Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bro, Do You Even Lift?

That's a picture of me racing my mountain bike during the 1998 Nationals at Deer Valley.  I was competing in a class that doesn't exist any longer, at least not by the same title.  It was my first year racing "Jr. X," or junior expert, a class that was the top billing for riders under the age of 18.  You weren't considered a pro as a Jr. X racer, both at the national and world level, a rule that famously prompted Anne-Caroline Chausson (the greatest female downhill racer ever) to refuse accepting her junior world champion jersey after her time easily bested the entire pro women's field by a considerable margin.

I had been racing cross-country mountain bikes since I was 13 or 14, and started racing downhill in 1997.  I won two junior state championships (one in Utah and one in Nevada), but was never able to convert to a competitive pro as an adult.  In fact, I never even made it out of the expert category once I hit 19.  Between chafing at constantly losing races and developing a new love for off-road motorcycle riding, my downhill mountain bike career ended, appropriately enough, after a particularly vicious crash back at Deer Valley in 2005.  I wrapped up the state series that summer and sold my downhill bike that October, and that was that.

Among other little league, high school and collegiate athletic pursuits (ranging from baseball to wrestling to cross-country running to swimming), I picked up a keen interest in two sports in which I have yet to compete: rallycross auto racing and the American motocross/supercross series.  These events, much like my own beloved mountain bike racing, played out over the course of several months.  They featured individual races over a season that made up the scoring elements of an overall championship.

Motocross also has an annual international one-race (two motos, but let's not get cloudy) world championship event, the Motocross des Nations, but America is so historically dominant at the event as to render it little more than a spectacle for drunken, Old Glory-hat wearing purists that it's hardly worth mentioning as being in the same league as prestige of an overall outdoor or Supercross championship.  Competing in the MXdN is a feather in a rider's cap, for sure, but being named to the team is an accolade for already-champs.

There's not a lot of apples-to-apples comparisons between professional basketball and motocross racing, but there is one: the goal to win a championship.  Much like in the NBA, motocross racers don't have to win every single moto in order to take home the number one plate at season's end.  You do have to compete among the best racers all year, and winning individual races certainly helps with your point total.  But it's not imperative to be the best all the time (Ricky Carmichael-era races being the exception to this rule).

Perhaps what's more important in motocross is starting with young talent.  Motocross features two classes of races, based on engine displacement.  While some guys stick around in the smaller class (250cc) for the bulk of their careers, the class is universally considered a proving ground for young riders who wish to race with the elite in the 450cc category.  Every year, factory and non-factory teams alike bet huge sums on money and a season's worth of potential crow-eating on young guns who are expected to qualify for and race in every moto.

You don't have to be at all familiar with the sport to anticipate that, just like in basketball or football or life, not everybody gets to hoist a trophy.  While the new kids almost universally excel on paper in some area or another, it takes coaching, training, testing, grit and luck for the best to eventually shine through and graduate to the 450 starting gate.  Having the advice and savvy of an old vet in the truck next to you all year doesn't hurt, either.

This is a very long-winded, roundabout way to get to my point.  Not everybody wins, and it takes a long time for one motocross racer to become dominant season after season.  It really only happens once in a generation of riders.  For every McGrath, Carmichael or Villopoto, there are dozens of Emigs, Henrys, Stewarts, Buttons, Windhams and Millsaps.  It takes something more than raw talent and time in the saddle to craft a champion.

The Jazz had what should have been a two or three-championship team in the 1990s, but fell short.  After an absurdly brief interval, Utah was back in the national title spotlight, even if it was as a dark horse team.  Despite giving extended run to Deron Williams and a host of other still-young players (Stockton and Malone were in their late thirties, you'll remember, during their championship runs), that team failed to materialize into something both grand and stable.

Four years after a Western Conference appearance, that team was almost completely dismantled, with a few key remaining pieces left.  Much like in the world of motorcycle production, it's difficult to re-build your stock bikes every year simply to attempt to make a finest machine on the market for practical and economic reasons.  The Jazz, in their previous two seasons, were riding out the previous generation's frame and engine while the new bits were in prototyping and the small-bore racers were ironing out the kinks.

Right now, we're seeing a whole new enchilada.  A new team led by new players, with effectively a new front office and coaching staff.  Only the last name on the checks remains the same from 2007.  Not everything is working perfectly, but signs of a subtly effective frame and strong engine are beginning to show through.  The racers are fast but impatient and unpolished.

Perhaps, looking strictly at numbers, this Utah Jazz team is making some big mistakes as it prepares for the future.  But as I learned racing mountain bikes, racing (and winning) as a young man doesn't always translate to a career as a champ.  Sometimes it's sportsmanship and drive, not conclusions drawn from stats, that ends up making the difference.  And that can be hard to guarantee in advance.

