Small Market Mondays #2.01: The Return of Milk Toast

Remember our cracked-skull columnist, Alex Arnon? He hit his head a while back, fainted, and woke up a delusional man with tidings of a world where small markets ruled all comers. Yeah, so. About that. Over the summer, Alex tripped while walking backwards, managing to completely reverse the head trauma that created this series. Poor guy's back to rooting for the Knicks and wishing he still had his former faith. Our editor, Aaron McGuire, has no such idle wishes -- to perpetuate this baffling feature, he's developed a drug that mimics Arnon's former mental losses just long enough to go on the weekly vision quest required to write this. Welcome back, #SmallMarketMondays! We love you like our collective infant daughter!

"Another day, another dollar." That's what my small market uncle used to say. My family generally didn't like to see me hanging out with him, as one dollar a day is not a wage that a child should generally look up to. Even in the smallest of markets. But they weren't in my head, folks. I didn't look up to his laughable salary. I looked up to his grit and his will to win. I looked up to the aura of competence he had around him. I looked up to the way he talked to dogs and earnestly believed they'd talk back. And, above all, I looked up to the small market spirit he had floating in the air around him. The spirit to never give up even when his salary was comparable to the coins in a normal working class Joe's couch cushions. Today, as we embark on a bold new season of small marketeering in a world of dread piracy, I aim to appreciate some of the many small market heroes that embody my uncle's up-and-at-em spirit.

  • Patrick Beverley, HOU ($788,872) -- Deron Williams, the starter for this feature's arch nemesis, makes $18,466,130. He makes 23 times the salary of Houston Rockets starter Patrick Beverley. Despite being injured and having an artificially deflated PER due to this, Beverley's PER is less than one point lower than Deron's (13.6 vs 14.4). Take that, money. You aren't the boss of us! Here's to Beverley, our old friend.
  • Jeremy Tyler, ATL ($100,000) -- LeBron James probably could find a hundred thousand dollars in his couch cushions, and Jeremy's making less money than literally everyone in the NBA right now, so I think we can overlook Atlanta's actually-large-market city size and appreciate him. (Related note: someone should tell LeBron to stop using hundred dollar bills as cushion stuffing, it's really uncomfortable.) He hasn't actually played this season, so here's hoping he... wait, he got waived? I'm featuring someone who is completely without employment in this highlight? Dangit. Sorry Jeremy.
  • Orlando Johnson, IND ($788,872) -- The best thing about Orlando Johnson is that he's three small markets in one. First he's in Indiana, a favorite of this feature. Then his first name is Orlando, which evokes another small market to admire and contemplate. Then, to top it all off, his last name is Johnson. That's the most small market last name a person can have! It's not quite as popular as "Smith", but being second is something Small Market Mondays can appreciate. And to top it all off, he doesn't make a ton of money and isn't actually great at basketball. There is literally no downside to Orlando Johnson. He is my hero, and he is a hero to us all. Thanks, America.

You know, come to think of it, I have no idea what my uncle's job was. And I never saw him with his own home or apartment. And he had a hat that he'd just put on the ground next to him while sitting at highly trafficked areas, which was when we tended to hang out. And he thought he'd been abducted by aliens on a weekly basis. And he ran every time he saw a cop, and the reason I haven't seen him for a while is that he got arrested for murder or something.

Starting to understand why my parents didn't want me to hang out with him.

Editor, scratch this column. Wait, I am the editor. I don't remember how to scratch columns. These meds are rough, guys.

• • •

The State of The Small Market Union (Sponsored by The Memphis School of Modern Dance)

You know how the small market union was strong last season? It's basically made of diamond now, baby. (And when I say diamond, I mean the "diamond special" at your local IHOP, because diamonds are much too expensive for us true small marketeers.) Seriously, though, the standings right now are basically a beautiful paragon of small market appreciation and excellence. The following facts are true about the beautiful season we've been watching to date:

  • The Spurs, Pacers, and Thunder are a combined 18-2, with the top three records in the league.
  • The Knicks, Nets, Lakers, and Bulls are a combined 9-16, and none of them are in their conference's playoff picture.
  • The upstart Minnesota Timberpuppies are at 5-2, and just eviscerated the Lakers by 23 points at the Staples center. What!
  • The Bobcats and Hawks are at the 4/5 seeds in the Eastern Conference at 3-3 apiece, which is adorable.
  • Those big market bullies in Utah are 0-7, which finally gets some comeupp-- wait, UTAH?!?

Okay, scratch that last one. Wait, I forgot again. I'm the editor. Damnit. Where's my backspace key? How do I delete things?

• • •

nate wolters

The Milwaukee Yoga Farm presents the "Namaste Cow Moos Twice" Nate Wolters MVP Watch

Handsome. Trustworthy. Brunette. These are all words that have never in our natural lives been used to describe Nate Wolters, the small marketeer point guard filling in for Milwaukee's Knight of the Brandon table. These are all words that I will be avoiding in my short description of Nate's amazing play for the Milwaukee Buckaroonies. The Bucks are hardly a great team -- they're currently 2-3, and they were lucky to get an upset win over the Cleveland Cavaliers to pad that 2-3 record. But if it wasn't for the up-and-at-em play of this "young Buck" (yes, I will be arrested for crimes against words someday), they wouldn't even be 2-3.

Wolters is currently averaging 9-6-4 for the Bucks, and we have some new stats that give us context for Nate's splendor. According to NBA.com's "SportsVU" statistics, Wolters is currently throwing 56.3 passes per game. That's 19th overall in the league, despite the fact that he's 21st overall in assists per game! That means his passes aren't leading to quite as many assists as the rest of his peers, which is another sign of Nate's never-say-die attitude. Why generate a ton of flashy assists when you can demonstrate to your fans the true meaning of existential worthlessness by completing beautiful pinpoint passes to players that can't finish? Nothing is beautiful and everything hurts. Great performance, Nate. You're our first "Small Market Mondays" MVP candidate. Keep it up, handsome!

... wait, I said I wasn't gonna use that word. Seriously, how do I delete things?!?

• • •

Small Market Mondays Game of the Night: MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES AT INDIANA PACERS

The Grizzlies haven't gotten off to quite the season start they were hoping for -- they're currently 3-3 with a strange mix of blowouts, bad losses, and good wins. As I mentioned earlier (and will probably get more into next week), the Indiana Pacers have gotten off to their best start in decades. They're undefeated! Tonight's game, defensive slog though it may be, is really going to be a no-lose scenario for small marketeers like us. If the Grizzlies win, they're the small market David that's slain yet another Goliath, and they'll return to the Western playoff picture -- where they should be. If the Pacers win, they stretch their 7-0 start to an 8-0 start and further chisel their ridiculously strong start into the annals of league history. It's great! Here's hoping the game is even remotely watchable!

Other quick-hits for great small-market matchups in the coming week:

  • Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies (WED, 11/13): Although Toronto isn't technically a small market, their history of futility and general status as the only NBA team in Canada evokes the same sort of "only game in town" feeling you get from a small market team. So we'll count them for now. Should be a barnburner, if you're one of those weirdos that burns down barns every time they watch Rudy Gay and Demar DeRozan chuck indiscriminately against an excellent defense. If so, please turn yourself in to the authorities. Thanks in advance.
  • Milwaukee Bucks at Indiana Pacers (FRI, 11/15): This is one of  those rare early season treasures that most people inexplicably never watch. Don't make that mistake. Nate Wolters is our current Small Market Mondays MVP choice, and Paul George is a reasonable "actual MVP" choice. The Pacers are probably gonna roll over the Bucks, but it's hard to sleep on that Wolters/Pachulia/Neal core. ... Okay, I retract that, it's pretty easy to sleep on them. But don't! Please?
  • Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers (SUN, 11/17): This is your obligatory "small market mainstay" versus "big market monster" of the coming week. The difference? The Pistons are probably going to be favored! It isn't just possible that they win, it's actually likely! Should be fun to watch the Pau Gasol revenge game to try and get the Pistons back for the 2004 Finals. Pau has a lot of saved up fury over that series, probably. Expect a 60-40-20 game from Pau "Laker for Life" Gasol, staved off only by a vintage 30 point 30 assist Chauncey Billups performance. (I live in a fantasyland made of snow cones.)

See you next week, Small Marketeers! Stay frosty.

Entomb the Past and Embrace the Unknown

the wrong side of the tracks

I was on the wrong side of the tracks. That's what they told me, anyway -- when it came time to transition from elementary school to middle school and high school, the school district told me that I'd be going to a school far removed from most of my peers. This was disappointing, although unavoidable -- it was true, I was in a block that was barely outside of the boundaries of the school we all grew up at. It wasn't a big deal, and in fact, it was retrospectively a blessing. The schools I ended up going to were better than the ones I would've gone to if I'd stayed on the same path everyone else went.

But there was one thing that really stuck in my craw about the move. I had a decent group of friends in elementary school, but our hanging out was very school-oriented. We would hang out in classes, hang out in recess, then go by each others' houses after school and hang out until our parents ordered us to go home. We didn't really "do" scheduled hangouts, and we didn't really talk outside of school. I didn't have AOL Instant Messenger yet, after all -- the only way to contact each other was through the phone, and none of us were particularly chatty people. When the last day of elementary school came around, we all promised to stay in touch and hang out... even when they were all going to the school across the bend and I was going to the school they'd never even heard of.

As you may have surmised, that promise of perpetuation didn't turn out that way. That day turned out to be the last time I'd speak to any of them until well after my college days began. In that first summer between elementary school and middle school, I did the same thing I did every summer -- I'd hang out with friends on my block, I'd read a lot of books, I'd draw a lot, I'd watch a lot of TV, I'd surf the internet. Et cetera, et cetera. But as time went on, the window for calling my friends across the way seemed to wax and wane. At first it was as though I didn't want to accept that they wouldn't be there when middle school came. Then it simply became a matter of tact. "Oh, hey, it's Aaron! You know, that guy who never ever calls? What's up, BRAH?" It didn't seem right. So days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months. Months to years, years to graduations, graduations to jobs. And all the while, there was this large group of once-close friends going further and further in my rearview, never to be seen again. That is, until I was in a Durham airport in 2010, reading through the newest issue of SLAM magazine on a bench near my gate to Arizona.

