Category: Sports

What was Linsanity?

By , May 17, 2012 3:16 am

Now that the Carmelo led Knicks have been dumped in the first round of the playoffs yet again, I thought I’d reflect a bit on this big time up and down season we’ve gone through (if you didn’t catch the roller coaster, here’s the New York Post’s Knicks back page covers for then entire season).  The Knicks finished 36 and 30, securing the 7th seed in the East and then promptly got dismantled in 5 games against the heavily favored Heat.  While the play-off result was expected, the next few blog posts will look at the play of the Knicks ‘stars’ over the season to try to distinguish what led to their streaks of success and abysses of failure. If you couldn’t tell from the title, this post will focus on Jeremy Lin, or according to ESPN’s writing department, the only Asian who can drive.

I fortunately had the opportunity to watch four of Jeremy Lin’s games live at Madison Square Garden this year.  Those games were his breakout game against the Nets, his huge game against the Lakers, the blow-out win against Sacramento, and the sensational Knicks bench led comeback against Cleveland.  When watching him play, I was impressed with his ability to finish near the basket while drawing a lot of contact, and how great he plays the pick-n-roll.  Yes, there were times he looked overmatched, like against Miami, Boston and the 2nd Nets game, but let’s be fair, there are a lot of 2nd year players that are overmatched by the likes of Wade, Lebron, Pierce, Rondo, Garnett and Deron Williams. Now, what really stood out to me was his decision making, and although the high TOs suggest something different, he seemed to never really force a really bad shot and had consistently found guys on the court where THEY are their ultimate best.  We saw the best of this when he played with a scrub starting line-up, and this characteristic above all is why I feel he has a chance (not a guarantee) to be something special for many years to come.

Now I come from a pretty analytical background, and the first thing you learn when approaching measurements of anything is that eye witness testimony is the WORST type of evidence you can possibly present.  It’s riddled with personal biases, and mood swings, and unfounded perceptions of demographics and one’s ability to access something. ‘Moneyball‘ proved that.  Eye witness testimony in basketball are things like ‘explosiveness’ and ‘creativity’, which often account for impressive highlights (read as one-off events), but rarely correlate at all to long-term performance or success.  We are going to try to do this by looking at the numbers, the data, the statistics that matter.  And the question we’ll try to answer is “Is Jeremy Lin a Top 10 PG?”

I’m going to concede six PGs in this analysis because they have had a pretty good history of performing at a top 10 level and they have a chance to do the same over the next six years: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose.  That leaves about ten guys left to occupy the final four slots, whose 2012 numbers have been normalized to 35 minutes a game to show how they compare to each other, ignoring obvious things I don’t want to do the math to control for like the teams they play for or the types of offensive systems they run.  I intentionally left out FT% because it is inherently reflected in Points, 3pt% because it is inherently reflected in FG%, and Turnovers because that would make it very easy to pick out Jeremy Lin.

I highlighted the top three performers in each category in green and the worst in red to make it easy to reference.  The first thing that jumps out is that none of these guys are THAT statistically different from each other, which makes it very difficult to make a case one is better than the other.  Player B scores the most and shoots it pretty well, but falls in the lower tier in assists and steals.  Player J racks up the assists, but doesn’t shoot that well, score, or block shots.  Player I isn’t in the top three in any category, but generally in the middle of pack of all the categories.  Player E tops in shooting and 3s, and doesn’t hurt you anywhere.  If you can make a clear cut case anyone here is better than anyone else, please do so in the comments.

Can you pick out Jeremy Lin?  What if I told you the other players were John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Ricky Rubio, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Ty Lawson, Kyrie Irving, Goran Dragic, and Stephen Curry?  It’s not that easy is it.  Seriously, get a piece of paper out, rank the stat lines, and assign a player to each one.  I’ll wait. I need to get a beer anyway.

Okay, you good?  Here is the list again identifying each player and adding Turnovers.

A bit surprising?  How many of you had Player F as someone you thought was better than Lin?  How many of you had Player F in your top 5?