But hey, all I ever did was race.  Even being a guy with a doctorate, I could be wrong.  Probably because there's no peer-reviewed journals on things with two wheels.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


So the Jazz lost tonight, another one of those effective must-win road games that is going to decide (1) whether we make the playoffs or not, depending on the Lakers, and/or (2) where we end up in the seeding.  The six spot is still not completely out of reach, but with the remaining schedule Utah faces, it's not getting any prettier.

As far as I can tell the legitimate must-win road games that remain are all of our away match-ups against .500 teams (against Dallas, Portland and Minnesota), as well as our roadies against Houston and Golden State (beating the Knicks in a few days wouldn't hurt, either).  The Jazz also need to win all of their remaining home games against teams under .500 (Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, New Orleans and Minnesota) and can really only afford to drop one home game against teams over .500 (Memphis, New York, Brooklyn, Denver and OKC).

Finishing in this manner would give the Jazz a final record of 47-35, which is what it's likely going to take to land that six seed.  Unfortunately, closing the season with such a record, given the team's late-game play of late, the number of road games remaining, and the quality of opponents we still have to face makes such a finish all but impossible.  I don't have the drive to work out the stats for the Lakers, Houston and Golden State, but it's safe to say that without a major shift to emphasizing defense accompanied by an increased ability to close games, March and April could look pretty bleak by the end of next week.

In sum: I haz a sad.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Walk

Today's post brought to you by Bad Religion.

As anybody who's been following the Utah Jazz online this season knows, the hallmark of the season for many fans has been the rift between those who believe strongly in the future and those who buy into the team's "win now" aesthetic.  There is, undoubtedly, a serious sub-debate there about whether that rift really exists; in other words, that playing the youth more may not make much of a negative impact on the team's record once the season is over.  But the fact remains that some fans are unhappy with the way the team is managed and coached, while others believe there is a long-term plan in place that makes the present seem, at best, sluggish and unyielding.

Admittedly, I am in the latter camp.  Maybe I had one too many cups of Kool-Aid, but here's some of the facts.  Arguably the most dominant team in the NBA over the past 13 years has been the San Antonio Spurs, who built their dynasty on the model produced by Jerry Sloan's Jazz squad.  The difference between the Jazz version and the Spurs version is that the Spurs version has won championships.  You can (and I do) argue that the Jazz would have a pair of championships if not for that Jordan guy.  But it's not as though the Spurs beat a bunch of slouch players to win their rings.  The fact is the Spurs did things better, if only in minor ways.  But the little things make the difference, and that attention to detail is what makes champions regardless of whether you're talking basketball, computer programming or flying an airplane.

So what have the Jazz done to improve their chances of winning?  Instead of simply re-modeling their plan on the Spurs-modeled-on-the-Jazz idea, they just brought in the guy who, in part, put those championship Spurs squads together.  With Dennis Lindsey on staff, Utah has signaled that despite KOC's "we're not rebuilding" comments from a couple of years ago, the Jazz are, in fact, hitting the reset button.  And one would think that part of rebuilding means going to the youth at the expense of the older guys who, more likely than not, won't be back next season.

Unfortunately, the Jazz don't exist in a vacuum.  If you sit the vets, it creates dischord in the locker room.  It undermines the already limited attraction to free agents who might otherwise consider playing in a Jazz uniform.  It tells the youth that they have no guarantees from the brass that, once given the reigns, they will have confidence to retain them.  It signifies to your fan base that if they scream loud enough about not being a top seed in the West, the team will cave to pressure.  Perhaps the biggest drawback of abandoning your vets in favor of youth is an admission that you've been doing it wrong, and thus everybody who's bought into the system (coaches, players, potential new players and fans alike) has been willing to overlook a lie.

In my opinion, there is no way for the Jazz to win this debate this season.  Fans of the youth feel like their guys are being sidelined unjustly.  Fans of the vets can read the writing on the wall and know what they've been rooting for is gone next season.  On the other hand, both camps will have carte blanche next year, as the Core Four should see extended playing time (barring some major free agent pickups, which is extremely unlikely) and the long-term plan for the team is going to stay in place with Dennis Lindsey likely to only tinker with how to lace the wheel rather than re-inventing it.

The point I'm circling around is has to do with this being my first substantive post on HoD in months.  It's been difficult for me to write anything meaningful that hasn't already been covered by more talented people, be they professional journalists or reckless boggers.  There doesn't seem to be much point in continuing to debate the merits of how to handle the rest of the season.  Corbin has made no bones about his commitment to staying the course.  Personally, I still think the Jazz have an outside shot at landing the 6 seed in the West and taking that series to 6 games, depending on the opponent.

