Category: General

Where is the Ice Bucket Challenge for Ferguson?

By , August 15, 2014 2:31 pm

Don’t get me wrong, finding a cure for ALS is a wonderful goal to raise awareness for. The Ice Bucket Challenge has been a brilliant social media campaign, and to date has crushed the total donations for ALS research compared to last year. What I’m wondering about, is why are there so many more posts about people dumping ice water on their heads than about a very dangerous social precedent that has been going on for years, and has erupted in violence in Ferguson, MO.

There are many cultural and social reasons that can be blamed for the shooting of an(other) unarmed, black teenager. The sad reality is that Americans have quietly embraced the idea of imaginary monsters lurking around every corner (while ignoring the plain and obvious ones in front of their faces). We have made enemies of our neighbors by misguided perceptions, and used those perceptions to guide our lives. This can be as benign as crossing to the other side of the street at the sight of hip-hop dancers, to the perverse, such as legislation and governance that disproportionately favors white Americans. Does it seem right that black kids are killed with skittles in their hands while white sociopaths who shoot up movie theaters are somehow detained alive? The conclusion from that is America is not for black people.

Police officers do have difficult jobs. Their responsibility is to maintain the peace and uphold the law. What makes this job difficult though, is not necessarily the danger they are often put in, but the manner they must respond to that danger. It is their civic duty not to be a cause, or participate in, or escalate violence or social disruption. A police officer who abides by that, truly has a difficult and dangerous job, and should be respected and honored in our society. However, after these recent events, it’s hard to say who really has the more dangerous life, a heavily armed police officer, or a defenseless citizen in the community the officer serves in.

The case in Ferguson, and in a lot of other places in this country (I’m looking at your Florida), is that this belief system of policing has been abandoned for SWAT techniques, military grade weapons, and ridiculous legislation like ‘stand your ground.’ People will argue that they want their police better equipped than the bad guys, but better equipment doesn’t have to mean better weapons. When you give someone a weapon, a weapon meant to kill an enemy, then they sure as hell will find an enemy, and so be it if that enemy is your neighbor. If you think that’s nonsense, then just give a three year old a loaded water gun and watch what happens. You’ll probably need a change of clothes (but hey, at least you are alive).

This social situation in Ferguson reminds me of Los Angeles in 1992, when LA police officers viciously beat Rodney King after a failed traffic stop and subsequent high-speed chase (I wonder if things would have been different if he was just’a good ol’ boy like Bo and Luke). Living on the other side of the country, certainly geographically removed, it seemed like I was still very aware of what was happening in LA. Our only means of information was the local news, which kept us informed daily on what was occurring there. However, in this instant internet age, where information is at our fingertips, it seems like the coverage of Ferguson has been less mainstream than it should be.

Is this a product of media customization, and if so, is this a good thing? There has generally been a dispassionate, apathetic view towards poor black people who are geographically far and culturally different than the majority of America. However, it seems like this mentality has been exacerbated even though the world is much ‘closer’ than ever before. American humanity seems to be growing even more removed as the culture of #selfies continues to thrive (and I do believe there are merits to the #selfie beyond self-promotion). I’ve seen greater empathy for a contestant getting Final Jeopardy wrong than for oppressed, unarmed, black kids violently murdered in their neighborhoods across the country. The major media outlets don’t help with their portrayals of these victims, often highlighting their misgivings, while at the same time victimizing white assailants. This seems like a very dangerous scenario for victims of injustice, where there are wonderful platforms to have a voice, but everyone’s listening to a different, better-crafted marketing message.

I have a lot of empathy for the black community in America, and you should too. We tend to forget that black people were slaves in America 100 years longer than they have been free. Put that in interest bearing terms, and you can start to understand a black communities’ economic situation.

We tend to ignore that Jim Crow laws were just one generation ago, and current judicial practices are a manifestation of the same racial injustices. We complain that it’s unfair that black people have their own fraternities without realizing every social group a white person is in is their own, white-biased fraternity.

We see black people as dangerous when every statistic not based on incarceration rates shows otherwise. There’s a difference between being dangerous and being perceived as dangerous. In the latter’s case, the person has no control of the perception (unless he’s a Jedi), but yet we blame them for the clothes they wear and the music they listen to, as if that’s some justification for our own misperceptions. We fail to take responsibility, and that is a problem.

I’m a South Asian American, and I can never really say what it is like to be in the position of a young, black male in America. South Asians generally don’t face the same level of discrimination, but it is certainly there. That was made very clear to me after 9/11, where although I was born and raised in suburban New Jersey, rooting for the Mets and eating hot dogs, that didn’t stop the racial slurs, the airport security checks, or the malicious stares casted my way by white Americans. That didn’t stop my Egyptian American friend from being followed or my Indian American friend from getting beat up. We became the imaginary monsters very quickly.

This is a reality that white Americans can’t fully understand, but should at least recognize; they are advantaged simply because they are the majority. It is partially their fault when they keep their silence and apathy when certain American, read as black, tragedies happen. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.” – MLK

In other words, you can’t be neutral on a moving train.

Bill Simmons is Carmelo Anthony’s Grandmother

By , July 15, 2014 10:38 pm

And so are a lot of New York Knicks fans.

Bill Simmons put out an article yesterday subtitled “With Carmelo Anthony staying with the Knicks, will we ever find out how truly great he can be?”  This type of ‘expert analysis’ becomes the basis of so many misunderstandings about the game of basketball and further illustrates how the media and fans are obsessed with perception than actual performances on the court.   The subtitle itself implies that Carmelo IS great, and subtly shifts winning responsibility off of Carmelo, and onto a variety of reasons from the common; his teammates, his coach, and the system he plays in, to the bizarre; his position (?), his contract extension (huh?), his draft selection (what?).  What is up with this invention of so many excuses when the numbers are staring you directly in the face?