To narrow this down further, if we remove the guys with more negatives than positives (Conley, Dragic, and Rubio), and put Steph Curry into the top 10 for not having any negatives (although he’s more a SG than a PG), then we are left with Jennings, Irving, Lawson, Wall, Lin, and Lowry for the last three spots.  Note only two guys left have more positives than negatives, and Lin wins there at 4 – 2 to Irvings 4 – 3.   So after some basic statistics, we have Lin in some contention for a top 10 PG, with the most glaring negative aspect of Lin’s game being the high turnover rate.

To look at this further, I thought I’d break down Lin’s 2012 season into three basic eras:  The 12th Man, Linsanity, and Melodrama.  The 12th Man era was basically the games he played in blow-outs, Linsanity was when he played all his games without Carmelo and only two with Amar’e, and Melodrama was the games played when both Melo and Amar’e were back. Here’s how those games broke down:

The Linsanity Era was tremendous.  I mean, averaging 25 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 1 three while shooting 51% from the field is in the stratosphere of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Nash MVP years.  None of the guys left on our list have ever had a stretch like that.  The turnovers were atrocious, but remember this was a stretch where the Knicks starting line-up was Lin, Landry Fields, Bill Walker, Jarred Jefferies, and Tyson Chandler.  This was a stretch where the bench was mainly Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert, and Mike Bibby (yes, this was before J.R. Smith and Baron Davis).  Where are the ball handers in this line-up?  It’s no wonder that his turnover rate was so high given how little possession guys were on the court.  And the most important, ridiculous, impressive, lunatical (made-up word) part of this stretch was WITH this god awful team, the Knicks were 8 and 1!  8 and 1!  Let that sink in.  8 and 1, beating play-off teams like the Hawks, Lakers, Jazz, and Mavericks.  8 and 1.

The next 15 games started with a dysfunctional, lack of effort, D’Antoni/Melo feuding shit show where the Knicks lost 6 straight which led to D’Antoni’s resignation.  Assistant Coach Mike Woodson took over and the Knicks caught fire, winning 6 of the next 7 before Lin’s season ended due to knee surgery.  During this time, Lin seemed to have done a pretty good job adjusting to an isolation system featuring Melo, and put up 15 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals in about eight less minutes of playing time a game.  More importantly, with the ball in Melo’s hands more, we saw Lin’s TOs dropped by two (although some of this could be attributed to less minutes on the floor).

So is Lin a Top 10 PG?  I’m not ready to put him there absolutely yet, in fact, of the guys left, I would probably put Ty Lawson in the Top 10 before anyone else.   The point here is that while I can’t say for certain that Lin is a top 10 PG, he has made an equal case, if not stronger case, than the rest of the guys on the list.  It’s not a clear cut thing that Lin can’t be a great PG.  He’s put up elite stretches with limited talent and WON the bulk of those games, something guys like Lowry, Conley, and Jennings haven’t come close to in many more opportunities.  Guys like Wall, Dragic, Rubio, and Irving, like Lin, have had limited opportunities to prove if they can be elite, but there’s no reason to automatically call them better because of ‘creativity’ or pedigree.  Honestly, I don’t know what gives NBA players that winning edge, but for now, let’s just say Jeremy Lin’s superior Lintellect has made me a believer.

But speaking of pedigree:

Lin was First Team All State and Northern California Division II player of the year his senior year in high school while winning the national championship.

Lin’s Junior year at Harvard, he was the only NCAA Division I player to rank top 10 in his conference in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, FG%, FT%, and 3Pt% while making All-Ivy League First Team.  That year he had 27 pts, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds in a win over 17th ranked Boston College (who had knocked of No 1. North Carolina just three days earlier).

Lin’s Senior year at Harvard, he averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks, and was again a unanimous selection for All-Ivy League First Team.  He had 30 points and 9 rebounds against the 12th ranked UConn Huskies.