I would call that a victory and I would call that progress.  Jumping up two playoff spots, competing hard in the first round and giving the youth real playoff experience is enough for me, as long as the opportunity isn't squandered over the summer.  But given that the Jazz now are run by one of the most successful basketball execs in the business, I trust that we see further improvement next year.  The rest of the West is so stacked that earning a 4 seed is going to be an immense challenge regardless of the moves the Jazz are able to make this offseason.

With those things said, here's the rub:  I'm tired of the malcontent and arguing for the sake of arguing about the Jazz's 2012-2013 season.  This will likely be the last post from me that touches on The Narrative or whatever we're calling it at this point.  It would be nice to see Jazz fans get back to focusing on wins and having fun rather than posturing and bickering.  Time to take a proverbial (or literal, if you're into that sort of thing) walk and a deep breath, and get back into rooting for our squad.

See you at The Solution, Jazz fans.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I Work For The Jazz

Sometimes, the problem with Twitter is Twitter itself.  It's pretty much impossible to have a serious conversation with one person in 140 characters at time when both of you are hot about something and, worse, you both type quickly.  Other people start jumping in, the thread splinters into a zillion mini-subjects, and the gist of the ideas you're supposed to be refining gets lost.

Take, for example, a little spat on Twitter tonight between @My_Lo, @dianaallen, @TheJerrbear1 and myself.  What started as an ad hominem attack on Mychel and Diana's character vis-a-vis their "fanship" by Jerry turned out to be premised on an incorrect assumption, and was subsequently apologized for.  It was too late, however, as tempers immediately boiled over.  Well, they did for My_Lo.  He lashed out at Jerrbear, saying, and I quote (seriously, this is verbatim what he said):

I have league pass, own more memoribilia than you can dream of, work for the Utah Jazz and you want to police me?

I'd embed a link but I was blocked by this gentleman a few minutes later (more on that shortly).  This pissed me off for two reasons.  The first was incredulity about how nobody should be able to "police" this talented and selfless writer, when only a few minutes before he wrote:

So who still wants to sit still at the trade deadline, keep the team as constituted, and make a playoff run?

This was a not-at-all disguised jab at the Utah Jazz front office and the coaching staff, not to mention the players, since the implication is that with the roster we currently have, the Jazz are incapable of doing anything memorable even if they make it into the postseason.  And I also perceived it to be an attack at those of us, including myself, who have argued with him all season that we are still in the rebuilding process, it's going to take a while, and some of the right pieces are already in place.  Continuing, this alternate perspective is that certainly improvements remain to be made, but we can't just keep exploding the team every two years when the Jazz get blown out.  In short, if this isn't an effort to "police" opinion on what's happening with the team, I don't know what is.

What the hell is "policing," anyway, besides sharing your opinion?  You get to do it, but we don't?

I don't think it's a secret that some Twitter users feel like some of the "elite" or "notorious" Jazz bloggers have a bit of a bully pulpit.  There is really only one popular "alternative" source for most of Twitter's core Jazz fans, and it's SLC Dunk.  The other fun and insightful bloggers have a good relationship with one or more of the editors/writers on SLCD, and their opinions have begun tracking what's being laid out by the most stat-heavy SLCDunkers because (1) they're well-informed, well-drafted pieces, and (2) it's hard to argue with math, particularly in this everybody-on-Hollingers-nuts atmosphere currently dominating the NBA.

Look, I watched Moneyball, and I grew up a big Oakland Athletics fan.  Stats win games, but players win championships.  And I'm not saying I don't like SLC Dunk.  I read the Downbeat every day.  I hang out with a couple of the contributors in person when I get the chance.  I think it's an amazing blog.  But I also think the success of the website is starting to get into the heads of at least one of their writers.

That's all, I think.  Wait.

Oh yes.  The first part of the attack on Jerry.  After that little eruption, I re-read the original Tweet quoted above and was astonished to see that Mr. Lowman was attempting to bolster his credibility by stating (1) that he subscribes to League Pass; (2) that he owns Utah Jazz merchandise, and (3) that he works for the Jazz.

My face turned purple.

One, asshole, I had LP when I lived out of market, too.  I had to, otherwise I couldn't watch the Jazz.  You live in Idaho Indiana.*  Congratulations on doing the absolute minimum required in order to watch your team play on a regular basis.  And, even if Idaho is still in the Jazz market and their games are airing through your cable provider you lived in Utah* but you still had LP, that would mean NOTHING about your Jazz fan hard core street cred dick contest, because you can't watch Jazz games inside the market with League Pass.