Simmons ask the question, “How did Carmelo Anthony, only 30 years old and still in his prime, become the NBA’s most under-appreciated and misunderstood player?” To put it bluntly, Carmelo Anthony has not demonstrated the ability to be an NBA superstar, and is only misunderstood by this ill conceived perception.  He’s been a fringe All-Star at best, but somehow his stature has been elevated to that of a franchise player.  His career lines show he converts shots like an average shooting guard (45.5% FG%, 81.1% FT%), passes like an average big man (1.1 assist/turnover ratio), rebounds like a average small forward (6.5/gm), and plays defense like my uncle … and my uncle plays cricket. He doesn’t really excel in anything, except taking a lot of shots, and his career line looks pretty darn boring, nothing like an elite NBA player.

Simmons and Melo’s large immediate foster family will point to his career 25.3 ppg, and throw meaningless phrases around like “he can score from anywhere” and “he’s unstoppable.” Except they largely don’t realize that missed shots means missed scoring opportunities.  That means that there are GOOD points per game and BAD points per game, and since Carmelo’s shooting percentages aren’t elite, the volume of his misses diminishes the benefits of his makes.  How can someone be ‘unstoppable,’ which be definition implies a 100% FG%, when he can’t convert better than Chris Copeland? Even with the understanding that statements like that are figurative hyperbole, it’s not anywhere close to being a reflection of his play.

The next question Simmons poses is “Can you win the NBA championship if Carmelo Anthony is your best player?”  He answers himself with “The short answer: Yes,” but then goes on to compare Carmelo to a far superior player, Dirk Notwitzki.  This is like saying, “Hey, just give that yellow mustard a few more years to develop, surround it with organic ketchup and relish, and it’ll be just like Grey Poupon.” Introducing this comparison diminishes how great Dirk actually was before he won the championship, and somehow equating Dirk’s actual pre-championship play with Melo’s. Dirk’s Win Share/48, playoffs and regular season combined, hovered around .200 before he won in 2011, while Melo’s is about .130. In other words, Dirk is Polaner All Fruit; Carmelo is jelly.

To be fair, Simmons does go into great detail on why Dirk is better, using a plethora of actual game performances, none of which Melo has ever come close to replicating. However, he oddly tries to drum up a [weak] comparison of their best year playoff numbers, which he thinks are ‘not THAT far off.’  Have a look for yourself, and if you understand that being efficient is a serious advantage, it’ll be obvious why even these two lines are not comparable:

2011 Dirk (21 games): 27.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 49-46-94%, 8.9 FTA, 25.2 PER
2009 Melo (16 games): 27.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.1 apg, 45-36-83%, 9.0 FTA, 24.3 PER

Now, this was by far Carmelo’s best play-off run, and his Win Share/48 showed that as he checked in at an All-Star Level .201.  In his prior five play-off appearances, he was shockingly bad, and in three (3!) of those years, he actually had a negative Win Share/48.  That pretty much means that Denver would have been better off if he didn’t play at all!  And if we really look at 2009 playoff Carmelo, we’ll see that while Simmons tries to deflect the blame to his ‘substandard’ team and J. R. Smith, let’s not forget that this is what Melo’s stat line was against the Lakers.  Not only are his rebounds and assists down, his shooting from the field was abysmal against the stiffer competition.

2009 Melo vs Lakers (6 games): 27.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 41-25-83%, 20.0 FGA, 12.5 FTA

Simmons likes to point to team composition as an issue, but even in Melo’s best playoff performance, he wasn’t the best player on the team.  That honor went to Chauncey Billups, who put up an elite Win Share/48 of .249 in the playoffs after a season Win Share/48 of .176 (note Denver’s season Win Share/48 leaders – Nene .177, Billups .176, Anderson .176, J. R. Smith .124, and finally Carmelo hovering around league average .105).  We tend to think of those Denver teams as Carmelo’s teams, mainly because of his inflated point per game numbers, but the reality is that those were Billups’ teams, by both contribution to winning and by his NBA Finals MVP pedigree.

The fans and the media overvalue points per game, and that’s likely why the Melo elevation is happening.  Instead of using this oversimplification stat as gospel, they should think about how those points are scored, and realize that a missed shot is more detrimental than a made shot is rewarding.  This is because there is a cap on how many shots a team can take in a game, so any missed shot is a missed opportunity to maximize your team’s points and win.  When your best player is not an incredibly efficient volume scorer, your team doesn’t have much of a chance unless that player is also incredible possession guy (elite rebounder/defender) or team FG% enhancer (elite assister).

Carmelo has been neither of those in his entire career, so it’s a wonder why fans and writers constantly elevate him to some greatness he’s never showed a glimpse of consistently achieving.  In fact, at least in terms of win contribution, Carmelo has been the best on his team only once, and that was with last year’s Knicks.  Why don’t we compare him to a player that was actually very similar to him, someone like let’s say … Glenn Robinson.

Big Dog (career): 20.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.7 apg, 46-34-82%, 17.6 FGA, 4.4 FTA
Melo (career): 25.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 45-35-81%, 19.7 FGA, 7.7 FTA

The ‘Big Dog’ played the exact same style of basketball in the 90s as Carmelo plays now.  He was considered an incredible scorer, a volume shooter not known for much defense, with a career mediocre win/loss record.  His numbers are eerily similar to Melo’s, with the exception of points per game, which upon normalization, is nearly identical. Had Robinson been a shot consumer in the same neighborhood as Melo, assuming Robinson’s efficiency was roughly the same, he would suddenly be a 25 ppg scorer. Watch some of his highlights for yourself; the guy could get a shot off from anywhere, and back then, people thought he shot too much.

Robinson only made the playoffs three times as a big minutes contributor, and those appearances include two 1st round knock-outs, and one deep run to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Does that sound like anyone we know?  Robinson did win an NBA Championship with the Spurs as a deep bench guy, which better answers Simmon’s question, “Can you win the NBA championship if Carmelo Anthony is your best player?”

The short answer: No.

Carmelo has made some strides in improving his game, and while the Knicks supporting cast is not fantastic and their front office has been hauntingly bad, we have to start holding him accountable for his on-court performance. This pervasive thought that because you’ve looked dominant in small samples, means that you actually are dominant on average, is foolish and absurd.  Until Carmelo proves he can do SOMETHING better than average, whether it’s increasing his assists, or controlling the glass, or play great team defense, or just simply shooting the ball better, any team that choses to employ him is destined for disappointment.