"Yo, no way... Aaron? Aaron McGuire? Is that really you?!"

 • • •

Our overall presence at Gothic Ginobili has been effectively nonexistent the last few months. I've written 14 posts in the last four months (with only 8 of those being even tangentially related to the NBA), averaging out to less than a post a week. One year ago today, I was writing 15,000 words of player capsules a week. Stark difference, there.

I don't really intend to apologize for this -- while I don't particularly enjoy letting down readers who've come to expect a certain standard, I've noted several times that last year's player capsule experiment was absolutely terrible for my health. I have a full-time job that generally demands 50-60 hours a week of work. Add in 25-30 hours a week of writing and my requisite volunteering and I found myself in a situation where every waking moment was consumed with stress and work. During the process of producing the capsules, I was dumped by my girlfriend and managed to go on an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas where I literally did nothing for fun.

No -- no matter what was going to happen this offseason, some delightful capsule reboot was never in the cards. I somehow managed to stay on top of my actual job while also finishing the capsule project in my allotted timeframe, but it wasn't like that project was going to get redone this year. If it happens again, it'll happen again in a year or two, when I can take more time off work and give myself a bit more breathing room. Not this year, certainly, and not after last season's slow burnout. All that said, while I intended to take a lighter load here over the summer, I never really intended to COMPLETELY eschew basketball writing. Which is essentially what happened, somehow. Here are a sampling of the things I never got around to that were on the docket for our summer plans:

  • General manager capsules, outlining each and every move and transaction the league's reigning GMs had overseen. I'd rate the GMs out in a general sense and try to get at the tenor of their decision-making. (I still want to do this, and I actually had written up a skeleton interview template, but I never sent it out to any of the GMs I was able to wrangle emails from. This will happen someday, though. Pinkie promise.)
  • Historical player capsules, looking at historical game tape to analyze the John Starks and Chris Welps of the not-so-modern era with a critical eye. The fact that all of my sources for historical games have dried up over the last year made putting this together unfathomably hard, and would basically have kept the series to players that happened to appear on a game I'd previously downloaded. Tough breaks.
  • A new-age STEVE NASH projection system, using some of the new tricks I'd learned to meld random forest classification methods and the finalized aging curves from the soon-to-be-published thesis I wrote years ago. Combining those methods with a few ad hoc data aggregation tools would've -- hopefully -- led to some interesting results. Also, some easily-explained minutes projections, which I'd make publicly available because I love you guys. Guess I'll put this one off until the next offseason.

Kinda wish I'd gotten around to these. Don't they sound fun?

I tried to start all of them, mind you, but something curious kept happening on the way to the well.

• • •

"Home, she is the grand illusion. She is a time, not a place. And your time here was over." (x)

As time goes on, the familial bonds that tie your birth family together waver from your life. You don't stop loving your parents, generally, but distance and time conspires to drastically alter the relationship you came to hold dear. A person is forever connected to the souls they love as family, but this connection is never quite the same as it was to a wide-eyed youth. This is to say nothing of friendships, which wax and wane and vanish accordingly. Life moves on. The inexorable march of man towards our vaguely sinister end continues unfettered, regardless of our wants and whims.

And, of course, it all comes back to game six.

I'm a Spurs fan. Every single long piece I've attempted to write about basketball in the last four months has boiled down to, at its core, some sort of inane rumination on that oh-so-memorable night. I'm not exaggerating. I've personally produced mountains of deleted drafts trying to get at the core of what that game really meant. And I didn't usually start the draft out with the intention of talking about it, either. I'd start the first GM capsule or the first historical capsule and I'd balk. I'd start modeling and instead I'd start writing about how improbable game six really was. I wish I could say I've gotten anything out of the dismal exercise. I can't, though -- I've gleaned nothing. A lot of people laughed when Kawhi Leonard responded to an inquisitive journalist's prodding ("Have you thought about the finals at all since the epic series?") with a perfectly fitting "No. We lost." I nodded sadly.

Kawhi Leonard is 22 years old. Later in his career, he'll probably feel a bit more dismay at the outcome of last year's finals -- his entire playoff experience currently consists of a rookie year WCF run and a sophomore year Finals run, after all. It's hard to contextualize how unreasonable that was when your only experience is at such a high level. There will probably be the tiniest mote of regret for the opportunities lost and the general improbability of it all. But perhaps not. Because Kawhi has keyed into perhaps the most important fact about game six: it's over, and nothing at all is going to change that.

• • •

As for the one-off elementary school tale I started above, the end is hardly happy. Sure enough, one of my long-forgotten elementary school friends managed to recognize me eight years later in an airport 2,153 miles away from our old school. It was fun, at first, and it was interesting catching up. After all, we hadn't seen each other since 2002. But then we stopped reminiscing and started trying to talk about our recent lives, and all basis for comparison ended. He'd dropped out of college after flaming out spectacularly in his first semester, going from rave to rave and blowing other people's money like nobody's business. He was currently returning from an expense-paid summer vacation provided lovingly by his doting parents. I hadn't ever gotten drunk (at that point), I was battling a bout of depression and endless sinus infections, and I was taking a beyond-ridiculous overload schedule to grease the skids on an early graduation. The amount we had in common at that point in our lives could fit in a thimble. Although we added each other on Facebook, we haven't come anywhere close to contacting again, because we both figured out the somewhat uncomfortable truth.

At the end of the day, there's only so much you can say about the past. You can poke it and prod it and orient it and try to recapture it. You can analyze it as much as your heart desires. But the past is the past. Your old friends -- whether you meant them to be or not -- are old friends for a reason. Any rekindled friendship is necessarily a new creation, wrought of the people you've grown to become rather than a reflection of what you once were. The past cannot form the full basis of your frame of thought, and it can't consume you. I'll never really know what could've been if I hadn't neglected to call all of my old friends -- maybe we'd all still be the close-knit bunch we were back in the day. Maybe it wouldn't have been so jarring to meet my old friend after all those years. Things would be different, probably. But try as I might to reconstruct the past and figure out how things could've been, it won't change that it's not so.

No matter how many times I dream about game six, it is never going to change the one-in-a-million sequence of events that brought the ropes down and put the trophy back on lockdown. No matter how many times Gregg Popovich and LeBron James rewatch the game and wonder how they lost and won, it is never going to change the fact that it happened. Tim Duncan can relive the missed bunny in game seven every day for the next decade. Matt Moore and Bill Simmons can make painful jokes for the rest of eternity. It's history, now -- the property of textbooks and retrospectives and truth. We can debate its meaning and its significance, but we can't debate that it happened. For me, I'm reasonably sure my inability to write is tied in that last bit. My desire to talk about game six is primarily rooted in a completely irrational desire to strike it from existence. There's a better present, now, though -- there's a new season, with new challenges and new stories to chase and bottle. What's done is done. What's to be done, that's the real question. And that's the one we're aiming to capture now.

It all boils down to this: it's hard to let go, but it's harder to hold on.

Welcome back, NBA. We missed you.

  • • •

 "The truth is that returning to old wells is rarely truly satisfying. It's often empty and rather sad."

Bill Don't Lie: Congressional Efficiency through the NBA

dwight and bob

This post was compiled and written by Evan Kalikow, known as @killakow on Twitter. During the recent shutdown, Evan had some free time. Instead of posting #ObstructionIsNotGovernance every day (love you, Amin), Evan chose to connect his love of the NBA with the curious working habits of our United States legislative branch. What follows is the resulting piece. Happy reading!

Like most sports, basketball is a game of efficiency. If your team has players that can score more often and on fewer attempts than your opponents, you’re in pretty good shape. Ever since basketball became a fully-realized sport, scouts, coaches, and general managers have used shot efficiency (in one form or another) to evaluate players.

Hey, maybe the same is true of U.S. politics!

Just like NBA players, Congress talks a big game. But does it deliver? Can we use similar measures to evaluate politicians? How efficient are our members of Congress, though? Are they more like James Harden or more like 2011 Mike Bibby? I found myself wondering these questions the other day, when it became apparent to me (and countless others) that Congress can’t get a dang thing done... more like the 2011 vintage of Mike Bibby. I decided to dive into the data and figure out how efficient our men and women of Congress really are, comparing the 113th U.S. Congress (January 2013 to October 2013) to NBA players from the 2012-2013 season (October 2012 to April 2013).

First, to define the measures of efficiency that I will be using. For NBA players, efficiency is measured simply by Field Goal Percentage, or FG% (field goals made divided by field goals attempted). We'll look at every NBA player who took at least 100 shots during the 2012-2013 regular season. I hear you -- FG% isn't a perfect measure of player quality or player efficiency, and the metric is biased toward certain types of players (more on that later), but look at it this way: when U.S. Senators were young enough to play basketball without immediately tearing every ligament and tendon in their body simultaneously, Field Goal Percentage was state-of-the-art. And I'm all about communication.

Things get slightly trickier for measuring congressional efficiency. To get these values, I took all 538 members of both houses of Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives) and created a similar measure; essentially, Congressional Efficiency is defined as bills and resolutions passed divided by bills and resolutions proposed*. Again, this measure has flaws -- some of them hilarious -- and simply measures efficiency, not difficulty.

*NOTE CONTAINING GORY DEFINITIONAL DETAILS: Bills are considered passed if they passed the House, passed the Senate, agreed to as a simple resolution, passed the House with changes, passed the Senate with changes, agreed to as a concurrent resolution, enrolled (i.e. passed by the House and Senate and presented to the President to sign), or signed by the President. Conversely, bills with a most recent status of introduced, referred to committee, reported by committee, failed under suspension, failed cloture, failed House, or failed Senate are considered not passed. Although this definition of success is relatively broad, it works well for our purposes.

After compiling and organizing the data, the first thing that struck me was how much less efficient Congress was than the NBA, even though I was using the lowest-skewed NBA field goal statistic. To wit: the average efficiency of a Congressperson was 8.06%... compared to an average field goal percentage of 44.55% for an NBA player. Statistically, that notorious bill on Capitol Hill probably should have died on the steps. To make it a bit easier to see comparisons between the two, I took the difference between the two averages and added it to each Congressperson’s efficiency, giving us equivalent averages and comparable agents. Adjusted Congressional Efficiency (ACE) I'll call it, but only this one time.