Two, nice work on owning stuff.  God knows that nobody can be a fan of something unless they can prove it with signed shoes in acrylic display cases.  "Look at all this stuff!  I love you!  I mean it!"  What's that saying about guys who drive huge, lifted pickup trucks?

Three, you work for FANZZ.  That is not the Jazz.  Pepsi owns the naming rights to the stadium the Nuggets play in, right?  Pepsi also owns Taco Bell.  Effectively, you're saying that working at Taco Bell means you work for the Nuggets.  You do not work for the Jazz.  You sell Lakers and Yankees hats to kids cutting high school.  Being a meter maid does not mean you have a position in government.  Eat a dick of shame.

Anyway, I shortly found myself blocked by this young man, and one of his fellow bloggers came to his rescue, telling me that none of what I was quoting was actually anything Mychal said.  Well, he did.  He said all of it.

Generally, when I get into a fight with somebody on Twitter, I'm super pissed for ten minutes and then instantly start cracking jokes and admitting where I'd been wrong.  I don't like actually being mad at people, particularly regarding something as ultimately trivial as basketball.  But I don't think I'm wrong this time.  Undoubtedly, some people would be just as happy without my baseless ranting popping up on their Twitter feed.  But I like the community, and I like getting into arguments with people because I feel like I'm constantly learning so much about a team I love.  Frankly, however, I'm starting to feel like those with good opinions are just staying out of the fray, because they fear people like Mychal making bullshit statements and having his followers back him up, even if it's when he says something as FUCKING RETARDED as "how dare you question me, I own all the logos!"

I know I shouldn't post this because I'm contributing to a "rival" blog.  And if this post, which I'm only posting here, results in USN asking me to fuck off, I'll do it.  Because I don't think you should be able to utilize your position as an authority on sweatbands at a Fanzz store, plus the good luck of having landed a great job with an awesome blog, to sweat people after they've apologized for making a mistake.

Look, dude.  You know you're trying to bully people who don't agree with you.  Stop it.

*Apparently Mr. Lowman lives in Indiana, not Idaho, as suggested by his Twitter profile.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dear Andrei

There aren't that many former Jazz players I don't mind being booed when they visit the ESA.  Yet the list of former Utah players who receive a less-than-magnanimous welcome extends to almost every former player on the team.  Boozer, Fisher, Humphries, Matthews, and Williams all have been booed during introductions in Salt Lake.  Even Koufos and Korver have a few people who've heckled them just for wearing a different uniform.

I'm guessing tonight will see an unfortunately vocal part of The Solution's attendees greet Andrei Kirilenko with hostility.

Sorry in advance, AK47.

Despite having spent ten productive seasons in a Utah Jazz uniform, Kirilenko remains a hotly debated part of Jazz history.  Some argue that AK was too fragile physically to be effective (he played in 681 of 820 possible games, an 83% availability rate). Some argue that his game fell off after the 5x5 era (AK shot 44% from the field in 2003-04, and 50.6% in 2009-10).  Others argue that he was too emotional, after having shed some tears while discussing his reduced role in 2007.

Of course, the biggest complaint was Kirilenko's final contract with the Jazz.  After Kirilenko told a Russian newspaper in '07 that he was willing to walk from the remaining $63 million owed him by the Jazz and return to Russia, fans were able to do some math and figure that AK was getting paid roughly $16M per year during his final four years as a Jazzman.  That's a staggering number, especially when considered against some of the other contracts on the team.

And the other contracts on the team weren't a bunch of slouches, either.  Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur were all-star level players, and none of them were making what The Back Tattoo was pulling in.  And to complicate matters, during the 2006-07 season, Kirilenko's scoring dropped to 8.3 points per game, the lowest in his career.  In fact, '06-07 saw AK's lowest numbers in attempted field goals, free throw percentage, offensive and total rebounds, and assists.

Further muddying the AK retrospective waters is the fact that something rather important happened with the Utah Jazz in 2006-07.  They went to the Western Conference finals.  Call it a fluke or call it the best team under the LHM group since the statues left, the Jazz knocked on the door of a Conference Championship, only to get punished by the Spurs in five games.

Even if Utah caught a lot of breaks to make such a deep playoff run with such a young team, something shifted in fan attitudes regarding the resident Russian. He was playing poorly, crying on television, telling Russian newspapers he wanted out of the NBA if he wasn't going to be utilized correctly, and straying from the bounds of traditional marriage, all while making more annually than most Utah residents could dream of earning in a lifetime.