What Are You Talking About Bill Simmons Bonus Material:

“Carmelo? He’s 92 percent as frightening as 1984 Playoff Bernard was.” – King averaged 7.5 more points per game, shot a whopping 12% better than Melo, and was about 16.4% better as per Win Share/48. How does one quantify ‘frightening’ anyway?

“He’s just playing in a more difficult league — better scouting, better game planning, better defenses, better athletes, better everything.” – Era comparisons like this are hugely misleading because Simmons is singularly applying to Melo the advancements that apply to the entire player pool. Melo has benefitted from better scouting and better game planning as much as he’s been hurt by it. Better defenses are largely rules-based (i.e. hand-check rule, zone defenses) which again, would apply to everyone. Better athletes are probably not true based on this TED Talk which shows the bulk of ‘improvement’ is really due to technology and specialization.

“That pathetic Knicks team didn’t employ a single creator who could get Melo wide-open jumpers off slash-and-kick drives.” – If the point guard is to blame for this last year, that either means Kidd, Billups, and Lawson were guilty of the same thing since Melo’s shooting has been roughly the same, or Carmelo is just not that great of a shooter Simmons thinks he is.

“Just a slew of possessions, one after the other, with everyone standing around waiting for Carmelo to do something. They were like the pickup team from hell, only Carmelo couldn’t just throw the game and hop on someone else’s team.” – Anyone that has ever played pickup basketball has at one point played with a guy who ball hogs on offense, and doesn’t get back on defense. Everyone else ends up standing around, because you know that you will not see the ball no matter how good your back-door cut is or how wide open you are in the corner. This sounds more like what happened to the Knicks, which Tyson Chandler said in the playoffs. I’m not sure Simmons has ever played pickup basketball after an analogy like that. Plus, didn’t Melo basically try to hop on someone else’s team by opting out? No takers? I’m not surprised.

Can You Solve For Love?

By , February 14, 2013 12:13 pm

This title already sounds like the sequel to ‘It Felt Like Love‘ aka the most depressing movie ever made (shout out to The Sundance Six for not committing seppuku directly following the film’s screening).  Thankfully, I have no interest in exploring the depths of loneliness experienced by a 14 year old girl desperately seeking to be noticed in the world.  I’m interested in something much more … pleasant?  I want to know if we can write a mathematical formula to explain what makes someone do this:

Ok, ok, yea, modeling THAT will not be easy. There’s a whole lot going on there, some of which would be best left between a man and his mirror. However, there are attempts to understand what chemical reactions and brain activities are associated with the feelings that Sam has put so well into dancing and mock dialogue. At a panel discussion on ‘Lust and Love in the Animal Kingdom,’ we were able to see what our brains do when we experience the feeling of love for another person (we also learned how slutty ‘monogamous’ animals are and theories on how dinosaurs had sex … too much information). With more of these types of studies, in a few years we should have enough data that we can start to actually answer the question ‘What is Love?’ (baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more).

So if modeling love is currently out of our reach, what about trying to figure out what type of person gives us butterflies in our stomachs (or the impulse to buy a Parisan night suit)? What qualities uniquely, or not so uniquely, attract us to a person? And more importantly, can we model mutual attraction? It doesn’t matter how many times you ‘like’ a person’s profile picture if they don’t like you back (there are probably some prescribers of the ‘wear them down’ technique who might disagree with this statement).

This is a problem that online dating sites are attempting to solve. Sites like Match, eHarmony, and OKCupid are all working on different approaches to collect data from people, and use that data to effectively match people with other people they may like AND will like them too. It’s the ‘proposal aunty’ in a digital format (note to self: buy domain name for new south asian dating site). OKCupid has a pretty simple algorithm for how they do this, which you can see here:

The first step is to simply to answer questions and then using those answers, start to match people together. This works really well for things like personal interests, but can fail miserably for things like personality types. In a relationship, for some qualities you need a Yin for your Yang. OKCupid solves this by also asking what a person would want the OTHER person to answer. This effectively allows you to match interests where you want to and find balance where you need to.

The next thing they do is allow the person to weigh how important the question is to them. People care about different things so understanding what is individually important creates priority in matching characteristics. It would be a whole lot easier in life if people had exactly the same priorities. Marriage vows would turn from “I do” to “You’ll do” which is kind of where most post-30 year old women are headed anyway (half-kidding). OKCupid’s actual numerical weights seem a bit suspect, but they fit the idea that priorities are not linear or in other words, some things are MUCH (exponentially) more important than others.

Now comes the actual number crunching. The video does a real good job of describing how they come to the final match percentage, so I won’t reiterate that here. The geometric mean seems to make sense when common questions are small, but it probably becomes irrelevant at some point (i.e. when individual %s are very high or common questions are very high). Is there a real difference between 98% compatible versus 99%? It could be in this threshold difference where true love is found. Or maybe the sweet spot is between 76% and 79% (after all, a bit of conflict can make a romantic relationship more exciting and differentiate it from a great friendship). These are the more interesting questions that OKCupid could answer by regression testing their users, in particular successful couples.

I think there is a lot more complexity that needs to be modeled to figure this out well, mainly behavior and timing. One thing that behavioral analysis could bring to the table is actually identifying characteristics that people demonstrate they like rather than stating they like. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen girls list ‘sushi’ and ‘reading’ as things they like, when all they do is eat bacon and watch reality TV. The truth is that there are plenty of guys out there who like bacon and reality TV, so listing what you DO versus what you WANT TO DO or what MIGHT LOOK IMPRESSIVE would probably yield better matches.

Timing is another tough element to model. Being ‘available’ is almost a minute to minute thing, unless well disciplined by the person. And I don’t mean ‘available’ in a ‘free of a relationship’ sense necessarily. Just being receptive to someone seems to fluctuate widely based on all sorts of stimuli. A 99% match might never be pursued simply because you had a bad day at work, and a 65% match might have a dinner date because your favorite team won the Superbowl (I think I just made the argument for the ‘wear them down’ approach). People do a huge disservice to themselves by not separating their current, temporary emotional state from the task of finding a long term soulmate. Embrace opportunity no matter how crappy you feel! Finding the right person is already a low frequency event as it is.