The Senators, Representatives, and Delegates of the 113th Congress naturally separated themselves into seven distinct groups based on their adjusted efficiencies. Let’s take a look.

To access the spreadsheet with the data for all congressmen and NBA players, click here.

• • •

Group 1: The No-Shows

Description: These four Congresspeople alone - out of all of Congress - have proposed exactly 0 bills or resolutions so far. Not a single one. This makes sense for Brown and Scott, who are in their first terms. It makes extra sense for Chiesa, who was only appointed in June and has barely set up his office. But John Boehner, Speaker of the House? That’s downright pathetic, man. Write a bill or something, dork!

NBA 12-13 Equivalents: Andrew Bynum, Charles Barkley, you, your grandma, anyone you saw on the street today, a baby who was literally born yesterday.

Best One-On-One Comparison: John Boehner (0%) is exactly as efficient as an orange (0%).

 • • •

Group 2: League Minimum

Description: The Senators and Representatives in this group all proposed at least one bill, but passed none. Due to the fact that we're equalizing the averages by adding, their 0% actual efficiency gets adjusted into an ACE of 36.5%. In basketball terms, that is horrendous. To put this into perspective, Austin Rivers -- a man who put together one of the all-time worst rookie seasons ever last year -- had a FG% of 37.2%, which is higher than every single senator or representative that graces this list. And make no mistake: there's a lot of them. A total of 331 Congresspeople ended up in this group with absolutely zero bills passed, which just goes to show you (a) how difficult it is to get a bill passed, and (b) how much less efficient Congress is than the NBA.

NBA 12-13 Equivalents: Austin Rivers, Ricky Rubio, Kirk Hinrich, Kent Bazemore, Ason Kidd.

Best One-On-One Comparison: Ted Cruz (36.5%) is slightly less efficient than Sixth Man of the Year vote recipient Luke Babbitt (36.8%). Ted for 6MOTY!

 • • •

Group 3: Point Guards and Role Players

Description: The NBA players in this group are slightly below league average in terms of FG%. You’ll find some stinkers in there (Royal Ivey), but also a lot of excellent point guards (Russell Westbrook, for one). PGs tend to shoot the ball a lot, so their FG% drops accordingly. The men and women of Congress in this group mostly follow the high-usage PG model, with high-usage, low-efficiency Senators like Bob Casey and David Vitter, as well as Representatives like Diane Black and Cody Gardner. This makes sense--over half of the Senators and Representatives in this study didn’t get a single bill passed, so you see more Congressional Goran Dragics and fewer congressional Jodie Meekses.

NBA 12-13 Equivalents: Rudy Gay, Jordan Crawford, Kemba Walker, Jrue Holiday, Russell Westbrook

Best One-On-One Comparison: TIE. On one hand, you have Diane Feinstein (38.7%) doing her best Rasheed Wallace (38.7%) impression. But on the other hand, Chuck Grassley (42.8%), everyone’s favorite tweeter, is a slightly better Ray Felton (42.7%). It’s tough to say which one of these comparisons is better. Which will happen first: Diane Feinstein getting a T on the Senate floor, or Chuck Grassley dropping 50 on the Dems?

 • • •

Group 4: Very Good Players

Description: This is the first group of NBA players that are all above the league-average in FG%. Lots of these players are, as the group name would suggest, very good. You have guys like Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving who are better shooters than the PGs in the last group, and you have guys like Jeff Green and Jimmy Butler, who are solid. There are also some higher-usage Centers like Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah, as well as classic big men in Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. On the Congressional side, there are some heavy-hitters, like Richard Blumenthal. But a lot of this group is made up of low-usage, high-efficiency types, who propose fewer than 10 bills but can get at least one passed. This is exemplified by Rodney Davis and Richard Hanna, who each only proposed 8 bills, but each also got 1 passed, giving them both 49.0% adjusted efficiencies.

NBA 12-13 Equivalents: Roy Hibbert, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Josh Smith, Chris Paul, Paul Millsap.

Best One-On-One Comparison: Michele Bachmann (47.6%) comes out of the pack as a slightly more efficient version of DeMarcus Cousins (46.5%). I’m buying $1000 worth of stock in whatever TV network can get them to live in a house together and videotape the results.

 • • •

Group 5: Lots of Tall People

Description: I mentioned earlier that FG%, as a measurement, is biased toward a certain group of NBA players. By that, I of course meant tall people. The kinds of shots that Centers take and make are generally close to the basket and highly efficient on their own. This gives Centers a leg up when comparing FG% data, and it shows in this group. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Ed Davis’ or Tiago Splitter’s immediate families who say that those are better players than Kevin Durant, but that’s what the rankings in this group say. A similar phenomenon develops with the Congressional members of this group, where even more low-usage, high-success rate candidates emerge. Patrick Leahy, who proposed 23 bills and passed 4 of them, is one of the exceptions. Good on you, pal.

NBA 12-13 Equivalents: Kevin Durant, Larry Sanders, Chris Bosh, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin.

Best One-On-One Comparison: I don’t know too much about Senator Mike Johanns (55.3%), but the Personal Life section of his Wikipedia page is pretty dull; he had some kids and grandkids, got divorced, and then remarried. This dullness makes him a perfect complement to Kenneth Faried (55.2%), who has been described as many things but never dull.

 • • •

Group 6: Even More Tall People (and LeBron!)

Description: Every single player on here either plays Center or is named LeBron James. They take a lot of close-range and low-risk shots, they’re at or near 7 feet tall, or they’re LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet. At the top of this list is Chris Wilcox, who took 153 shots and made 110 of them, earning an FG% of 71.9%. At the bottom of the list is LeBron James, 4x winner of the Most Valuable Player award, who made a paltry 56.5% of his shots (he also made exactly 5 times as many shots as Chris Wilcox, but who’s counting?). Basically what I’m trying to say is that a lot of very tall people who make a high proportion of their low-risk shots make up this group, a group that also contains perhaps the greatest basketball player since Michael Jordan. LeBron James. I’m talking about LeBron James in that last part. As for Congress, more of the same. Many props to Candace Miller of Michigan’s 10th district for hitting 7 of 20 and posing a 71.5% adjusted efficiency.

NBA 12-13 Equivalents: LeBron James, LeBron James, LeBron James, LeBron James, DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler, Arnett Moultrie, JaVale McGee, Serge Ibaka.

Best One-On-One Comparison: Robert Menendez (58.1%) is only slightly more efficient than Dwight Howard (57.8%). Fun fact: Robert Menendez is the size of a regulation basketball. Take that, Dwight!

 • • •

Group 7: The MonSTARS

Description: This group of Congresspeople is small, but it’s ridiculously efficient. The least efficient member of this group, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, had an adjusted efficiency ranking of 72.9%. And that’s the worst of this group. Major props are also due for Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Rob Woodall, Pete Sessions, and Xavier Becerra, who each posted adjusted efficiencies of over 100% with at least 7 proposed bills each. Let’s put it in basketball terms. To get an adjusted efficiency as high as Becerra’s 125.4%, an NBA player would have to make 5 out of 4 baskets, which is capital-I Impossible. That’s why these ladies and gentlemen are the MonSTARS: like the popular Space Jam villains, they can defy time and space to be incredibly efficient.

NBA 12-13 Equivalents: The MonSTARS, Superman flying around the world quickly to turn back time, Michael Jordan at the end of Space Jam, two LeBrons playing at the same time.

Best One-On-One Comparison: Harry Reid (100.3%) is slightly more efficient than Al Horford was from the 3 point line during the 2009-2010 season (100%).

 • • •

There were a few interesting takeaways. In Congress, like the NBA, high-efficiency "centers" are rare to come by and highly desirable. The Congressional Centers take few chances, low-risk chances, or some combination of the two when proposing legislation, and as a result are highly efficient at getting their priorities legislated. If you’re a Democrat or Republican, that's the type of Congressperson that you hope gets elected.

Lots of people take issue with the NBA (and basketball in general) as a superstar-driven sport. It’s easy to see how that can be, but it’s nothing compared to Congress. Over half of the Congresspeople barely get any of their legislation passed! At all! Then again, maybe the 113th Congress is a poor example--it’s on pace to be the least productive ever, after all. In any event, we can take a small bit of comfort in the concept of DeMarcus Cousins and Michele Bachmann living together, right?

NBA data courtesy of basketball-reference.com. Congressional data courtesy of GovTrack.us; current as of October 3, 2013.

Their Last Rodeo: A Farewell to the Journeymen (Part I)

"Bad Porn", in his more serious days.

Corey Maggette retired earlier this week. Supposedly, anyway -- he'd said that if the Spurs didn't sign him he'd be on the outs, and sure enough, the Spurs didn't sign him. This should probably be a departure that tugs a heartstring or two: old man Maggette has been a mainstay of the league for 14 years now. Don't count me among those with heartstrings atwtitter, because Maggette's ridiculous tenure scarcely feels real. Seriously -- he was around for 14 years? It feels simultaneously longer and shorter. Shorter because it doesn't feel like he's got the cachet of a 14 year veteran, longer because... well, have you ever watched him play? Part of it's his playing style, which eschews the aesthetically pleasing for a questionably entertaining mix of "wild drives with no intention of making a basket" and "poorly-timed long twos." Another part is the lack of mystery that surrounds him. After all -- he's Corey Maggette. He went to Duke, he stat-padded on a scad of excruciating lottery teams, and his greatest career accomplishment was being a 1998 McDonald's All American. He's Bad Porn.

I don't want to belabor the point about Maggette's retirement. In last year's capsules, I clearly stated my distaste for his game and nobody really wants to hear someone rail on about a retired player he didn't particularly like. But Maggette's departure has me thinking about the mortality of the NBA's journeymen in a general sense. Check out this list of NBA players whose careers most likely met their end last season: Kurt Thomas, Chris Duhon, James White, Troy Murphy, Eddy Curry, Josh Howard, Hakim Warrick, Darko Milicic, and Samardo Samuels. These players have been mainstays of the league for years -- in some cases, they were legitimately useful players a few seasons prior. But none of the listed players are currently on an NBA roster, and in the case of some, have been rebuffed at all turns in their attempts to get back up to the big leagues (see: Samardo Samuels in summer league, which was strangely compelling and hilarious all at once).