The funny thing about history is you can shape it to prove whatever point you desire.  In the paragraph immediately preceding this one, it seems like AK was a real clown and that maybe the Jazz were right to have let him walk.

Alternately, you could remember Kirilenko like this:  a workhorse player who improved every year he was utilized effectively.  Sloan is known for asking his players to play their positions and their positions only.  Following the end of the Stockton to Malone era, the Jazz had a tougher time fielding the 5-position roster with effective and talented players.  The only real bright spot on the team from 2002-2005 was AK47.  The kid could shoot.  He could block shots.  He could steal, he could dime, he could board.  He could run the point or frustrate centers.  There was literally nothing AK couldn't do in a pinch, and somebody in the Jazz front office recognized that.

Kirilenko was granted a monstrous contract because he was the only good part about the Jazz for 3 seasons.  And when the coaching staff tried to push him back into the small forward box, Kirilenko's game suffered.  Can you imagine the Jazz attempting to force a player who can't play a pure Jerry Sloan 3 to accept the role, only to watch him struggle?  If you're having a hard time imagining such a scenario, ask Paul Millsap how well he thinks that works.

Basketball players are human.  And Kirilenko responded in a human way:  he talked to people, cried a little about watching an otherwise stellar career start to circle the drain, weighed his options, and disappeared for a while.  And when he returned, his game had improved.  AK posted his best FG% as a Jazzman in 2007-08, his best 3P% and his career high assists per 36 minutes (4.6).  He continued to harass offensive players to a degree unlike any other post-Statue era player.

While AK's play should have earned him a reprieve from fans, the team's subsequent failure to make it back to the Conference Finals kept Jazzlandia searching for a scapegoat.  "We can't build around Deron Williams with AK's contract."  "Kirilenko is eating up too many minutes."  "Andrei is hurt way too often."  All of these excuses kept a noisy contingent of Jazz fans opposed to Kirilenko's continued presence on the team.

It is hard to dismiss a player getting paid huge sums of money only to miss 30% of a season due to a "phantom" injury like back spasms.  But for anybody who has ever suffered a soft tissue injury, particularly a chronic one, you know there's nothing "phantom" about it.  Yet Jazz Nation scorned AK as a soft player, a label that stuck all the easier since the guy had been willing to weep on camera.

And the money didn't help.  Even as Kirilenko suggested he'd stay with the Jazz on a new contract for nine to ten million per year, fans rabidly called for his head.  The brass, they shouted, on this overpaid ninny to request his market value from a team he missed 18 games with in his final season!  How dare he!

So the Jazz low-balled him, and Kevin O'Connor lied on the radio, telling Jazz fans that Kirilenko was only good for 60% of the games played by the team while he was under contract.  Kirilenko walked, played in Russia for a while, then signed up for two years in Minnesota.  Good riddance.

Thus far in his inaugural season as a Timberwolf, AK47 is shooting 51.6% from the floor, a career high.  He's still good for 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, along with 3.2 assists.  And he's doing it for ten million a year.  Marvin Williams, by comparison, is shooting 45.5%, with 0.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, and 0.9 assists for roughly $8.3M.  Both players have missed 4 games due to injury.

I suppose this article isn't going to change the minds of those whose hearts are set against Andrei Kirilenko.  But the facts bear out a different history than the one propagated by certain Twitter loudmouths.  AK was the heart of the Utah Jazz franchise for three seasons.  He earned an All-Star selection and two All-Defensive team selections.  He is the only player in the history of the NBA, excluding Hakeem Olajuwon, to post two 5-by-5 games in a single season.  Yeah, only eclipsed by HAKEEM F***ING OLAJUWON.  Not bad company.

Andrei Kirilenko represented a new direction for the Jazz, one based on multi-dimensional players with live offenses not limited to pick-and-rolls, but where defense and hustle were still the key playmakers.  Only when the Jazz tried to force AK into a role that simply didn't work for him did Kirilenko falter.  Once the coaching staff realized they were mis-using a powerful tool, AK47 promptly returned to being one of the most efficient players on the Jazz roster.

More than any of that: he was a player who, every year, was fun to watch on both ends of the court.

So boo him if you must, Jazz fans.  But know that you look like a real ass doing it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Take It Back

Today's post brought to you by the pride of Victorville, CA.

After Wednesday night's debacle against an admittedly fortified Golden State squad, it's hard (even for us Jazz Kool-Aid drinkers) not to wonder what pieces the Jazz need to have in place to become a more competitive squad.  Foye and Marvin Williams both had off nights, and obviously missing your starting PG is problematic.  But the most recent Jazz loss seemed to be the perfect microcosm of all the little things haunting the Jazz this season:  slow starts, lack of intensity, settling for jump shots, weak defensive rebounding, etc.