Okay, I’m going to end this rather abruptly. This post is dedicated to my crushes over the years: Kristen DiMaggio (kindergarten), Tatiana Thumbtzen – the slinky blue dress girl in ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ video (middle school), Jennifer Love Hewitt (high school), Aishwarya Rai (college), Saira Mohan (early 20s), David Wright (mid 20s), and Melanie Kannokada (seems as good as anyone in a post-crush era). It’s a … self preservation thing, you see.

Lastly, awesome pick-up lines for the day:

“You know, there’s a 100% chance that we are dating in some alternative universe, so why don’t we date in this one?”

“1 …. 2 …. 3 …. 5 …. 7 … 11 …”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m priming you up.”

“If you give me your number, I’ll tell you its 3rd derivative.” – actually said by a real life girl.

Josh Freeman or Aaron Rodgers, A Friday Night Lights Story

By , December 18, 2012 1:02 pm

Week 15.  Fantasy Football Playoffs.  Do I start Josh Freeman over Aaron Rodgers?  I already know the immediate answer.  No.  Absolutely, completely, without a doubt, No.  You are an idiot for even thinking otherwise.  It’s Aaron Rodgers!  He’s the best QB in the game!  You go with the horse that got you there.  Rodgers is a stud and what has Josh Freeman ever done?  I heard it all, a resounding ‘Yes’ to Aaron Rodgers …  and I started Josh Freeman instead.

Everyone I had talked to hadn’t looked at the numbers for these two quarterbacks this year, and practically no one considered the defenses both these guys went up against.  They heard the name Aaron Rodgers, and not only assumed he had been vastly superior to Josh Freeman this year, but also assumed that fantasy scoring systems reflect the true skill level of a player.  The reality is that Aaron Rodgers is probably the best skilled quarterback in the NFL, but when placed within the scoring system of fantasy football, Josh Freeman certainly becomes comparable.  Side Note:  When considered in terms of winning NFL games, Eli Manning tops all of them and is the perfect example of how real world winning doesn’t necessarily translate to fantasy sports winning.

For the season, Rodgers ranked 5th in scoring while Freeman checked in at 12th overall, with the  difference between them being 2.62  fantasy points per game (standard ESPN scoring system).  In a 12 team league, both quarterbacks would be considered QB1s based on the points they put up, so there is a conversation to be had here.  Josh Freeman also had a lower standard deviation in his scoring, which means that he was more consistent in achieving 16.23 points per game than Rodgers was in achieving 18.85.  In other words, Freeman statistical performances were less risky.

When you begin to look at the more recent history, the QB comparisons get a lot closer than you’d expect.  From Week 5 to Week 14 (9 games), Freeman averaged 18.87 fantasy points per game (fppg) with a 5.56 standard deviation, while Rodgers averaged 19.67 fppg with a 9.00 standard deviation (mind you I’m not cherry picking time frames here; Rodgers scoring numbers went up and it included both players season high point outputs).  When looking at this time frame, we are now talking about one quarterback who registers less than a point more per game versus one that is a whole lot less risky.  Uh oh, looks like we have a quarterback controversy brewing.

The last thing I looked at were the match-ups, and Freeman won big time in that respect.  New Orleans had given up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs in the league, to the tune of 20 fppg, which represented a +1.94 deviation from the league average of 14.84 fppg.  They had given up better than average performances in 11 out of 13 weeks to quarterbacks including the likes of Phillip Rivers, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, and Colin Kaepernick.  The Bears, Rodgers’ Week 15 opponent, was the exact opposite, giving up a meer 9.8 fppg (-1.89 standard deviation from league average), best in the league which included a 10 point game to Rodgers back in Week 2.  It is also worth nothing that Freeman had his season high 29 against his Week 15 opponent, the New Orleans Saints.

I used these statistics to build a very simple model to give me a sense of projected fantasy points for Week 15 (actually I considered a much more complicated statistical model normalizing all of these stats based on who actually played who, but I’ll leave that out because I don’t have a lot of faith that this math illiterate county can even follow this simple model based on averages and deviations).  I included the four other quarterback controversies I was considering for Week 15, which was the reality of all four leagues I was in this year:

Each color band represents the choices I had to make, and in each case, the higher seasonal ranking QB was listed first.  All four scenarios represent the exact same situation as Rodgers/Freeman, where we have a well established, well-known stud versus a relatively unknown and unproven commodity.  Using the simple model, in all cases the projected points suggested that you should bench your stud in favor of his back-up (the absolute points don’t matter in the comparison, and in the more sophisticated model, Rodgers was more in the 12 – 15 fppg range with Freeman in the 21 – 24 fppg range).  Reality seemed to have beared that out as well, since in 75% of the scenarios, QB2 outscored QB1.

So yes, I stand by my decision to start Freeman over Rodgers and with this type of analysis, I will get it right more often than not (hi Bill Belichick).  In the particular league where I had the Freeman/Rodgers choice, I lost by less than 13 points, so mostly everyone will point to that example as the reason to always start your studs.  However, the reality is that setting your line-up to maximize your points and what actually happens in the game are two separate and unconnected things.  The Packers play-calling in game situations doesn’t dictate they should throw to the endzone because Aaron Rodgers is my starting fantasy QB.  Above and beyond that, I might not have even won with Aaron Rodgers if I happened to run up against Russell Wilson (especially a downward single deviation that Rodgers has put up in past fantasy playoffs, in particular Week 14 against KC in 2011, Week 14 and 17 in 2010, and Week 16 and 17 in 2009).

In fact, it’s not even the Freeman/Rodgers decision that lost that game for me, it’s how far from the norm Freeman AND the New Orleans Defense deviated from their histories!  If the New Orleans played to the league average of 14.5 points given up, which was one standard deviation on the PLUS side for them, I would have won.  Had Josh Freeman performed within one DOWNWARD standard deviation of his stats over his last nine games, he would have had 13 points and I would have won.  If we could run the  Josh Freeman versus New Orleans Saints scenario a million times, 84% of the time Freeman would have put up enough fantasy points for me to win.  What we saw on Sunday was the perfect storm, a statistical aberration which resulted in a two and half standard deviation from the norm, a .5% scenario that no one is immune to.  Frankly, you don’t set your fantasy team, or make most decisions in life, based on .5% outcomes.  You buy insurance for them (or against them).