In the NBA D-League Showcase, Lin averaged 21.5 points, 6 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 3.5 steals.  In 20 games in the D-League, Lin averaged 18, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

During the NBA lock-out, Lin played in the ABA Club Championship in China where he won the MVP of the tournament.

During his season with the Knicks, Lin was sent to the D-League where he promptly put up a monster triple double of 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists.

A few days later, Linsanity started and really only one man saw it coming years before.  Read his 2010 Draft Preview of Jeremy Lin and check out this great Linfographic for some of the records Lin has set in the NBA.

The NBA’s Game of Thrones

By , June 15, 2011 1:06 pm

For all that everyone has said about Mark Cuban, I have to respect that he made the move to take a terrible franchise and turn them around into world champions. To make it even sweeter, it was with HIS superstar Dirk Nowitzki, and it was against the 2 and a Half Men ‘Super Team’ Miami Heat (and while all along I thought Bosh would play the half man Tyrion Lannister, now it appears that be Lebron has fully solidified his role as ‘the (G)Imp’).

Editor’s Note: “You give Lebron too much credit. He’s Joffery, the illegitimate heir, forged from a immoral union, and granted a throne he doesn’t deserve.” – Anil C.

With the relatively ‘Cersei Lannisterness’ of NBA players and management these days (read as fickle, disloyal, incestuous), it was great to see Cuban stick by his guy and Dirk do the same. From the day he was drafted, I can’t remember a single time where Dirk made trade demands or Cuban dangled him in an offer. For them, it didn’t seem to be about personal glory or accomplishments, but rather their life story only matters as far as it affects their reputation and family name, the Dallas Mavericks.

So in this NBA Game of Thrones, Cuban would probably fall into the character of Tywin Lannister. Hated by everyone, loved only by his, and ultimately a man who knows how to win and what to protect, a point deeply made in the first scene of Episode 7 of Game of Thrones. So where does that leave Dirk? The answer is obvious …. KINGSLAYER

And to the Miami Heat, simply Bend the Knee.

Now, I really hope that somehow Cuban can get his hands on the Mets, but for now the only thing I can hope for is a little Khal Drogo on my New York Knicks.  Maybe Dwight Howard can fill this role:

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“So this (Fantasy Baseball) team is perfect”

By , March 2, 2011 12:50 pm

It’s almost fantasy baseball time again and although my slow starting roster made a respectable run to finish in 4th, I didn’t re-capture the title which I won in 2008.  The consolation prize is that our commissioner, Hans Ruddilicious, for the 9th straight season did not win a title, settling for his record breaking/setting fourth 2nd play finish (see Bills, Buffalo – 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993).

Last year’s champ christened this year’s bulletin board with this fine piece of smack talk:

“i just took a quick glance at the initial rankings and the top 10 players looked like the 2010 Championship Bag of Poo lineup. weird…”

This got me thinking about what it would take to build a team that would perfectly beat any other roster of players, even if you were able to pick the same players (barring obvious ties).  It would seem that a baseball season, with 162 games would be enough to do statistical analysis, although we’d probably want to dampen the volatility a bit by looking at it on a weekly basis.  In this case, building a Monte Carlo simulation model and running thousands of scenarios could give you a good idea of which players would be best to wager a high draft pick on.

This would be a pretty good start, but what about other factors like injury proneness, skills progression/deterioration, team/lineup changes, and to a lesser degree strength of schedule and home field advantages/disadvantages?  It would be a pretty cool analysis to do to try to capture a bit of an edge in your fantasy league (i.e., look for Give It More Hand to return to the top of the standing this year).  Plus, it would be a pretty fun to put to the test our fantasy expertise, especially for bragging rights.

I came across this site that is bringing this concept to life, although not for fantasy baseball.  fantisserie.com looks like a game that lets you put your fantasy shit-talking to the test in a weekly competition for cash prizes.  The entry free is pretty nominal, about the cost of most iPhone and Android apps or a drunk impulse purchase of a Slim Jim from the local deli at 4:30AM, and they are offering a pretty large cash prize to anyone that can hit perfection for a week.

fantisserie

Not a bad trade-off, much like indigestion for the tasty deliciousness of previously mentioned 4:30AM Slim Jim.  Gotta have beef, gotta have spice, need a little excitement.  SNAP INTO A SLIM JIM.