It would be nice to have another quality point guard on this team.  Frankly, if we had a better 1 than Mo, I'd be happy to have Mo off the bench and leave it at that, allowing Burks or Foye to run the offense in a real pinch.  But that's not how the Jazz do things.  Similarly, there is no real threat at the 2-3 for a take over performance.  Burks might get there someday, but he's not there now.  And our bigs...well, I think that problem has been discussed ad nauseum already so let's move on.

Who could the Jazz pick up to solve some of these problems?  ESPN's trade machine is probably breaking right now just from people with 801 area codes.  There are a million (well, 420ish) players to consider adding to the Utah roster.  And everybody wants to talk about picking up Steph Curry, Dwayne Wade, or Damon Lillard.  It's not gonna happen.

But that doesn't mean we can't speculate.  And, as long as we're speculating, let's start with the coulda-woulda-shouldas.  The list of former Jazz players spread around the league is fairly impressive, not just in numbers but in talent as well.  Assuming personnel issues and injuries aren't a factor and the paychecks are reasonable, here's a short take on the available Jazz alums and how they might affect this year's squad.

Blake Ahearn (N/A): 6'2", 190, PG.  Last season, Ahearn played four games for the Jazz, and has only played 19 games in the NBA throughout his entire career.  Blake is a terrible shooter from the field, with a career average of 27.3%.  Not a terrific threat from beyond the arc either (.298).  If the Jazz need somebody to fill in for MoW and neither Tinsley nor Watson fits the bill, Blake Ahearn doesn't seem like the answer, either.

Lou Amundson (MIN):  6'9", 225, PF.  Amundson didn't have much of a run with the Jazz, and is only averaging 8.5 minutes per game (in only 11 games) with the Timberwolves this year.  Can't imagine that we'd want this guy over Millsap or Favors; he's shooting 33.3% from the field, 23% from the stripe, and only posting 1.2 PPG and 2.4 RPG.  Snoozer.

Carlos Boozer (CHI):  6'9", 258, PF.  For all the bullocks Boozer gets from Jazz Land, the guy was an integral part of going to the Western Conference Finals with D-Will and Sloan.  His game has fallen off a bit, however.  This year, Booz is shooting at 53.4% (not bad), 68.1% from the stripe, and collecting 9.2 boards on his way to 13.7 ppg.  In contrast, Millsap shoots 51.8% & 71.6% respectively, with 8 boards and 14.7 ppg.  Sap has 2.6 assists, 1 steal, and 0.9 blocks per game, however, compared to Boozer's 2.0, 0.8, and 0.5.  I'd call this one a wash, frankly.

Ronnie Brewer (NYK): 6'7", 220, SG/SF.  If Ronnie hadn't been traded and traded in such a dickfor way, maybe we still have Sloan and Deron.  Just sayin'.  Anyway, this season, the Milkman 2.0 is shooting a lackluster 38% from the field, 30.5% from three and 44.1% on his free throws for a measly 5.1 points per 20.4 minutes (0.25 points per minute).  If we look at this purely in a Moneyball way, Hayward is averaging 12.9 points in 26.6 minutes (0.48 ppm), DMC is good for 5.3 points in 16.9 minutes (0.31 ppm), and Burks gives you 4.2 points in only 10.6 minutes (0.40 ppm).  Cue The Ataris singing the intro to "Your Boyfriend Sucks."

Derek Fisher (N/A):  6'1", 200, PG.  Let's pretend for a minute that Jazz fans don't hate this guy on principle, because we all know it would be nice to have him back on the team.  Fish was good this year for 40% from the field, 37.3% from 3, and 81.7% from the stripe.  Add in 2.1 boards, 3.1 dimes and 8.6 ppg, and it's hard to argue that he wouldn't be a better backup PG than Tinsley (39.3%/32.7%/87.5%/2.0/4.9/3.3) or Watson (29.3%/18.2%/57.1%/1.6/4.0/2.0).  Granted, Jamaal and Earl have higher assist numbers, but neither can score.  Fisher can, and he can do it in clutch scenarios.  Boy, it'd be nice to have him back.

Sundiata Gaines (N/A): 6'1", 185, PG.  Yada hasn't seen any NBA minutes this season, but last year he shot nearly 40% from the floor, 30% from the arc, 56.2% from the stripe while dishing 2.2 assists and scoring 5.1 points in 13.9 minutes.  Plus he's young and is willing to adapt to a coach's system.  Look, I love Tinsley and Earl is something of a personal hero of mine, but I have a hard time coming up with an argument that supports having two aging backup points when this guy is available.