Fans don't tend to notice when such players vanish because they play their last game around the end of the season -- that is, when everyone is focused on the playoffs and the quest for an NBA title rather than the slow attrition of the league's middle class. But they DO leave, and given that we're currently in the waning moments of a slow offseason, it seems like as good a time as any to look back on the players that the NBA has left behind and start to ruminate on who will join that list this year. This will be a several part post, because a ton of players retired and/or left the league by force last season. This list is not necessarily all-inclusive -- I've left off a few players who are not currently on rosters but may yet make it back, and I've included a few players who are certainly trying to make it back but whose comebacks I deem unlikely. But it should cover a good swath of the league's newest retirees, whether they left on their own accord or through attrition of their reasonable options.

• • •

JASON KIDD (2043 MP, PER of 13.5, 48 starts) -- 40 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

CAREER HIGH POINT: Led the Nets to two consecutive NBA finals and making Richard Jefferson into a legitimate basketball player that was considered a near-max player for several inexplicable seasons. Has a reasonably solid case for his generation's best point guard. Easy hall-of-fame player.

WHY HANG IT UP? ... dude, Jason Kidd is 40 years old. The fact that he played this well this long is somewhat impressive in and of itself, but it's perfectly reasonable that the man didn't want to be the league's reigning 41 year old fogie. Also, the head coaching job keeps him in the NBA's general milieu, so he isn't even missing up on cribbage with his old teammates. (Does Jason Kidd play cribbage? It seems unlikely, but it's such a hilarious image I can't help but think about it.)

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: I rarely dabble in certainties, but I'll say 100%. I just can't see him coming back. At all.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? New York's final game, a 7-point loss at Indiana to end their season. Kidd had a rather ignomious line by his standards -- just one assist and one steal in six pedestrian minutes. At least he didn't miss a shot, right?

• • •

KURT THOMAS (392 MP, PER of 13.3, 17 starts) -- 40 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Finishing up rehab on a tricky broken foot he suffered last season.

CAREER HIGH POINT: Strangely enough, it was probably last season. Thomas has never exactly been a player that lights the league on fire, although he's always been a decent and serviceable big man. His greatest accomplishment over the course of his career is probably his laughably absurd longevity for a big man. Ergo, his high point is his age at retirement, which is only something obvious at his final season. Sort of a strange high point, but that's Kurt Thomas for you.

WHY HANG IT UP? Love is love, and old is old. Thomas was never exactly a high-flying trapeze aficionado, but his age has sapped him of a lot of what made him valuable. His rebounding has fallen off a cliff these last few years, and his relative efficiency from the floor (second highest true shooting percentage of his career) is undermined by his complete inability to draw fouls at this stage of his career. He isn't particularly useful at this point, and exists mostly as a stopgap once-in-a-while big man to rest your main guys. Given how much the NBA's big-man game ravages your knees, it doesn't really make sense to overstay your welcome if you aren't really doing much on the court regardless.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 75%. High, but with a non-negligible chance of a comeback if his knee is feeling good and a contender gets a key injury among their backups. Mr. Thomas -- like most NBA players -- would like the league to express its love for him by putting a ring on it.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? A late season 7-point Knicks win at Utah. This win set off New York's last big winning streak, turning around their season and allowing them to put some distance between them and the Pacers. Thomas had 6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. He played much of the game with a broken foot. Whattaguy.

• • •

CHRIS DUHON (820 MP, PER of 8.0, 9 starts) -- 30 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? The hospital, because an Orlando Magic fan ran him over with their car after having an argument with him and realizing he was Chris Duhon. No, that sentence was NOT a drill.

CAREER HIGH POINT: He was an AP All-American his last season at Duke, which means (for the uninitiated) that he was one of the best college players in the country. This did not translate particularly well to his NBA career, but he'll always have the college accolade. As well as the 2001 NCAA title. Also, he was Louisiana's Mr. Basketball early in his college career. Lots of high points. His NBA high point was being a part of one of the best dancing GIFs ever.

WHY HANG IT UP? Because he's degenerated to the point where people are running him over with a car when they realize he's Chris Duhon. End of story. ... No, okay, real answer. Duhon has never been a particularly stunning NBA guard, but these last few years have been something of a horror show for every team that's had the displeasure of playing him. He hasn't cracked 40% from the field, he doesn't draw free throws, and his assist rate has fallen off a cliff. Early in his career his passing ability was how he made his bread. That's gone, and all that's left is a player of questionable defensive utility with no present offensive utility and a turnover rate that defies reason for a player as out-of-the-offense as he tends to be. In short: sometimes players hang it up because they can't really crack it any more. That's Duhon's case, at the moment.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 85%. Another high-likelihood retiree who may yet return if the stars align. Granted, those stars are a bit less likely than Kurt Thomas -- despite Duhon's lesser age, he's a markedly worse player in comparison to his contemporaries and he lacks the clout to command a paycheck on his name alone. Still, if he impresses in a workout with a bad GM, it's not out of the question.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? The Lakers' last game of the season, where San Antonio swept them in a 21 point laugher. Duhon played almost 43 minutes. He had 11 points and 7 assists on 10 shots. Four turnovers, too. Arguably his best game of the season, which is... kind of disturbing, actually.

• • •

RASHEED WALLACE (296 MP, PER of 16.7, 0 starts) -- 38 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Coaching assistant for the Detroit Pistons, which is perfect given the mercurial big-man talent that Dumars has amassed for him to mold.

CAREER HIGH POINT: Many people would gravitate towards Rasheed's ridiculous quality of play on the Jailblazers or his incredible versatility on the dynastic Pistons. Me? I'd go with his technical fouls record. At the end of the day, it's a rare few players that have set a record that has an air of never-to-be-broken permanence to it. And Rasheed managed to do it.

WHY HANG IT UP? Well, just look at last season. He was patently decent when he saw the floor, but he could only manage 21 games out of his wizened body and wasn't really much of a factor. A Rasheed Wallace that isn't a factor is just sorta weird. So, yeah -- perhaps it really is time to hang it up.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 65%. Less likely than any of the guys above, but still reasonably likely. Extra variance on this prediction because, well -- it's Rasheed Wallace, guys. YOU try predicting what Rasheed Wallace is gonna do as a general rule, about anything. See where that gets you.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? An 11 point Knicks loss to Charlotte. He made one shot and missed two threes in his three minutes on the court. Classic 'Sheed.

• • •

JAMES WHITE (435 MP, PER of 9.1, 16 starts) -- 30 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Absolutely no idea. Google search and asking around didn't get me anything on this one. I assume he's trying to get back into the NBA, but I honestly couldn't tell you.

CAREER HIGH POINT: Getting a legitimate NBA chance at all. From his college graduation in 2006 to the beginning of the 2013 NBA season, White played 10 NBA games. Not 100 -- TEN. Last season, White was granted 57 games and 435 minutes of playing time, dwarfing everything he'd got before in terms of an NBA opportunity. Granted, he didn't do a whole lot with it, and even the dunk contest didn't turn out quite as planned. But getting that shot is pretty thrilling.

WHY HANG IT UP? James White is an NBA player whose dunks are his first, second, and third skill. He's entering his thirties, when dunking ability begins to degrade and athleticism starts to wane. Might be time to pick up a second career.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 70%, if only because the only real reason the Knicks picked him up seemed to be the dunk contest angle and he washed out so poorly as to make sure nobody ever does that again. Teams have seen enough of White -- pretty sure he's not in anyone's long term plan.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? White played 5 minutes in New York's 26-point victory in game 2 against the Indiana Pacers. He made a two-foot two point basket and did little else. Doesn't look like it was a dunk, which is kind of disappointing. Alas. So was he.

• • •

STEPHEN JACKSON (1075 MP, PER of 8.0, 6 starts) -- 34 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Hustlin' and grindin' before the other'n be findin' him. (Sorry.)

CAREER HIGH POINT: Winning an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, later returning to play a reasonably large role on the 2012 "Euroball Revisited" Spurs and post an unexpectedly meaningful contribution. Alternatively: he actually merited a few vote in the MVP race in 2010. Yes, as a Bobcat. I love you, Stephen Jackson.

WHY HANG IT UP? When you've effectively burned bridges with every organization in the NBA that was willing to work with you to try and put you in a position to succeed, it's kind of hard to get back in the game. He obviously wants to, but it feels like San Antonio might've been the last team willing to handle his idiosyncrasies, and that bridge is thoroughly crisped.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 75%. Hard to see it, but I suppose it's possible he wows a contender in workouts and has a 10-20 game end of season stint with a contender that needs a defender. Makes me a bit sad, since he's one of my favorites, but c'est la vie.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? A 2-point Spurs win in Atlanta. He scored 9 points in 18 minutes and had a handful of assists, rebounds, and steals besides. Didn't get too many of the headlines, given that Tim Duncan had a line of 31-14-3 in 32 minutes. Tim Duncan is 37 years old. Tim Duncan is a baffling, beautiful, babbling brook. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

• • •

TROY MURPHY (256 MP, PER of 9.1, 1 start) -- 32 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Much like James White, I have legitimately no idea. Google didn't help and nobody seems to know. I'd assume he's trying to get a job, but he isn't showing up anywhere that I can find.

CAREER HIGH POINT: While Murphy never made an all-star team, he was legitimately close in 2009 and 2005. He averaged 15-11 in 2005 and 14-12 in 2009, combining a ridiculous (and hilarious to watch) nose for the boards with a more-than-respectable three point shot (he shot 45% on five threes a night in 2009, which is insane), excellent free throw shooting (especially for a big), and a moderately passable midrange game. Granted, his defense was always an absolute horror show, which kept him from an all-star game and will relegate his career to a dusty footlocker going forward. But he was certainly a talented offensive player at his peak.

WHY HANG IT UP? Notice I said "at his peak." Murphy has been essentially unplayable for three years now -- he went from a nearly all-star caliber 2010 season to playing like hot garbage in New Jersey's awful 2011 campaign. Despite shooting 40% of his shots from three point range in those three seasons, he's shot a relatively abysmal 32% on those shots -- compound that with his free throw rate falling off a cliff and his significantly worsened rebounding and you have a player whose offense no longer compensates in any way, shape, or form for his laughable defense.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 80%. Murphy was hard enough to play when his offense was near all-star caliber. How can teams keep giving him a shot when his three has left him and his rebounding faded?