How Bad is my Fantasy Baseball Team?

By , May 3, 2010 8:54 pm

I’m sitting in 9th place, 67 whopping points behind the league leader after the first month of the baseball season.  That’s pretty awful.  The question is, do I have any hope?  I decided to take a statistical approach to see if I should jump ship on my team, or try to hold through this miserable start.

The first thing I looked at was the historical monthly averages and standard deviations of the players on my team.  When I did this, I got a pretty ugly picture for April, but some hope for the future.

The green represents the categories where my players are performing better than their historical averages, while the red …. well, you know.  A lot of red on this chart … a lot.  Should I be selling low right now?

The data is telling us that April 2010 was a uncharacteristically bad for my team when compared to typical months in their career.  If statistics hold, I should expect a reasonable bounce back for nearly all my players for the rest of the year.  I should hold out for a little bit longer before making any significant panic moves, but I will certainly be looking for improvements across the board.  I’ll be keeping a close eye on riskier players like Ichiro (age) and Hamilton (injuries), and they will be the guys I’d look to move for a younger/healthier equal poor starting ‘star.’

What have I done so far?  I’ve moved Molina for the ‘no timeshare’ Miguel Olivio in Colorado, and I’ve gotten Lance Berkman back to take the spot of Curtis Granderson (who actually wasn’t that much of a drag on my team since I only play him against right-handers, check the splits for his career).   If Rich Harden can put it together, Grienke get’s some offensive help, and Dave Duncan has really fixed Brad Penny, I might have a fighting shot.

Your turn.  Who would you target right now in a trade, and who would you move off my team?

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The Perfect Fantasy Football Play

By , November 30, 2009 4:09 pm

I’ve been playing in a fantasy football league with the same group of guys for about ten years now, and like many others of you out there, I just can’t win.  It seems like everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, from a missed extra point to the NFL reviewing game tape to change the marking of a fumble which causes enough yardage difference to drop you 1 point loss in a game against the other team going for the last playoff spot (didn’t happen to me, but did to another manager whose opponent called up the NFL offices posing as a reporter to question a Jonathan Stewart fumble last year … priceless).

Now if you are an astute fantasy football player, you know exactly what it takes for you to win a game.  Even in the waning seconds of a game, I can come up with the most ridiculous real life football play that would pull my team out from the jaws of defeat and on to capturing an elusive Small Show* championship and the prestigious Portis Belt (and eventually making it rain like Pacman Jones).

My White Elephant

My White Elephant

After years of perfecting this ability, I started to think about what would be the most desperate of desperation plays that would be needed by a single player on your team to overcome a seemingly insurmountable lead.  At first I thought it was obvious, the 99 yard rushing/receiving touchdown from a running back/wide receiver/tight end.  The field is only 100 yards and a touchdown is the most amount of points you can score on a single play.  It’s the max on yardage and points on a single possible offensive play.  Defenses usually aren’t rewarded for return yards, so the best you can hope for there is a sack, fumble recovery, touchdown.

Actually there is a way to top the 99 yard, 1 TD effort, and this play is one of the rarest you’ll ever see.  It is a legitimate football play for the quarterback to throw a pass, have it deflected by a defender,  and then catch the deflection and run with it (Brett Farve’s first completion was to himself).  This counts as both passing AND receiving stats making it possible for a quarterback to throw and receive a 99 yard touchdown pass on the same play for 26.2 points of fantasy legacy.  Here’s a breakdown of the most possible points by position for a typical points-per-reception fantasy football league:

Fantasy Football Max Points Chart

Theoretically, any offensive player can do this (i.e., Ronnie Brown Ricky Williams in the Wildcat), but for practical purposes, we’ll expect the quarterback to be handling the ball at the end of the game.  So if your QB is backed up to his 1-yard line with 4 seconds left in the game and you are down 26, keep the faith, you still have a shot!