For the most part, these simple statistical predictions show themselves in the real world, given you have enough scenarios to examine.  In my limited fantasy world, I had four leagues where this case existed, and in three of them it proved to be correct.  In a broader history, a 36 – 17 regular season record, three first round byes, and two trips to the finals is probably better than most people who play fantasy football can represent.  If I had brazenly played Rodgers this week and snuck out the win, it would be statistically obvious to play him against the 20th worst pass defense in the league in Week 16.  The point is that sometimes you have to go Saracen when the analysis says so and put your ultra skilled J.D. McCoy on the bench even if it is in the playoffs, (*SPOILER ALERT*) … and sometimes you still just fall short.

Mathematical Proof of Why Golden Tate’s Touchdown was the Right Call

By , September 27, 2012 4:39 am

These replacement refs have caused quite a stir in the past three weeks, and at this point, the game ending call on MNF may have ended the labor dispute between the NFL and the NFLRA. Everyone seems to be pointing at that last second call as the most egregious error in the history of professional sports, but I’m here to present the case on why the replacement refs might have actually gotten that call right.

I’m going to preface this by saying by no means do I think that the replacement refs have been doing an great job in administering the rules of the NFL. I’ll also say they haven’t been completely atrocious as has been indicated by the rants of Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, Drew Brees and this moronic New Jersey senator.  They haven’t been significantly different from the regular refs as far as number of penalties called in games, which this Wall Street Journal article points out.  They have, however, been calling different types of penalties more (pass interference and defensive holding) and others less (illegal shifts).  Whether they are missing a lot of calls, I can’t really say, but since when did we live in a world where ref’s never miss a call.  Anyhow, back to my ‘Contrary Mary’ case for the right judgement call on that infamous final play in the Packer Seahawks game on Monday night.

I’ll start with the notion that EVERY PASS is an INCOMPLETE PASS until COMPLETED.  This may sound a bit weird (or completely obvious), but it’s that subtle difference that I want your mindset to be in.  I mean, when you really think about it, a pass spends 99.99% of its time incomplete before it is actually caught.

Now, what does it mean for a catch to be a catch (oh, the philosophy of it all)?  Well, the NFL has defined that for us, and in summary, three things need to happen for a catch to be a catch:

1.  The Ball Must Be Secure – this basically means the ball can’t be moving around whilst in your possession.

2.  Two Feet Down – you need to have two feet down in the field of play (tippy toes and derrières count here as well).

3.  Keep Control to the Ground – this was a new caveat introduced last year (any Detroit fan will know this one).  It is saying that when you hit the ground, the ball can’t come loose, or in other words, you need to maintain control when hitting the ground.

This DOES NOT mean that these three things have to happen in order.  You could be lying on the ground first (thus fulfilling 2 and 3) and then have a ball land in your hands (item 1) and that would be a catch.  I also want to point out that an interception is ALSO a catch, and the same three things have to be fulfilled for that to be the case.

Okay, now that the groundwork has been laid out, back to the play in question.  In this first still, we’ll see M.D. Jennings in the air with his hands around the ball and Tate’s left hand on the ball in-between Jennings’ arms.  Tate’s hand is actually between the ball and Jennings’ chest, and is possibly clutching the bottom nose of the ball.  Remember, a pass is always incomplete before it’s complete so we can not call this an INT or a TD until all three requirements are fulfilled.  Scorecard: Jennings 1 of 3, Tate 0 of 3.

In this next frame, we’ll see both of Tate’s feet on the ground with Jennings falling partially on top of him. Jennings still has his hands on the ball, and at this point, Tate is reaching around Jennings (intentionally phrased) for the top nose of the football.  The important thing to notice here is that Jennings’ left foot has not hit the ground yet.  Scorecard: Jennings 1 of 3, Tate 1 of 3.

This last frame shows when Jennings’ 2nd foot finally hits the ground.  At this point, it sure looks like Tate has also secured the ball.  It is absolutely conceivable that they both could have both their hands securing the ball, Jennings around the long part of the ball, and Tate around the noses (we can’t see EITHER of their hands or the football from this or any angle, so it’s unfair and biased to assume one has the advantage over the other).  Scorecard: Jennings 2 of 3, Tate 2 of 3.

The wrestling match on the ground probably safely assures that the 3rd part of a catch (control to the ground) has happened.  We don’t see any visual evidence of either one of them losing the ball while on the ground, or anyone gaining an upper hand before the call was made (oddly enough, Tate does emerge with the ball at the very end).  Scorecard: Jennings 3 of 3, Tate 3 of 3.

The NFL definition of ‘simultaneous catch’ is “If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.”  Notice that they have consistently used the word ‘catch’ and not ‘possession’ in the rule, which indicates that the three criteria of a catch has to be fulfilled first (after all, a catch has to be a catch first before it can be a simultaneous catch).  I believe the second half of this rule regarding ‘gaining control’ really applies to wrestling the ball away after a catch is established.  If Jennings had gotten his second foot down before Tate wrapped up the ball, then this rule would call it an interception.

But that didn’t happen.  The key here is really Jennings’ second foot.  To consider that, what would you say if a player does everything Jennings does, but the ball gets knocked out before that left foot gets down?  Clear cut incomplete right.  What if that ball is up in the air?  Live ball right.  Until Jennings’ second foot comes down, that ball is still technically incomplete and live. I’m going to finish this off by doing a simple proof to show you why this was a Seattle touchdown, and not a Green Bay interception.