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS LAST GAME? A 23-point loss to Chicago early in the 2013 season. The Mavericks were missing Dirk, so the result made sense. Murphy made two of three shots, including a perfect one-for-one from three. He had two rebounds and two blocks. The blocks should be frozen in amber and saved for future generations -- we finally have real proof that miracles do happen.

• • •

More tomorrow. Or next week, if work continues to bury me. Good to be back. The season begins in 13 days.

The Fruitless Pursuit of Objective Optimality

statistics2

There are a few cardinal rules in statistics. Correlation is not causation (although it often portends it). There is rarely a single cause behind a complex event (although one is often more important than the others). Then there's the big one: you simply can't model a binary outcome with a linear regression model. If you're modeling to a zero/one output (think wins/losses, hits/outs, makes/misses), logistic regression is clearly superior to linear regression. There's no situation where linear regression is acceptable in that situation. You are doing your data a gross disservice and breaking all assumptions of your model. To put it in layman's terms: if you use the wrong model with your data, you f**ked up. That's the one unimpeachable truth in all of statistics. Right?

As my uncanny vehemence to the point might imply, that's not actually the case. Linear regression is often sub-optimal in cases of binary outcomes, it's true. And it's important to teach first-year statisticians to always take care in picking their model. Taking a raw linear regression model and expecting it to produce results fitting expectations on a binary outcome is doomed to fail -- you'll get outputs beyond your expected values and coefficients that honestly don't make sense. But I was recently person to a talk that made me realize something important. The clever statistician can actually get around that problem. Completely side-step it, in fact. It takes a little bit of post-run tinkering to adjust your linear model to a logistic scale -- I won't give you the gory details, but: you need to convert the coefficients through a surprisingly simple transformation (arrived at by equating the derivatives of your respective loss functions) to apply proper bounding to your outputs. Then you need to convert the intercept using a more complicated integral. But that's all math you can do by hand.

Linear regression DOES break the assumptions of a binary outcome. But when you apply the necessary transformations to compare apples to apples rather than apples to oranges, the cost of breaking that assumption can be negligible at best. In fact, in certain datasets, the binary outcome reflects a normal distribution just enough that a transformed linear regression is actually slightly superior to a logistic model. And even in cases where it ISN'T the optimal path, logistic regression models take quite a lot more processing power than linear regressions on even the most modern servers. Hence, modeling data in a linear regression framework with the proper transformations can be significantly more computationally efficient. When you're dealing with data orders of magnitude above the kinds you examine in college (think datasets over 500 gigabytes, which I work with surprisingly often), understanding link functions and ways to convert linear regression estimates to logistic approximations can save you days of processing time and get you quicker results that are nearly as good. The moral: even a discipline's most sacred rules can be broken by a clever, intuitive agent who's playing even a slightly different game.

The rules are the rules. Until they aren't.

• • •

The NBA is almost back. It's close. So close you can taste it. Close your eyes and put your ear to a basketball. Can you hear it? The squeak of the hardwood, the squeal of new Jordans, the swoosh of the net? ... alright, honestly, I can't hear it either. And I probably look really silly right now sitting in my office holding a basketball to my ear. If basketballs were seashells we'd definitely be able to hear it, though. And that's what matters. The disparate agents on your favorite team are collecting. The old and the new, the wizened and the precocious, the Juwan and the Jrue. We're all rapt in anticipation, I tell you what. At this stage of the game nobody really knows what's going to happen. That's the real beauty of the preseason. Every team that wants to be is a playoff team -- every team that's punted the year has the first overall pick in their sights. Nobody's mediocre. Nobody's adrift. We're a winner, damnit!

And so the fans and players enter the NBA's new season with high hopes and a fervent desire to get things right. But it's useful to take a step back and really ruminate on what that means. There are a few rules that the mass commentariat generally agrees on. Contested long two pointers are the worst. Dunks and threes are the greatest. Efficiency reigns. Wins are valuable -- a title, priceless. Sports is a binary exultation of right and wrong. Play the "right" way, you win. Play the "wrong" way, you lose. I'd like to refute that, if only just. Because efficiency, wins, titles are all optimal in a certain frame of thought. But that's the key, isn't it? It's a certain frame of thought.

Sports, like art, is a pursuit of what you value. One must bear in mind the obvious -- any given fan chooses the parameters of their own optimality. And any given player chooses the parameters of THEIR own optimality. Some fans and players have their own deep-seated appreciation for raw efficiency and the calculus of the ideal. But to pretend that those fans and players are the only game in town is to miss the forest for the trees -- there are fans who don't give a moment's thought to the efficiency of the game before them, and there are players who don't really give a flip that the corner three is almost always superior to a fruitless top-of-the-key chuck. There are people who couldn't live without a hyper-efficient basketball team and there are people who couldn't care less.  Variety is the spice of life.

• • •

For me, it boils down to this. We can look for what makes a winning basketball player. It's a valuable search, and it's one I'll join in often throughout this year's action. I don't mean to nag, or prescribe, or wag my finger. I'll be right there in the trenches with you, scouring for efficiency and looking for the next big innovation in pursuit of eternal wins. There's always going to be more to learn about the game and the agents that enact it. It's not that we should STOP looking for that. The search of a sort of basketball ideal -- that perfect play, that perfect game, that perfect moment -- is the kind of holy grail quest that can captivate for lifetimes. But sometimes I wonder if the lay basketblogger has overvalued efficiency to the point of incomprehensible lust. I point you to one of the most maligned statements from media day:

Is he wrong? Not factually, although his implication here is somewhat tragic from an efficiency perspective. It's classic Monta behavior. He's being intransigent. He could take better shots if he wanted to. He could be less of a drag on his offense. And he could be "better", by the normal definition of the word. But from a devil's advocate perspective, there's something to be said for remaining true to one's game and sticking to one's guns in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. Is it always going to work out for the best? Obviously not, if his goal is to win games. But anyone who's enjoyed their fair share of Cervantes and Camus should be intimately familiar with the idea of a tragic hero. And that's essentially the role Monta's playing here. He's conceding that he takes bad shots and conceding that he could be better. But he's gotten where he is today by playing a certain brand of basketball. Perhaps he likes feeling control over his destiny. Perhaps he feels that success would hardly taste as sweet if he gave up his guns to get there. Perhaps he just likes it better.

Although it's difficult to write a story commending him for that, it's not particularly hard to feel a faint tug away from a bleak world of black and white outcomes. You don't need to be Mick Jagger to feel sympathy for Monta's efficiency-forsaken devil. There's more than one way to play the game and there's more than one way to feel like a winner. There are "better" ways to win, certainly, if winning is your only goal. But basketball is a game of feelings and desires as much as it is a stark pursuit of the angular "W." If Monta feels better when he wins a game his way, that's his prerogative. If a fan prefers to watch Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant chuck prayers in pursuit of a heroic victory in a hard-fought game, that's their bag. If a coach overvalues an inefficient oldie because he plays the game in a way that fits the coach's style, that's their deal. Et cetera, et cetera.

At the end of the day, I'm a fan who values efficiency and the tenets of winning above many things. I appreciate watching a pinpoint Popovich offense predicated on every player's perfect pass. I appreciate a defense where no man misses their cue. But I can also appreciate the allure of the tragic hero, too. One can value the sharp report of the pistol as the gunner shoots his team in the foot without denying the dread inefficiency of the play. And as we enter a new season full of hope and wonder, it's useful to remind oneself of the many different ways to love our favorite game, and to appreciate the league's Don Quixotes. Those merry players that aren't anywhere near the best that they can be, but are comfortable enough to own up to their foibles and win or lose in their own tragic way.

They do not value efficiency and wins above all things. They are imperfect and improper without regret or regard for convention. And their steadfast devotion to that which popular thought considers outmoded and discarded can be the incomprehensible dash of spice that makes the NBA so enthralling, if only you chance to let it.

• The 2014 season begins in 26 days. •

Monta Ellis have it all (credit to USA Today for the photo)

Weird Weekly Prompts #5: Halloween Follies

dr mcninja

This writing project is courtesy of everyone's good friend Angelo. I'll let him describe it:

A friend challenged me to a writing contest. The basic premise is that for two months, she will send me a writing prompt twice a week. 750 word response. I will do the same with her. The point is to get some experience/feedback writing a bunch of different, unusual things with odd prompts that you don't expect. Would you be interested in doing one a week for the rest of the offseason?

Fun times in Cleveland today. (Cleveland!) He's posting his on Goodspeed and Poe, everyone's favorite blog. I'm posting my contributions on Gothic Ginobili, everyone's favorite basketball. No, I didn't mean to type "basketball blog." Gothic Ginobili is not a blog. Gothic Ginobili is a basketball. If you disagree with this particular assessment, you just haven't experienced this place properly yet. Here are the previous prompts:

Here's this week's prompt.

• • •

PROMPT #5: This is the time of year when I really start gearing up for Halloween. Despite what many adults would say, Halloween is easily the best holiday of the year. Shitty horror movies are on TV all the time, you can binge eat candy without any of your coworkers guilt tripping you and talking about the "paleo diet", and pumpkin flavored everything is everywhere. It's the greatest. That said, the best part of Halloween is easily the Halloween party and the corresponding costumes. And that brings us to your prompt, Aaron. Give us all a brief history of the Halloween costumes of Aaron McGuire. What are you most proud of? The most ashamed? Have you ever seen a costume that brought a tear to your eye? Any that made you shudder in fright?

A brief history of my Halloween costumes is just that: brief. For someone that's as huge of an unrepentant nerd as I am, I've never been one to really go all-out and create a super-intricate Halloween costume. I've been content to linger with the unwashed masses, reveling in our completely unremarkable costumes and leaving the truly impressive stuff for others. Most of my costumes were so unremarkable as to be totally forgettable, and I honestly can't say I remember what I went as for most of them.

The ones I remember include:

  • Age 5: Waldo from Where's Waldo. (There are some really adorable pictures of this one.)
  • Age 6: Steven Spielberg (Yes, I went as a famous Jewish filmmaker as a 6-year-old. Classic Aaron McGuire.)
  • Age 9: Obi-Wan Kenobi (The cloak from this one formed the basis of every costume I wore for the next 5 years.)
  • Age 17: Dr. McNinja (From the webcomic, unexpectedly titled The Adventures of Dr. McNinja.)
  • Age 21: Scarecrow (From Wizard of Oz. Girlfriend went as Dorothy.)