Devin Harris (ATL): 6'3", 185, PG/SG.  Devin is coming off the bench in half the games he's played for the Hawks this year.  In 23.1 minutes, DH is shooting at a 44.1% clip, 32.4% from three and 60.6% from the stripe.  Factor in 2.5 assists and 7.7 points scored, and Harris looks like a pretty solid backup PG if the contract wasn't so absurd.  His up-tempo game would fit well with the second unit, to boot.  Stupid money.

Kris Humphries (BKN): 6'9", 235, F.  Besides being famous for having sex with another famous person who was famous for being famous, K-Hump (as I like to call him) has a 46.6 FG%, 66.3 FT%, scores 7.1 points, pulls 7.4 boards, and shows 0.6/0.3/0.7 in assists/steals/blocks per game.  These are better offensive numbers (not accounting for minutes played) than Carroll puts up, but defensively Carroll has a slight edge.  Favors scores more and is has better rebound/block numbers.  Is it worth comparing Humphries to Jeremy Evans?  Touch the Heavens is good for 2.2 points and 0.5 blocks in 7 minutes.  Given Humphries' minutes, Evans goes to almost 7 points and nearly 2 blocks.  Not sure that I'd want Humphries back on our bench.

Andrei Kirilenko (MIN): 6'9", 220, F.  I'm not going to bother with stats.  If AK was getting paid a reasonable amount (I'd go as high as $6 million per year) and could stay healthy, of course you'd want him on the team.  I'd have him over Marvin Williams or DMC.  Hell, even with the risk of injuries, I think I'd still like to see AK in a Jazz uni again, just to show the kids how to 5x5.

Kyle Korver (ATL): 6'7", 210, F.  42.8% from the field, 42.1% from three, 84% from the stripe, 2.8 boards, 1.6 assists, and 9.5 points per game.  Puts asses in the seats, lots of them female.  Did I mention 42.1% from beyond the arc?  Please come back, Kyle. Gordon will only play 2 from now on.

Kosta Koufos (DEN):  7'0", 265, C.  This clown sharted all over the floor in a Jazz uni for two seasons, landed in Denver a few years later and was suddenly a reasonably talented big.  This year, Koof is shooting 59.4% from the floor, 58.5% from the FT line, collecting 6.3 boards, blocking 1.8 shots and scoring 7.6 points in 22.1 minutes.  Enes, in contrast, shoots 51.7%/65.9% and scores 6.4 points in 15.3 minutes, plus 4.2 boards and 0.5 blocks per 15.3 minutes.  Favors shoots 44.7%/70.3% and scores 9.6 in 22 minutes, plus 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.  Enes is worth keeping around for a while simply because he has such enormous potential and is still so young to the game.  I'm not sure that I would be that pissed about trading Favors and some other serious assets for a package that returned Kosta and Ty Lawson.

Wes Matthews (POR):  6'5", 220, SG.  With 15.6 points per game, a 39.5% three-ball, and 1.6 assists per game, do you want this guy coming off the bench instead of Burks, Hayward, or DMC?  No, because you want him starting instead of Randy Foye, who is shorter, smaller, slower, and only gives you 10.3 ppg, 36.9% from three, and 1.8 APG.  Up yours, Portland.

CJ Miles (CLE):  6'6", 210, G.  In 19.7 MPG, CJ is scoring 10.1 points on 38.5% shooting, including 37.6 from three and 90%(!) from the stripe.  CJ's good for 2.7 boards, 0.8 assists, and 0.5 steals a game as well. I don't think you give up Gordon Hayward or Alec Burks for this proven inconsistency.

Sasha Pavlovic (POR): 6'8", 220, G/F.  If you're like me, the mention of Pavlovic in a Jazz uni will make you think, "Oh, right, I guess he was on the team for a season."  Anyway, Portland's Pavlovic is effectively a non-factor, with just 2.3 points on 37.3% shooting in 13.2 minutes a game.  Hard to see his value above that of Hayward, DMC, or even Kevin Murphy.

Ronnie Price (POR): 6'2", 190, PG.  I miss Ronnie, and you do too.  The dude wasn't on his way to being an all-star or anything, but he was a guy you were glad to have on your squad.  This year, Ronnie is good for only 2.9 points  in 14.6 minutes, an abysmal three point percentage, and negligible impacts on boards, dimes, or picks.  Sadly, while it's fun to feel nostalgic about Mr. Price, we're not missing much.