Jennings 3 of 3 = catch

Tate 3 of 3 = catch

Jennings catch = interception

Tate catch = touchdown

catch = catch

By NFL rules, if catch = catch, then touchdown > interception

If anything, this might be the most glowing example of how the replacement refs got a call RIGHT (although procedurally it was … unorthodox).  Everyone needs to stop pointing to this as the end-all be-all for the problems with replacement refs, and really focus on the miscues that tilted the game earlier (mainly the roughing the passer which negated a Green Bay INT).  And everyone needs to stop acting like this never happens with regular refs.  Did we forget the ‘tuck’ rule … or Ed Hochuli’s phantom incomplete pass …  or this this seemingly botched call on a coin toss …. A COIN TOSS!?!?

Show Lin the Money

By , July 16, 2012 1:38 pm

This isn’t a post about Jeremy Lin’s ability. This isn’t a post about the Knicks team composition. This isn’t a post about the somewhat hypocritical comments made by Carmelo Anthony (if he meant that ‘ridiculous’ was Lin signing the offer then let’s not forget he forced the Knicks to gut their team rather than simply sign with them outright in free agency for less money). This post is purely about the game theory of matching Houston’s $25.1M, 3-year contract offer.

Okay, so the easy scenario to look at is what happens if the Knicks don’t match the contract. In this case, you simply do not add salary to your team and you lose Lin for no compensation. Let me rephrase; you lose a 23 year old potential star with extremely high marketability, a player whose in game shenanigans virtually forced a contract resolution between MSG and Time Warner Cable, for nothing. The no compensation thing is an important thing to remember when we get into what happens if you do match the offer.

No one seems to have a problem with the first two years of the contract, which would pay Lin $5M in year 1, and $5.2M in year 2. That’s in line with a back-up quality PG in the league and is clearly something the Knicks would do even if that costs them something on the Luxury Tax side. The biggest issue is the $14.8M balloon payment, the ‘poison pill’ if you will, in the 3rd year of the deal and the Luxury Tax burden associated with the team’s total payroll.

The first thing I want to clear up is that the Luxury Tax is a TEAM payroll burden, so while it is true that this deal will cost the Knicks an addition $15.6M for Lin, it also means that the tax will cost an additional $25.7M for Carmelo, $24.7 for Amar’e, and $15.4 for Chandler above their contract values. The difference between what the Knicks said they would match ($9.8M in the 3rd year) versus this current deal would increase the team payroll + tax from about $179M to roughly $205M. This is mainly because the $5M difference would be taxed at a rate of 425% due to the new CBA agreement.

It’s pretty much a given that the Knicks are committed to being Luxury Tax offenders. Since that will always be true forever into perpetuity, then the value argument of player with respect to their costs should be thrown out. If we do want to make that argument that the Luxury Tax matters, then we should evaluate whether we want a 42 year old Jason Kidd at $6.2M or an injury prone and old Marcus Camby at $8.6M. Neither one of those deals makes sense from an all in cost perspective. Even without Lin’s contract, does anyone out there think Melo and Amar’e are worth $37M+ each? Do you want to pay Steve Novak $5.25M/YR for 15 minutes of shooting 3s?

Now that the Luxury Tax issue is hopefully squared away, the last piece to figure out is that $14.8M third year of his contract. We don’t know what Jeremy Lin will be so let’s examine the two extreme scenarios, Linsanity and Inlinsanity. The Linsanity scenario is that Lin is the legitimate 25 PTS, 9 A, 4 R, 2 S, 50% FG% clutch winning PG we saw in his incredible run. In that case, the Knicks should gladly pay his $14.8 salary as you are looking at an All-Star production level at two-thirds the price. For comparison sake, Deron Williams will be making $21M+ at the end of his Brooklyn Nets contract. Sign him, done deal, Lin for President.

The second scenario, the Inlinsanity one, is where Jeremy Lin is a complete bust. Then you are in the Eddie Curry situation. A bloated contract on the books set to expire that year. There is value in that, as we’ve seen in the past. In fact, it was Eddie Curry’s terrible contract that helped land the Knicks their alleged superstar Carmelo Anthony.  It’s conceivable that you could parlay Lin into at least a 2nd round pick, if not in a sign-and-trade deal for a potential free agent.  Oh, and look which potential small market players would be at the end of their contracts:  2015 – Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge,  Marc Gasol;  2016 – Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Danilo Gallinari, David Lee.

Lin will most likely end up somewhere in the middle of these scenarios.  If he doesn’t gravitate to the worst extreme, then paying an average of $8.3M over three years seems reasonable.  Even as an average PG, there are a few teams in the league that would probably make a deal for him in hopes of a recapturing Linsanity or to capitalize on his marketability.  This was the player that had the 2nd highest jersey sales this year despite only being available half way through the season AND spiked MSG’s stock to the tune of around $100M during his run. Wouldn’t the Clippers love to pair him with Blake Griffin as compensation if the end game is really Chris Paul in a Knicks uniform?

This seems like a no-brainer.  To let Lin walk now means absolutely no compensation for a player that has incredible market appeal.  The worst case scenario for signing him would be the Knicks paying fair value for him for the first two years of this deal and then having an expensive but interesting trade chip in the last year of the deal.  If MSG’s stock is any indication, then it’s time for the Knicks to show him the money.

If you want to be mad at someone, how about being mad at the Knicks front office for breaking some of the most basic rules of negotiation. If they had half a brain, they would have waited for Lin to sign something (potentially the lower offer) rather than say they’d match it and give Houston and Lin the opportunity to ramp it up. Be mad that they waited to wrap up their most valuable free agent and during that time threw money at Steve Novak, Jason Kidd, and Marcus Camby to the tune of $10M. And be mad they panicked and acquired Raymond Felton, a player that was vastly worse than Lin last year. I don’t care much about the comparison but rather the absolutes that show Lin ranked 3rd in points per play on ISOs, 3rd in FG% shooting off the dribble, and was in the top 1/3 in the league on defensive points per play.


Wha’chu talkin’ bout Kobe

By , July 12, 2012 11:35 pm

Kobe Bryant thinks that this 2012 USA Olympic team would beat the greatest basketball team ever assembled, the 1992 Dream Team. I can’t for the life of my figure out how that is possible, so let’s just jump into it and take a look at the numbers.