That's all I really can recall, which is both the sign of someone who really didn't put a wealth of effort into the craft and a sign of someone who didn't have particularly good ideas to begin with. At least I didn't ever go with any of the classics (Frankenstein's monster, zombies, warlocks) -- I would've probably made a mockery of them, and if you're gonna make a mockery of a costume you might as well keep it relatively off the beaten path. I added a photograph of my Dr. McNinja costume to the front of the post, as well as a photograph of my scarecrow costume to the bottom. As those are by far my two best ones, you can make your own silent judgments on the rest of them from there. In terms of pride and shame, I'm a bit proud of the Dr. McNinja costume simply because it was a cheap-yet-fun costume that I thought I executed reasonably well with scant little money to spend on it. Using my Obi-Wan Kenobi cloak for five years of costumes would be my biggest source of shame -- few things are more shameful than Halloween half-measures, and recycling a costume for that long is the king of all half-measures.

As for the costumes of others, that's another admittedly scant subject for me. When I was in college, I somehow managed to be working on Halloween night every single year. The night I was Dr. McNinja, I didn't even go out -- I stayed in and handed out candy while my parents had a relaxing night with the X-Files movie and my brother trick-or-treated with friends. There was only one particularly costume-filled Halloween night, and that was the time I went as Scarecrow, traveled back to Chapel Hill, went to one a Halloween party thrown by some of my UNC friends. If you aren't familiar, UNC's Franklin Street goes nuts on Halloween. They rope off several blocks and it becomes a gigantic outdoor party, one of drunk heckling and costume admiration all around. While I've only been there once, I have to admit, it was pretty fantastic. The creativity was incredible. Costumes I can remember off the top of my head include:

  • A living set of Tetris pieces, occasionally being lifted up and placed atop each other.
  • One man went as a giant (and semi-functional!!!) Connect Four board. Rajon Rondo would've freaked.
  • Scrabble tiles. (Carved ones, too -- not just flimsy cardboard crap, they actually carved out life-size scrabble tiles.)
  • Some frat boys went as a centaur. Wouldn't have been notable, except it looked exactly like the Alex Rodriguez centaur that everyone knows about. Which is, you know, completely 100% perfect.
  • Seven people fully painted themselves the seven shades of a rainbow. Pedestrian, right? Wrong -- they moved in complete concert with each other, never breaking character as a living rainbow for over an hour.

What.

Look, Angelo. I'm not saying that you need to make a point to come to Chapel Hill just to see their Halloween celebrations. I'm just saying that exact thing I just said I wasn't saying, you know? I am not enticing you to come to Chapel Hill, except for the part where that is exactly what I'm doing. The decision is entirely up to you, although there is a clear delineation between right and wrong in this specific case. No judgment here, except the judgment I am making right at this very moment on you as a human being. Feel free to do whatever it is you want to do, as long as whatever you want to do intersects with exactly what I have outlined in this confusing paragraph.

... Happy Halloween!

scarecrow

Weird Weekly Prompts #4: Moosepocalypse Now

 bullwinkle

This writing project is courtesy of everyone's good friend Angelo. I'll let him describe it:

A friend challenged me to a writing contest. The basic premise is that for two months, she will send me a writing prompt twice a week. 750 word response. I will do the same with her. The point is to get some experience/feedback writing a bunch of different, unusual things with odd prompts that you don't expect. Would you be interested in doing one a week for the rest of the offseason?

Fun times in Cleveland today. (Cleveland!)  He's posting his on Goodspeed and Poe, everyone's favorite blog. I'm posting my contributions (apparently!) on Gothic Ginobili, everyone's favorite basketball. No, I didn't mean to type "basketball blog." Gothic Ginobili is not a blog. Gothic Ginobili is a basketball. If you disagree with this particular assessment, you just haven't experienced this place properly yet. Here are the previous prompts:

Here's last week's prompt. (We gave ourselves a week off due to labor day weekend getting up in our business.)

• • •

PROMPT #4: You are the head of programming at the Syfy channel. In recent years, the Syfy channel has discovered the formula for made-for-TV movie success; washed up stars from 90's television shows and ridiculous monsters. Unfortunately, after the successes of films like Sharktopus, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, Sharknado, Dinoshark, Spring Break Shark Attack, Sharks in Venice, and Ghost Shark, the public is beginning to sour on films involving the aquatic predators. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find the next big thing in Syfy entertainment. The one catch? The financiers have refused to fund another film involving sharks. Without sharks, what creature will the film revolve around? What will it be called? And finally, what washed up star will play the lead?

MEMO TO FINANCIERS

That's sharky? That's malarky. You speak, we hear. SyFy's new intellectual property is poised to blow any residual shark-tinged viewer fantasies out of the water, and begin a new age of made-for-TV faux-horror. We know you don't want sharks. We don't either. And though our viewers would disagree, they're just in denial. You know that, we know that, end of story. Sharks are old hat. Old, profitable, fearmongering, classic, and totally unremarkable hat. Those are the kinds of hat they are. Those are not hats I would like to wear, and I am incredibly fashionable. I bet they aren't the kinds of hats you want either. Instead of those outmoded tams, we put on some thinking caps. Really classy. And we racked our brains til' the ribs were jealous. And after all that, we came up with an idea that really pops. Absolutely guaranteed to open your hearts, minds, and -- most importantly -- wallets.

Prepare yourselves... for "Moosepocalypse Now."

As the maiden installment, Moosepocalypse Now represents the first salvo in what's sure to be SyFy's next big faux-franchise. The sea is dark and mysterious, with briny depths unknown and horrors unseen by man. But that reliable spookiness is exactly why our next property can't come from the sea -- it's too expected. Too vanilla. Too boring. Instead, we're taking our cue from the frigid hinterlands, and our animal from a too often slept-on time bomb. Have you ever thought about just how easily a moose could murder you, your wife, and your infant daughter? Have you ever considered the dire threat they could pose to humanity, if only they felt the need? I assume you have not. Please peruse this list of True Moose Facts, and try to keep your creeping terrors at bay.

  • Bull moose antlers can span up to six feet wide. If sanded to jagged edges, that's a living chainsaw.
  • A fully-grown moose can weigh up to 1500 pounds. That's not a typo. If two of them teamed up, they'd outweigh most sedans.
  • At full stride, a moose can run 35 miles an hour. You can get speeding tickets at moose running speed.
  • Moose can swim at 6 MPH. Think you can get away from a killer moose by jumping into the water? Think again, fatso! (Sorry. Your weight is a sore subject. I'll keep that to myself.)
  • Despite their size, due to large hooves and deft feet, a moose can travel silently through snow, underbrush, and muskeg. Metal Gear Solid 5 -- Solid Moose Strikes Back.

And that all ignores the fact that the moose may be the strongest animal on the face of the earth -- their legs are only thin on appearance, their muscle mass is legendary. The moose race -- if they ever woke up -- represent a huge danger to society at large. And that's exactly what we plan to film. In Moosepocalypse Now, FBI agent Kelsey Fringmann (played by Anthony Michael Hall, known for his work in The Dead Zone, Edward Scissorhands, The Breakfast Club, and vanishing into the ether after The Dead Zone concluded) investigates a series of strange happenings in Maine. Gruesome bloody massacres, people with their heads crushed like soda cans, cars stomped and thrown into rivers, buildings trampled. Nobody knows what could possibly be causing it.

anthony michael hall

The first act covers both their investigation and a mirroring thread in Russia. The caretakers of Russia's moose conservatory (led by Yakov Dramadov, played by Anton Yelchin) have noticed a spate of odd behavior from their formerly docile moose population. They're getting hyped. In the movie's suspenseful middle-act, the moose revolt in Maine and Russia, leveling towns and producing large-scale destruction the likes of which no military unit has ever seen. It's revealed that Russian testing of a new chemical agent has mutated hundreds of Russian specimen into super-mutant moose warlords, 7000 pound behemoths that are virtually impervious to bullets and possess the speed and intelligence to outsmart and destroy tanks and helicopters. These super-moose agents have developed a telepathic link to the planet's moose population, inciting them to revolt and instigating a mass takeover of the northeastern United States, Canada, Russia, and Alaska.

In the movie's final act, the super-moose warlords -- now firmly in control of St. Petersburg and Moscow -- are inching closer to figuring out Russia's nuclear launch codes, with every intention of carpet-bombing the civilized world with nukes and leaving the noble moose as Earth's last remaining sentient species. It's up to Agent Fringmann and Dr. Dramadov to unite the gene sequences from two improbably similar USA/USSR testing sites to produce a moose-targeting biological weapon that will kill off the super-moose warlords and save humanity. Will they succeed? Will the moose reign be thwarted? We don't know, because we actually haven't written a script yet. What, you think we actually write the scripts for these things before we start production?

Shut UP, dude, that's ridiculous.

Coming this fall to a SyFy near you: MOOSEPOCALYPSE NOW. Don't miss it.

--  GERALDINE Q. MEGABUXX, SyFy Head of Programming

Weird Weekly Prompts #3: MackGuire vs Hogan, 1988

hulk hogan

This writing project is courtesy of everyone's good friend Angelo. I'll let him describe it:

A friend challenged me to a writing contest. The basic premise is that for two months, she will send me a writing prompt twice a week. 750 word response. I will do the same with her. The point is to get some experience/feedback writing a bunch of different, unusual things with odd prompts that you don't expect. Would you be interested in doing one a week for the rest of the offseason?

Fun times in Cleveland today. (Cleveland!) Now, that said, we started this exercise a month ago and only recently finished our first contributions. He's posting his on Goodspeed and Poe, everyone's favorite blog. I'm posting my contributions (apparently!) on Gothic Ginobili, everyone's favorite basketball. No, I didn't mean to type "basketball blog." Gothic Ginobili is not a blog. Gothic Ginobili is a basketball. If you disagree with this particular assessment, you just haven't experienced this place properly yet. Here are the previous prompts:

Here's this week's prompt. Angelo was really mean to me this week.