Here’s that Brett Favre completion to himself:

*The Small Show is the fantasy league that I play in.  I’m currently 4 and 7 and up by 5 points this week with Pierre Thomas (my guy) going against Tom Brady and John Carney (his guys) tonight.  If I win this week and next week I have an outside chance of getting into the play-offs provided another team loses and I can outscore him in Total Points.  What do you think my chances are in both tonight’s game and the playoffs?

Bill Belichick + Statistics = Usually Good Outcomes

By , November 16, 2009 3:48 pm

I’ve been a die hard Giants fan for as long as I can remember, and although I was technically alive and barely remember parts of the 86 season (and nothing from that Super Bowl), the 90 Super Bowl team made me love the G-Men .  They had me at Mark Ingram’s 3rd and 13 conversion.

Bill Belichick was the Giants’ defensive coordinator in that Super Bowl and designed a genius defensive game plan, predicated on the statistics of his defensive unit.  Knowing that Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills could rip apart the Giants’ secondary, he had his defensive linemen and linebackers give up yards on 1st and 2nd down.  He believed that this would dictate that Buffalo would run the ball, rather than pass in longer 3rd down situations, a place where the Giants were statistically strong in all season.

His gutsy calls are not relegated to just defense.  The 07 Patriots’ offense was a great example of not playing into defenses strengths (case in point, going to five WR sets against the top ranked Minnesota run defense), and taking gratuitous unsportsmanlike advantages of your strengths when the game was well out of hand.  Gratefully honor prevailed and the Giants laid the smack-down on the Patriots to win their 3rd Super Bowl and squash a rather presumptuous book before it made its way onto bookshelves.

Last night’s Patriots Colts game is just another way Bill Belichick makes football analysts (like Mike Francesca) and arm-chair quarterbacks look like idiots.  It was absolutely the right move to go for it on 4th and 2 and the odds were completely in his favor, as described on “Advanced NFL Stats:

“With 2:00 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A 4th and 2 conversion would be successful 60% of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53% of the time from that field position. The total WP for the 4th down conversion attempt would therefore be:

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP

A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their own 34. Teams historically get the TD 30% of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.

Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it, and by a good amount.”

It didn’t work out for Bill last night, but the decision was sound, and in the long run, he’s going to come out on top more often than not.  It’s why he’s a great NFL coach, and we shouldn’t be convinced that our “conventional” wisdom is better than his statistical prowess.  Just be content knowing that he’s a prick and move on.

Predicting the World Series using Python

By , October 29, 2009 7:45 am

Last week, I’ve started to learn Python through a peer-to-peer learning session set up through nextNY.  The material that we’ve gone through has made learning programming very easy to wrap our heads around, and the environment of cooperative learning has been awesome.  I’m looking forward to being a Python ninja* pretty soon.

With four and half chapters of Python at my disposal, I wanted to put my skills to the test.  Since I’m a huge baseball fan, I thought I’d try my hand in simulating who would lose the World Series this year, a pillow-fight match-up between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The first thing to do was to crunch the numbers.  Crunching the numbers means exactly that, figuring out the probabilities of events occurring over a seven game series.  I incorporated things like Ryan Howard’s immense strike-out rate, Derek Jeter’s incredible lack of range at shortstop, and Brad Lidge’s ninth inning ERA.  I also made sure to incorporate correlations, or how related each variable is to each other.  Funny enough, the highest correlation I found was between having a runner on first base with less that two outs in the seventh inning onwards and Arod weakly grounding into a double-play.  Numbers never lie.

Now this got me a pretty good picture of who would lose the World Series, but I hadn’t taken into consideration the qualitative variables, the intangibles, the “Cole Hamels’ is a play-off pitcher” and the “Mariano is unhittable in the World Series” bullshit bullshit.  These are usually the ‘statistics’ that overzealous fans throw out (with no meaningful data except their distorted memories) as their defense to a player’s immortality.