I assembled the most basic statistics that most NBA fans are familiar with to compare the 92 team’s individual stats from the previous year with the 2012 team’s past year’s performance. I used the previous year to give a perspective of what the selection committee would have been looking at to pick the team. I’ve hidden the players’ names so that you can take a look the stats and make a judgement call based on just the numbers. Listed are the 12 players’ individual stats, and the bold totals* at the bottom is an average across the team:

Looking at the numbers, is it possible that Kobe has a point?  Team B is the current USA squad, and while they look pretty evenly matched, they seem to have the edge in scoring the rock.  Maybe in a close game, it comes down to whoever has the ball last. Could Scottie lock down Lebron and funnel him towards D-Rob, forcing a kick-out to Paul who swings it cross court to Durant for a last second game winner?  Would Jordan pass out of a Kobe/Wade double team to find an open Malone under the basket, only to have it swatted away by Tyson Chandler?  It sure seems like it’s plausible that the 2012 team could beat that 92 Dream Team after all.

Except Team A isn’t the 92 Dream Team.  It’s a team consisting of players from the 91-92 season who were NOT selected for the Dream Team.  That’s right, these guys didn’t even make the squad.  Yet they have nearly identical numbers to this years team, and quite frankly might be better suited as a team to beat the current men’s team.  Ouch, sorry Kobe.  Here’s my team of non-Dream Teamers that I think might be able to give this 2012 team a run for their ego, because to me, it’s pretty obvious that the actual Dream Team would smoke this Olympic squad out of the building.


PG: Kevin Johnson (19.7 pts, 47.9% FG%, 3.7 R, 10.7 A, 1.5 S, .3 B)

I know, you are probably screaming “WHAT? NOT ISIAH?”  Yes, Zeke has been forever linked with Jordan’s ultimatum to ban his inclusion on the actual Dream Team.  However, I’m picking this team like the 2012 selection committee would, and while Isiah’s legacy can’t be denied, we’re ignoring past glory to get the best guys on the court.  KJ was an incredible NBA talent.  He could find open teammates demonstrated by his 10.7 assists and was fearless driving the paint.  He was probably as quick as Chris Paul is now, however have you ever seen Chris Paul yoke on someone like KJ did on Hakeem the Dream?

SG: Reggie Miller (20.7 pts, 50.1% FG%, 3.9 R, 3.8 A, 1.3 S, .3 B)

When considering who to start here, I went with Reggie because I wanted to get a sharp shooter on the court.  It’s hard to argue with Reggie’s ability to knock down a jump shot from ridiculous range, and he had a knack for making huge plays at the end of games when it really mattered (Knicks fans look away).  And for all those people who defend the low shooting percentages of wing players now because of they take a lot of jump shots (see Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony), explain to me how Reggie Miller was able to knock them down at a 50% clip?

SF: Dominique Wilkins (28.1 pts, 46.4% FG%, 7.0 R, 3.8 A, 1.2 S, .6 B)

Now here’s your scorer.  The Human Highlight Film battled Jordan nearly every year for the scoring title and could crush the rim when he took it to the hole.  If people think Carmelo Anthony can’t be defended, N’que puts him to shame.  Offensively, there aren’t many small forwards who could knock it from range (career 32% 3pt shooter) and tomahawk in the lane with authority (2-time slam dunk champion).  For instant offense, he’s one of the best.

PF: Dennis Rodman (9.8 pts, 53.9% FG%, 18.7 R, 2.3 A, .8 S, .9 B)

I was a bit torn between Rodman and Derrick Coleman at the power forward, but I opted for Rodman because he absolutely controls the boards.  He was the definition of hustle, and if the ball was loose, he was going to get it.  Also, he was an extremely smart player and played hard nose defense all the time.  The best part about him, and his fit on a team like this, is that you don’t have to worry about him competing for shots.  He’s not easily defended because he was a terror on the offensive boards. So, not only does he not take shots a scorer wants, but he actually gets more shots for them with his rebounding.  Now that’s exactly the type of complimentary player you want to build a winning team.

C: Brad Daughertly (21.5 pts, 57.0% FG%, 10.4 R, 3.6 A, .9 S, 1.1 B)

The center position was a tough spot to fill without having access to Ewing and Robinson.  The other great C’s to potentially pick from weren’t US citizens, so we lose out on Hakeem and Dikembe.  Brad Daughertly seems like a good fit for this team.  He was ultra efficient from the field (57.0%) and managed to give you 10.4 bounds and 3.6 assists, both pretty good for a big man.  To put this in perspective, these numbers are nearly identical to Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett’s championship years with the Lakers and Celtics.


PGs: Isiah Thomas (18.5 pts, 44.6% FG%, 3.2 R, 7.2 A, 1.5 S, .2 B) and Tim Hardaway (23.4 pts, 46.1% FG%, 3.8 R, 10.0 A, 2.0 S, .2 B)

How can you argue with a Hall of Fame floor general with 2 championships and one of the most lethal combo guards the league has ever seen.  With KJ, these PGs have the quickness to defend Chris Paul and Deron Williams, something that debaters question about Magic and John Stockton.  All three of these guys were also incredibly difficult to guard, so the 2012 squad would have their hands full for the entire 48 minutes of a game. Westbrook is a bit of a wild card here as his size would make him difficult to cover for any of these guys. However, he doesn’t assist at the level of these three, and he’s liable for four or five bone-headed mistakes a game, pretty much neutralizing any size advantage he had.

SGs/SFs: Mitch Richmond (22.5 pts, 46.8% FG%, 4.0 R, 5.1 A, 1.1 S, .4 B), Larry Johnson (19.2 pts, 49.0% FG%, 11.0 R, 3.6 A, 1.0 S, .6 B), and Reggie Lewis (20.8 pts, 50.3% FG%, 4.8 R, 2.3 A, 1.5 S, 1.3 B)

If you thought the starting line-up was light on scoring, well here is where we make it up.  Mitch Richmond lit it up with Run TMC, and people often forget how talented Reggie Lewis was as an overall player.  He was the the guy that Boston expected to carry the Bird/McHale/Parrish legacy, and in 91-92, he was the Celtic’s best player on a team that included those 3 Hall of Famers. These guys are capable back-ups to Miller and Dominique and this entire group could score point for point with the likes of Kobe, Melo, Durant, and Harden (not to mention more efficiently).