• • •

PROMPT #3: The year is 1988. It's the evening before the World Wrestling Federation's flagship event, Wrestlemania and you, Aaron McGuire, have a shot at the WWF Championship. Your opponent is none other than the legendary Hulk Hogan. You find yourself in front of a green screen with a camera pointed on you. It's time to film your pre-match promo in which you get to address your opponent one last time before you two face off in the squared circle.

What do you say?

You have the creative freedom to create your character as you see fit but with one limitation. As it is 1988, you are the product of the '80's pro wrestling circuit. As such, assume your brain is under the influence of the same amount of steroids, cocaine and concussions as all pro wrestlers of the era. Think like a wrestler, McGuire.

[The camera turns on. MCGUIRE stares into it blankly for what seems like an hour. He speaks.]

MCGUIRE: I brought a dictionary, Hulk Hogan.

[He reaches down and picks up a dictionary off the ground. He flips through it, seemingly completely unaware of the large bookmark roughly two thirds of the way through the tome. After some mindless flipping, he realizes the bookmark exists and turns to it, tossing the bookmark aside.]

MCGUIRE: I'm not big... on words. I'm big on results. I'm big on being big. I'm big on the Mack. I am "Mack Hammer" MackGuire, the greatest to ever flex. You? You're Hulk Hogan. And when I think of Hulk Hogan, I think of this thing.

[MCGUIRE MACKGUIRE waves the dictionary.]

MACKGUIRE: I think of WORDS, Hulk Hogan. Words I don't like. Words I hate. And one word for sure. It is the word called... traitor. It says here, in the Yoxford Real American Dictionary, that you only need two words to define a true traitor to his people. Do you know what those words are, Hulk Hogan?

[He begins to tear pages out of the dictionary indiscriminately. He takes special care to rip out the page that contains the word "traitor", shoving it into his mouth like a raspberry danish gone wrong. He flexes, chews, and yells.]

MACKGUIRE: THOSE WORDS ARE HULK HOGAN.

[He swallows.]

MACKGUIRE: Dictionaries are for nerds and televisions and heads. You don't have any of those, so you probably never knew you were in the dictionary. But that's OK, Hulk Hogan. Because you won't ever have the chance to. I just wanted you to know before  Wrestlemania ends you. Because it will, Hulk Hogan. You don't understand these demons. You don't get it.

[He goes silent. The camera zooms in on his eyes. This zoom takes roughly 20 seconds of dead air.]

MACKGUIRE: I am the swamp giant, Hulk Hogan.

[The camera shakes, as if to emulate an earthquake. It instead emulates your father's Christmas home movies.]

MACKGUIRE: Long ago I rose from the swamp at the bottom of the ocean, hungry for sharks and blood. But I'm all out of sharks and blood only makes sense when it's from a traitor, because that's the rules of blood. Rules that people know. Except for traitors, because they don't GET to know that. They don't GET to understand. And you, Hulk Hogan, you're the biggest traitor of them all. You gave up Wrestlemania. You gave up your friends and family. All for what? All for WHAT, HOGAN?

[He stops. He might have lost track of what he was saying, much like everyone watching.]

MACKGUIRE: Hooooooooo... gaaaaaan...

[Oh, nevermind, he's back on track, guess he just wanted to be dramatic.]

MACKGUIRE: Traitors never prosper, except when they're Eggs Benedict. He prospered back when Lincoln was president and the world was different. But you, Hulk Hogan, you're no Eggs Benedict. You're not even the Pope. You're Hulk Hogan, which is a noun, which is a dictionary for traitor. The swamp giant was made to eat traitors for breakfast. And the Mack Hammer never surrenders. Not like you. You always surrender. I know you, even if you think I don't. So step up to that ring, Hulk Hogan, and fight me like a man. And I will destroy you, just like the traitor you are. Just like the traitor you knew you'd be. Kiss your world goodbye, Hulk Hogan. Because it's about to be over. Traitor.

[He mean-mugs the camera, flexing incoherently. Camera fades to black.]

Weird Weekly Prompts, #2: The Dangers of Thrift

maybe i should just do this with it

This writing project is courtesy of everyone's good friend Angelo. I'll let him describe it:

A friend challenged me to a writing contest. The basic premise is that for two months, she will send me a writing prompt twice a week. 750 word response. I will do the same with her. The point is to get some experience/feedback writing a bunch of different, unusual things with odd prompts that you don't expect. Would you be interested in doing one a week for the rest of the offseason?

Fun times in Cleveland today. (Cleveland!) Now, that said, we started this exercise a month ago and only recently finished our first contributions. He's posting his on Goodspeed and Poe, everyone's favorite blog. I'm posting my contributions (apparently!) on Gothic Ginobili, everyone's favorite basketball. No, I didn't mean to type "basketball blog." Gothic Ginobili is not a blog. Gothic Ginobili is a basketball. If you disagree with this particular assessment, you just haven't experienced this place properly yet. Here are the previous prompts:

Here's this week's prompt, alongside my confessional.

• • •

PROMPT #2: Your next prompt, if you choose to accept it, is to write about the stupidest thing you ever purchased. Why did you buy it? How has it affected your life? How would your life be different if you had that money back and could choose to invest it more wisely?

A little bit of background on me: I'm thrifty. Full-blown penny-pincher. Cheap, on any given Monday. I value my money and it values me. (It does not value me. Money is not a person. That sentence was untrue.) For me, retail therapy involves going to Costco and finding a great deal on snacks I'd buy anyway. Clipping a coupon and applying it at the exact perfect moment. Example: I cook a LOT of soup. Every few weeks, I make a ton of soup and I jar it into Ball jars and I eat the soup as a side for the next few weeks. It's neat. Thing is: I only got a ladle two weeks ago. That's right -- for two years of my life I made soup every 10-15 days, but I never thought to get a ladle to serve it. I'd just tip the pot and use measuring cups for soup disbursement. Seriously. My friends made fun of me for it, but I'm not in the business of changing my life just to accommodate the naysayers and people named Gerald. Gerald can find his own way.

I'm thrifty and generally prone to making best with quite little. And for this very reason, I had trouble thinking of any particular purchase that was too large and too stupid. This is hardly just me, of course -- most people remember their purchasing successes long before they recall their purchasing failures. Hindsight is usually 20/20 for your triumphs and cloudy for your failures. It's the way of things. I had to think back hard to remember the poor investments I'd made in my life. My college education was a bit of a poor investment -- I could've gone to a state school on a full ride, but I chose to go out of state for slight added benefit. My first (and current) car -- a used 2009 Toyota Camry -- is serviceable. But at the price I paid for it, I should've just bit the bullet and gotten a new car. Used cars lose most of their value the second you take them off the lot, despite the fact that you still have 6-7 years of paying for it. Come on, Aaron. Get it together. I could also talk about my enormous book collection, one of the few things I collect. Dropped many ducats on the craft, for sure. Do I need it? Perhaps not. Perhaps so. I do not know.

None of those things are the stupidest purchase I've ever made. The stupidest purchase I ever made defines me. It's a scarlet letter. It's a flashing neon symbol of cheapness and thrift-over-blood that I should've figured out from the start. I have been trapped in this hell for years, my friends -- I must confess and seek absolution for this sin. It's one thing to buy multi-use kitchen tools so that everything stays in your cooking rotation. It's one thing to buy bulk items from Costco and freeze extra things in the freezer to keep them longer. It's one thing to eat slightly-maybe-a-few-days-expired food as long as it doesn't look or smell disgusting. It's one thing to take your garbage to the dump by hand because you haven't gotten the motivation to purchase garbage service for your home yet.

It's quite another to ever buy the cheapest toilet paper. At Costco.

I don't want to give you the gory details. Nobody wants to hear that. Ever. What happens in the bathroom is humanity's grandest secret. There is nothing to be said, no words to be shared. I stare silently at you, you stare silently at me. You turn up your nose. I shake my head and stare at my feet, ashamed. This is the way of things, and this is how it must be. But you know exactly what I mean when I say that this -- this -- was the stupidest purchase I ever made.

Look, Costco sells things in grotesque bulk. You know this. In a moment of weakness, two years prior, I chose to go with the cheapest of all possible toilet papers. I am not a wastrel. If I waste a single pea on a plate of prepared food, I feel bad. So I knew going in that I was going to have to use all the damn paper if I intended to ever move up in the world. But what the doomed never realizes is just how long that takes. I also did not realize that the questionable luxury of good toilet paper is only truly possible to understand when you experience its absence for several years of your life. I also did not fully comprehend my impending shame. Imagine: friends come over. They need a restroom. You watch helplessly as your friends and family enter the valley of the shadow of death. You cringe. You shiver. You know the truth.

Might as well just dab it with cyanide and get it over with, huh? Death by toilet paper only seems impossible until you buy the worst toilet paper. Then you know. Then you are made aware of the possibilities. It is horrible, to buy the worst toilet paper. It is unnecessary. Why did you do it, Aaron? "Oh, I saved a quarter." Stop. Cease. You mortgaged years of your life away. You became the evil you sought to conquer. You sold out for twenty-five cents. Even Judas Iscarot got thirty. You are a fool, McGuire, consumed by thrift and reduced to dust. "You are a toilet seat that smokes a cigar."

... Now, uh, that said, I don't really know what I'd do with that money if I hadn't bought them. I mean, Christ, guys. It's like two dollars. I'm going to assume I would have put it towards toilet paper that didn't make me want to skydive without a parachute. My life would be improved, and I would be twenty-five cents poorer. I would be infinitely wiser, although without this prolonged suffering, I may never have properly learned this lesson. Perhaps it's all for the best.

(No. No it is not. Never do this.)

2013 Summer League: Demystifying the Oddities of the LVSL

summer league coverage

Hey, everyone! We've been taking a bit of a break for the start of summer, but we're back. Our three main writers -- Aaron McGuire, Alex Dewey, and Alex Arnon -- are all slumming it in Vegas to cover the haps and antics of this year's Las Vegas Summer League action. Arnon and McGuire have been in town all weekend, putting together a cornucopia of miniature stories and notes for later digestion. This post represents a throughout-the-day effort by Aaron McGuire to de-mystify the strange and unreasonable tournament structure that the powers that be imposed on the Summer Day's concluding proceedings.