The classic intangible lies on the shoulders’ of the Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, a ball player that seems to find himself at the right place at the right time in the postseason.  Yankee fans have constantly spouted his ‘greatness’, and refuse to admit that he was horribly out of position on the Jeremy Giambi play at the plate, and doesn’t even register as having the highest batting average in a World Series (that designation goes to Billy Hatcher who hit a sickening .750 for the Reds in 1990 in 12 ABs).  Heck, Jeter doesn’t even deserve the nickname “Mr. November” for his play in the 2001 World Series.  He had 1 HR, 1 RBI, and 2 runs scored in November, numbers that were almost matched by a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks (1 RBI and 2 runs scored).  Oh, and that pitcher also won two potentially series ending games in two days that November with a 2.22 ERA, .96 WHIP, 8Ks in 8.1 innings.  Derek Jeter, I’d like you to meet the real “Mr. November,” Randy Johnson.

Okay, so I wrote my little Python program to capture all of this.  The stats, the pseudo-stats, the Phillie Phanatic’s rants, and the countless times we’ll hear “26 World Series rings.”  With so many probabilities and interactions, this program chugged along for two days, and finally, yesterday before the first pitch, I got the result:  Value Error: Let’s Go Mets.

*Looking forward to the day when ninja is not used in start-up world employment searches and reverts back to its original awesomeness of stealthy nighttime assassin.

The Pay-Off Matrix to Icing the Kicker

By , September 24, 2009 3:00 pm

First off, Eli Manning is a great quarterback whose number will probably never reflect how good he really is.  I’m not interested in the big arm of Jay Cutler, and the accuracy of Drew Brees, or the double threat QB nightmare in Philadelphia (McNabb and Vick).  Eli Manning flat out just knows how to win games (without the ego and attitude), and he’s getting better at it.

Aside from this, there were two things I took away from the Giants Cowboys game on Sunday night, played at the eighth and ninth modern wonders of the world (Jerry Jones words, not mine), the new Cowboys Stadium.  The first thing is that the Giant receivers are pretty good and I’ll specifically note the circus TD catch by Super Mario Manningham and the incredible juke Steve Smith put on before scoring.  In basketball,  the term is “broken ankles” and in competitive urban street dance, I believe it’s “you got served Orlando Scandrick.”

The second thing was how ridiculously popular it’s become to attempt to freeze the kicker by calling a time-out at the last possible half second so that the first attempt at a field goal doesn’t count.  My buddy Jeff brought up how silly the pay-off matrix looks like when coaches try to do this.  Essentially if the kicker makes the first attempt, then there’s no reason for the kicker to believe that he can’t make it again, since kicking FGs is a highly repeatable and high probability of success event (NFL average FGs made percentage was 84.5% last year).  If he misses, then he essentially has taken a practice shot, and now can adjust to better his outcome since the physical conditions of the kick hasn’t change.  Your hoping that the best case scenario happens twice, which if kicking FGs were independent, it would be something like a 2% probability of missing twice.

There is a mental element to missing a field goal, much like their is one to making one, but I don’t think that there is a strong relationship between kicking events.  In math world, it’s call the autocorrelation, which is the cross-correlation of a signal with itself.  In field goal kicking/inane time-out  world, the signal is the made/miss on a FG attempt.  It’s saying that if a kicker produces higher than average  success rate (made FG = 100% which is greater than NFL average 84.5%), then if the autocorrelation is high he’s more likely to make the next, and if he misses (made FG = 0%), then he’s more likely to miss the next attempt.  While I can see the autocorrelation being high on made FG attempts, I just don’t think it’s true on missed attempts (how many times have you seen a kicker miss even two in a row in the NFL from the exact same spot?)

If you really want to play a mental game with an opposing kicker, giving him a practice kick is hardly the answer.  I’d call time-out once the kicker got comfortable, but not where he could complete his routine by taking the kick.  Or try something like this legendary inbound play in a high-school basketball game, because it’s all about the element of surprise, and the last-second freeze play isn’t a surprise anymore.


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