Now the obvious problem with facing the 2012 USA Team is Lebron James.  At 6′ 8″, 240, he’s a physical freak.  He is by far the most talented player on that team, and a player whose physical attributes have never been seen before in the NBA.  The only guy that had Lebron’s combination of size, strength, and athleticism in the history of the NBA was probably super rookie Larry Johnson.  Grandmama?  Yes, Grandmama.  Standing at 6 foot 6, weighing 250 pounds, LJ was every much of an athlete that LBJ is today.  While LBJ is definitely the superior player (his court vision is incredible), if anyone was going to have a chance to slow him down, pre-back injury LJ had the strength and agility to do so.

PFs/Cs: Derrick Coleman (19.8 pts, 50.4% FG%, 9.5 R, 3.2 A, .8 S, 1.5 B) and Kevin Willis (18.3 pts, 48.3% FG%, 15.5 R, 2.1 A, .9 S, .7 B)

Obviously the weakest part of this team by name recognition, the power forwards/centers were no slouches when you look at what they did on a day to day basis.  They certainly don’t compare to the greats, but going up against the likes of Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and Tyson Chandler, they’re not playing the greats of this generation anyway. While they don’t scream out at you, these guys were more skilled then their 2012 counterparts.  Willis was underrated throughout his career and pairing him with Rodman, there’s not a lot of opportunities for offensive boards.  DC was a great all around PF and much more skilled that Blake Griffen is now.  K Love could stretch this defense with his 3pt making ability, but DC or Rodman could actually guard him out there leaving Willis and Daughertly to protect the middle against the offensively challenged duo of Chandler and Griffin.

The names aren’t as sexy now since we have seen where their careers have gone, but during the early 90s, we were discussing these guys like we talk about this current Olympic team.  Their numbers are in line with these All Stars now, and they played in a much tougher NBA.  I think Barkley nailed it when he said that only Kobe, Lebron, and Durant would have a chance of making the 92 Dream Team.  I’d even go as far to say that the only guy who would look like he fit on the court with these Hall of Fames would be Lebron because his game compliments team play much more so than Kobe or Durant’s.

I’ve included the Dream Team’s 91-92 season stats for comparisons sake.  Magic’s numbers are from his last season, 90-91, and Laettner’s are from his rookie year, 92-93.

The numbers speak to how dominant this group of players, not just in the counting stats, but also in how each one of these guys played every aspect of the game and played with extreme efficiency.  Half the team averaged 6+ assists, half averaged 8+ rebounds, nearly the entire team picked up a steal a game, and everyone shot at a near 50% rate. When Larry Bird has the worst shooting percentage on your team, you know this team is built to decimate any competition.  You could close your eyes and take any five guys at random and put them on the court and you’ll win.  Can you say the same thing if you happen to come up with Iguodala, Carmelo, Harden, Chandler, and Blake Griffin?  Could they definitively beat Laettner, Stockton, Magic, Pippen, and broken back Bird? Here’s a player by player comparions between these two teams.

So, I say to Kobe … Wha’chu’ talkin’ bout Kobe.

Notable exceptions not included in this list, the All-Snub-Snub Team if you will:
Mark Price – 17.3 PTS, 48.8% FG%, 2.4 R, 7.4 A, 1.3 S, .2 B. Price shot nearly 95% from the FT line in 91-92.
Joe Dumars – 19.9 PTS, 44.8% FG%, 2.3 R, 4.6 A, .9 S, .3 B. The stats don’t stand out, but he gave Jordan fits on D.
Shawn Kemp – 15.5 PTS, 50.4% FG%, 10.4 R, 1.3 A, 1.1 S, 1.9 B. This was coming off the bench for most of the year. Gotta love The Reign Man’s athleticism.
Buck Williams – 12.9 PTS, 60.4% FG%, 10.1 R, 1.5 A, .6 S, .9 B. The 80s version of Tyson Chandler, a four-time member of the NBA’s All Defensive Team.
Shaquille O’Neal – 23.4 PTS, 56.2% FG%, 13.9 R, 1.9 A, .7 S, 3.5 B. If we put a college player on the team, here’s your guy. These numbers are from his rookie year and he clearly solves the C problem this team might have.

*Note that FG% are not weighted by shots, so it’s very likely that this 2012 team’s FG% is artificially inflated by Chandler’s 67% on limited shots. This NBA today is not as good as the NBA from the 90s, plain and simple.

Goals and Saves

By , July 1, 2012 1:37 pm

While watching Espana dismantle the Italians in the Eurocup Finals, I thought about what was the most impressive goal I’d had ever seen. I don’t watch a lot of soccer, so maybe you guys have better examples (and please send them my way), but this Roberto Carlos one from the end line was absolutely superb:

The sports science really gives you an idea of how difficult it was getting that shot off, let alone to actually put it in. The degree of difficulty of that shot probably rivals only this insane save against the English:

Music and Math

By , November 5, 2009 10:30 pm

This is just unbelievable.  The sync between music and math is undeniable.  It’s shocking to see an audience, a random group of individuals untrained in music, be able to use the power of the pentatonic scale.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

King of Pop was Number 1

By , June 26, 2009 9:16 am

Michael Jackson was one of my childhood heroes, and his body of work speaks for itself.  13 Grammys.  13 Number Ones.  9 Platinum Singles.  The man made Thriller, which spent a ridiculous 37 Weeks at Number 1.  Bad spent 38 Weeks in Billboard 200’s Top Five, and included 5 Number One singles.  Nearly 25 years later, we still hear at least one MJ song played at almost every bar/club/party/bbq/you name it; if people are dancing, MJ is playing.

His music was not just his legacy, but one of the few collections that can really be described as “timeless.” Here are some fantastic megamixes by DJ_OXyGeNe_8 for your enjoyment.  Shamone!

Part III and Part VI – These were not included in the player above.

And lastly his unbelievable live performance where he floated on air for the first time.

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