DeShawn Stevenson (ATL): 6'5", 210, G.  What to say about our 23rd pick in the 2000 draft?  DeShawn is shooting at 41.2%, including 40.8 from three, on his way to 6.9 points in 24.5 minutes per game.  He also manages an impressive 37.5% from the free throw line (seriously), 3.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, and 0.2 BPG.  While it would be nice to have Stevenson's distance, I'm happy with DeMarre and Gordon.

Deron Williams (BKN):  6'3", 210, PG.  Okay, pretend Deron never got bent about losing Wes, Korver, and Ronnie.  Maybe he never has a problem with Sloan, and he's still on the team.  Do you really care that he's having a crappy season?  Mo Williams isn't a better point guard than D-Will.  I'd take him back.  You would, too.

So who do we take back?  Fisher, Gaines, Harris, Kirilenko (sorta), Korver, Koufos (sorta), Matthews, and Deron.  Too many PG's, obviously, and I'm not sold on Koufos without it being part of a package.  Otherwise, here's how my super-alumni backed Jazz would look:

PG: Deron Williams, Derek Fisher, Sundiata Gaines (sorry Devin Harris and the existing PGs)
SG: Wesley Matthews, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks/DMC (see ya, Randy Foye)
SF: Andrei Kirilenko, Marvin Williams, DeMarre Carroll/Burks
PF: Derek Favors, Paul Millsap, Jeremy Evans
C:  Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Kosta Koufos

That's a full 15-player roster.  It's excessive, but it's hard to argue that it doesn't have the makings of a better squad than what we have now.  Granted, most of the departed players who "made the cut" left as free agents.  But as long as we're speculating, right?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Greatest Laker

I feel unclean for compiling this data and writing this post, but my curiosity was piqued.

When 1280 The Zone's Big Show posted a Facebook poll about who the greatest Laker was, I couldn't help but want to answer.  Starting with Jerry West, there have been six players wearing the purple and gold of Los Angeles who are imprinted on the history of basketball in an astounding and permanent way.  And because each of these players have been blessed with incredible natural talent in an individual way, it's difficult (if not impossible) to definitively declare the all-time best.

But, being basketball fans, the easiest way to start this kind of discussion is to look at stats.  And so I give you: AMATEUR NUMBERS IN A PILE SOME RUDIMENTARY STATISTICS.

Some of the numbers here bear explanation.  Jerry West shows a pretty miserable chance of landing the Lakeshow in a division championship, but that's because the makeup of the NBA has changed since West's inaugural season of 1960-1961.  These changes are also reflected in West's average wins per season.  But the Western Conference (formerly Western Division) and NBA Championship numbers are accurate.  The only other minor points to note are (1) I didn't include Magic Johnson's 1996 "season;" (2) the current season isn't included in Kobe's stats, but two lockout seasons are; and (3) the 1999 lockout is also reflected in Shaq's statistics.

Surprisingly, you don't see a different player leading in each category:
  • Wests numbers are a little wonky as the league was developing.  3rd in ppg, 5th in game availability, last in average Laker wins, last in division champion probability, 3rd in conference champion probability, and waaay dead last in championships per year. 
  • Chamberlain:  1st in ppg, 4th in game availability, 1st in wins, 2nd in division probability, 1st in conference probability, and 5th in champ odds.
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 4th in ppg, 1st in game availability, 3rd in division probability, 4th in conference probability, and 3rd in championship probability.
  • Magic: 6th in ppg, 2nd in games, 2nd in wins, 1st in division probability, 2nd in conference probability, and 1st in championship probability.
  • Kobe: 2nd in ppg, 3rd in games, 5th in wins, 4th in division probability, 6th in odds to win the West, and 4th in championship probability.
  • Shaq: 5th in ppg, 6th in game availability, 3rd in wins, 5th in division odds, 5th in conference odds, and 2nd in championship odds.

If we look at the average rank, Jerry West (with the shakiest of mathematical underpinnings) is dead last at 4.833, which I don't feel that bad about since he only won a single championship.  The fifth-greatest Laker is Shaquille O'Neal with a 4.333.  At 4.000, fourth goes to the Black Mamba.  Third place is Kareem with a 3.167.

There's a tie for first and second, with both Wilt Chamberlain and Earvin averaging 2.333.  But these numbers include career-average point-per-game numbers, which doesn't favor a point guard like Magic.  Drop ppg from the metric, and Wilt averages 2.600 while Johnson drops to 1.600 (Kobe and Shaq switch 4 and 5 spots).

So you see, using some probably-not-good-enough-for-seventh-grade statistical analysis, Magic Johnson remains the greatest Laker to ever play the game.  Sorry, Kobe.

Actually, I'm not sorry.  SUCK IT, MAMBA.