in the league — he’s shooting more than five per game and converting 38 percent of them. McCollum, meanwhile, takes his pull-up game inside the line. He shoots 40 percent on his pull-up threes but takes only three per game, compared with more than six pull-up twos. His season is a bit of a dropoff from his last, but an enviable one for nearly anyone else’s standards.The Blazers have one of the harder schedules remaining in the Western Conference playoff race and will have to rely not only on Lillard and McCollum to continue to lift an otherwise leaden offense, but also young players like rookie Zach Collins and Pat Connaughton to continue contributing through a playoff push. It’s a lot to ask. But Portland’s last several playoff runs have involved juggling a similar number of balls in the air. And with what appears to be a firm foundation on defense for the first time in years, the backcourt only has to make up for the deficiencies of one side of the ball, not two. That may not be enough to give the Blazers much of a shot of getting past Houston or Golden State, but it’s progress just the same.Check out our latest NBA predictions.