• • •

BRACKETOLOGY, SUMMER LEAGUE EDITION

After years of inconsequential Summer Leagues, the NBA has decided it's time to stop messing around. It's time to get serious, folks. This year, they're attempting to institute an NCAA-style tournament for Summer League competition, leading to an actual Las Vegas Summer League "champeen" (as our lame-duck commissioner might well intone). In it, Summer League's 22 teams will face off for the most illustrious of basketball honors. Summer League Champion. Which team has the heart of a champion, dear readers? Which of these world-beaters will be named the greatest of all the death machines? Who, at the end of the day, will be able to count their rings?!?

... alright, I'll stop. I tried. I'm a statistician, not a hype-man.

Barring some end-state where the summer league tournament is a practice run for a future implementation of the Sports Guy's "entertaining as hell" tournament, just about everyone collected was mystified upon hearing of the hastily-constructed tournament restructuring. This widespread mystification became all the more apparent when the media and fans congregated at Summer League, sat themselves down, and started to look at the schedule to plan out their week's coverage.

jglajsdgjl

"Wait, what?"

Cue widespread confusion. "Who's going to be playing on Wednesday?" ... "When do our beat writers need to go home, exactly?" ... "How bad do you need to be to become the #22 seed at the NBA's Summer League?" Lots of questions, few answers. But have no fear, my friends and neighbors -- we've got you covered. As Tuesday's game action rolls forward, Gothic Ginobili will be solving the NBA's seeding crisis and giving you the juicy details on who's playing who. By the time the day's over, we'll know exactly who is seeded where and the final schedule for Wednesday and Thursday's action.

And we'll look good doing it, too.

• WHAT'S THE BRACKET? •

The bracket can be found here. For your sake, here's a repost of the bracket image.

LV-bracket

• HOW'S THE BRACKET SEEDED? •

The seeding system -- while rather annoying to calculate -- is reasonably easy to explain.

  • The first criteria teams are seeded on is overall win-loss record.
    • Given that each team will have 3 games, it's quite likely there are ties in overall record.
  • Assuming a tie in overall record, the second tiebreaker is a point system related to the number of quarters that individual team has won. The system gives teams one point for a quarter they won, half a point for a quarter they tied, and zero points for a quarter they lost.
  • If there is a tie between both overall W/L record and their "quarter points", the third tiebreaker is the team's head-to-head record -- if the tied teams had previously played each other in summer league, the winner of that game gets the higher seed.
  • The fourth tiebreaker is point differential.
  • And the final tiebreaker, in the unlikely event that EVERY SINGLE ONE of these criteria is tied, is a coin -- seeding would be determined by coin flip.

Piece of cake, right? (Jokes aside, it's a reasonably well designed system given the constraints. Good job, NBA.)

• WHAT DO THE STANDINGS LOOK LIKE? •

Here's the most relevant part of this post for those still reading. What do the standings look like? Who's going to be playing who?

SUMMER LEAGUE STANDINGS 1

What do these standings tell us? A few things. On Wednesday, seeds 12 through 22 will see action -- that means none of the top 11 teams will be playing Wednesday. (Related: Wednesday may end up being the worst day of basketball in the history of the human race.) Due to that, any team that's locked into the bottom 12 will be playing on Wednesday no matter what. There are a few teams that are locked-in to be playing on Wednesday. They are:

  • MIA, LAC, NYK, ATL. Even if every team below these four teams loses, they don't have enough quarter points to win a tiebreaker with any of the other teams that have clinched 1-2. Since 10 teams have already registered two wins, only one spot in the top 11 is available for a possible 1-2 team to snag it. Minnesota, Toronto, Dallas, or Sacramento would be the team to grab it -- not any of these four. The WAS/MEM/POR/DEN quartet is also in the mix for that spot, but they'd need to dominate their games today, which looks unlikely for Memphis (Phoenix is fielding a good summer league squad) and unlikely for Portland (as Chicago currently rates out as one of the "elite" summer league teams, insofar as a summer league team can be categorized as such.)

Conversely, there are a handful of teams that have clinched a bye on Wednesday. These are teams that you definitely won't be able to see on Wednesday. These teams are:

  • CHA, CLE, LAL. The Spurs and are also unlikely to be playing on Wednesday, but there's a fringe possibility they slide into the #11 seed if Toronto and Dallas both win their games today (and win 3 or more quarters) and the D-League manages to win at least two quarters in today's matchup. This is also contingent on Phoenix and Golden State both winning a quarter in their games.

Seeding-wise, things will clear up significantly as the day goes on. Obviously. To that end, I'll be updating these standings to reflect new data. Don't worry, guys. We've got this. We're going to know the schedule before anyone else does. It's going to be a secret between you and I, dear reader. You and I.

UPDATE: Well, I've been updating my lucky Twitter followers of all this thick and juicy breaking news all day. Make sure to follow me on Twitter, as I am clearly the only journalist courageous enough to tackle the real tough questions on Las Vegas Summer League Tournament Seeding. Here's the scoop with three of today's games in the book:

  • The Warriors have clinched a seed of three or better.
  • The following teams will be guaranteed to be playing on Wednesday: MIN, ATL, NYK, LAC, MIA, SAC, WAS, MEM, POR, DEN.
  • The following teams are guaranteed a bye day and will not be playing on Wednesday: GSW, CHI, CHA, TOR, CLE, LAL, MIL.
  • The following teams are still up in the air: PHX, D-League, NOP, SAS, DAL.

LIFE IS SO CRAZY.

SUMMER LEAGUE STANDINGS 6

Here are the updated standings as of the end of Q1 of MEM/PHO and CHI/POR.

-- Aaron McGuire

• • •

authenticity

FINDING AUTHENTICITY IN THE MOJAVE WASTELAND

There's a sort of paradox that lies at the root of all team sports. Consider the underlying juxtaposition: the dynamism and entertainment of team sports alongside the dismal grind of the athlete's preparation. "He's an exciting, dynamic player" must be said, regurgitated, challenged, and deconstructed at its core before a team decides to take a chance on the player through waivers or trade or draft. The player's excitement and dynamism only emerged because of an enormous sacrifice of hours a day in training. Relentless decades in the video room, relentless self-analysis, relentless self-betterment.

I look at my endless, sprawling drafts and songs and -- alas! -- drawings. They're scattered. Various hard drives, scratch paper distracted from original function, Christmas albums published and unpublished, blogs with two entries that I really got enthused about and forgot the next morning, and all the sordid rest. And there are still days I wake up and can't seem to compose a sentence that anyone else on Earth can understand, at least to the extent that I want them to. It's dispiriting. And there are days I wake up and all the experiences, even those I'd previously classified as useless, are consummated together within my soul. And my prose flows freely. Comprehensible, understandable, stark. And most days are in the middle. If I'd worked at it less, I'd have more days like the former; if I'd more, I'd have more days like the latter. That's what I tell myself. And at the core of competition with the self, that's what we all have to tell ourselves. It's a conversation with ourselves that can be fraught with delusion, but it's a conversation about substance, and there's some sort of empirical measure to answer for.

"This isn't brilliant, but it's publishable."

"This isn't publishable, but it's fluent."

"This isn't fluent, but I kept the rhythm and the intonation. I can feel proud of this, given...".

Some of these players get paid millions of dollars to play a game, and in our culture we tend to get all righteous about this when teachers and firefighters and so on do so much more for our society and all that. With good reason. And then the counter: should we REALLY be determining what people can earn based on what others can't? Is there not room in a perfect society for a million-dollar athlete and a properly-valued million-dollar teacher? And the elephant in the room, the baseline here, might be that we tend to see sports as fun, above all else. But it's also a sort of strange evidence one can put forth of our incompleteness as a society, an unaccountable waste of time and resources, or at the very least a tasty side dish to the main course of life.

Sort of like... Las Vegas.

See what I did there? Confession: being in Vegas makes me feel authentic by juxtaposition. I can resist the casinos with placid frugality. I can resist the nostalgia of the nebulously blended together "Fifteen to Thirty-Five Years Ago aka When Those Of You That Can Run a Tab Were Young" with naught but vigorous activity. I can resist the desire to make myself worse, to forget, to spend, to be false. I can resist. I can resist. I can resist. I can feel superior and get drunk on my own apparent superiority and it's actually cheaper than literally getting drunk. But I know it's a lie and I know it's a fictional narrative designed to increase perception of my own value and character. I didn't become a better person because I surrounded myself with more vice. What's more, I know dismissing it all as vice is its own form of inauthentic rabble.

It's a way for me to have a confident, judgmental stride that I haven't deserved, an easy conversational shorthand to find common ground with fellow travelers. It's awful. Sometimes I think we watch sports in its spectacle to get to this form of paradoxical blend of miring ourselves in the drama and the simultaneous feeling ourselves above the drama. Rooting interests keep us grounded, aesthetics, sportsmanship, but sometimes I just want something interesting to happen. And, put it this way: My moral sense isn't always the first one to respond to an interesting happening.

Summer League is pretty neat because there is no such pretense of anything else. The league is too meaningless to be a determining factor in anyone's career, it's a Bayesian flyswatter of slight probabilistic meaning. And the competitiveness of the product on the court is nil and arbitrary. Lance Thomas isn't exactly competing with Deshaun Thomas, even if they may both be going for the board. Sure, it would be nice for each player to snag it. It'd be worse if they don't. But they're mostly competing against their team's established rosters, which has so little to do with the direct, symmetric competition before us that they might as well just repeat the tautological mantra: "do more, do better." And thus there's a strange blend of incentives. It's an overdose of a 35-year-old-on-a-28-win-in-a-contract-year team vigor. And that blend of incentives writ large determines the game. The fans know it, the writers know it, the front office people, the coaches, the players know it.

For all the occasional on-court absurdity, it's not wearing any alibis: In the end, Summer League is exhibition, it's learning, it's competition against the self that reigns here, for every single participant. Even for the fans, who are mostly in it for a good time and maybe some free T-shirts, there's not necessarily any sort of rooting interest so much as pursuit of entertainment. They have to find out what to watch for and enjoy it. It's authentic, even when the back-and-forth sequences of turnovers can make you grimace. Summer League is a nice bridge between the dismal "how athletes are made" (which takes decades) and the fascinating "what athletes can do" (which may take a tenth of a second). It helps us understand what must go on first, and gives us a taste of what symphonies this overture of decades is building to. And best of all, it doesn't pretend to be anything different.

Except for this tournament thing. What's up with that?

-- Alex Dewey

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