Sympathy for the Devil: Relating to Andrew Bynum

the return of andrew bynum

By now, I'm sure most of our readers have read the Richie Incognito story. It's taken an expanse of media real estate over the past few days, for good reason. I'm not erroneously referring to it as "the Richie Incognito story" rather than the Jonathan Martin story, either. While stories about bullies certainly center around the response the victim has to the bully-at-large, we tend to over-emphasize the victim in all stories of assault and treat the perpetrator as an outside factor, much like storytellers treat the weather. Sure, we'll mention a raindrop or two, but the weather is as close to an uncontrollable act of God as you can get in this great world of ours. Remarkably, this frame of reference is often applied to assault -- we overanalyze the actions of the victim as we search around for the tiniest things a victim could've done to get out of their situation. "Stand up. Speak out. Don't walk there. Don't live here. Get better friends." Et cetera, et cetera. The issue is, this viewpoint necessarily treats the person who's actually in-the-wrong as though they're devoid of responsibility.

After all... do you blame a few raindrops when an unexpected downpour floods your car? Do you blame a snowflake when snowfall kills your vegetable garden? And, thus: do you blame a bully for acting out when it "would've happened anyway?" Hence the problem. All that needed to happen for this particular instance of assault to stop was for Richie Incognito to realize he was being an ass and take a step back, instead of stepping further and further out of line. It wouldn't have mattered what Martin did if Incognito had simply stopped being such a twat. While you can make the argument that the NFL's hazing culture is such that it would've continued happening even if Incognito threw in the towel, that has little to do with the facts of the case and more to do with the seedy facts of NFL hazing. It's a useful discussion, but a markedly different one. And it's also, regrettably, far more difficult to prove. The facts of this case are actually rather simple. Incognito had an easy way to stop psychologically tormenting his teammate. He didn't.

This isn't some "everyone's at fault, look at how society reared him, Incognito is a reflection of his zeitgeist" pablum -- it's an incident where one party had an incredibly easy way to fix things and simply ignored it in favor of being a psychopath. Hence, it's the "Richie Incognito story" -- it's a story about an prick being an prick who deserves to be treated like one. The victim is less pertinent to the case than the one who had the easy ability to stop it. They're the one that should be pilloried, overanalyzed, and made to answer for their overreach. And so it goes. Having said all that, I don't really intend to talk about that case today. I'm actually more focused on an NBA player that the Richie Incognito case inadvertently reminded me of.

Andrew Bynum!

Now, let's take a step back. No, Bynum's sins aren't quite at the psychological torture level of Incognito's answering machine message. At least not that we know of. But years of play has made a point we really should probably pay more heed. Andrew Bynum is, in most definitions of the term, something of a bully. Think back to the 2011 playoffs, where Bynum essentially tried to kill J.J. Barea only to later state that he wasn't sure what the big deal was. Classy. Bynum has enough dirty hits -- see this, this, or this for examples -- to compose a highlight reel entirely built of dirty career-threatening plays. The man is a 7'0" behemoth with nearly 300 pounds of muscle on his frame. It's one thing if Muggsy Bogues has a highlight reel of hits. That's just funny. (Seriously, can someone make that highlight reel? I really want to see it.) Andrew Bynum's highlight reel is filled with scary, scary plays where a jackhammer of a man nearly ends a variety of smaller players' careers. Not exactly Mother Teresa.

And then you get off the court, where Bynum's transgressions are given more depth. Bynum doesn't (or, as I'll later note, didn't used to) care about the game of basketball all that much. This makes his dirty, scary fouls even more befuddling. Why threaten the livelihood of others for a game you don't really care much for? When Carl Mays killed Ray Chapman with his spitball, the only mitigating factor you could really give was that Mays cared about baseball too much, and his semi-psychotic will to win drove him to play dangerously enough that murdering a player with his throwing arm was an ever-present possibility. Bynum has never made a public statement that would imply anything close to that, instead stating a clear preference for the finer things in life (his engineering pursuits, playboy bunnies, and fast cars among them). That's not a big deal in a vacuum, and respectable in its own way. But not quite so much when you indiscriminately throw your weight around and put your fellow NBA players in danger. By all accounts, Bynum is sort of a jerk in his personal interactions too -- parking badly in handicapped spots, driving over a divider to the wrong side of the road to pass someone going the speed limit, and is (evidently) the worst neighbor in recorded history. All in a season's work for the big guy.

And yet... after reading Bynum's recent interview, I come away strangely sorry for him.

“Retirement was a thought, it was a serious thought. It still is,” Bynum said after the Cavs practice Thursday at Temple University. “It’s tough to enjoy the game because of how limited I am physically. I’m working through that. Every now and again I do (think about retirement)…It’s still career threatening. I’m a shell of myself on the court right now. I’m just struggling mentally. ... I just want to be able to play without pain and find the joy again,” Bynum said. “Right now I’m battling pain and it’s annoying. I’m not able to do the things I’m used to doing and it’s frustrating.”

Admittedly, it isn't the end of the world. The effectiveness of an NBA player waxes and wanes with age regardless of who it is. Injury speeds up that aging timeline in a very uncomfortable way, but it's not like Bynum instantly transformed from an eternal font of vigor and health into something he was never going to be. At some point in his career Bynum was going to be physically limited by age and a loss of athleticism. He was never to be the NBA's first immortal player regardless of entering the league as impressively young as he did.

But there's also another side to Bynum's not-being-psychotically-interested-in-basketball. Unlike, say, Duncan or Bryant or Nowitzki, Bynum isn't some intensely obsessed basketball demigod who's made his mark on history and is bouncing back from the grave as much out of his legacy's momentum as a personal calling. His non-obsession with the game makes his ongoing recovery from injury that much harder. As he said, basketball used to be fun, if only just. Have you ever been deathly ill but had to go to work anyway? Have you ever tried to help a friend move after spraining your ankle? If you haven't: try to avoid both. They're awful situations and they suck for everyone involved. Trying to do something you don't quite love while you're physically prevented from performing at your best is something most people have experienced. And most people agree: it really really sucks.

So, regardless of Bynum's myriad personal faults and the bully-centric undertones he's given off over the years, I find myself actually feeling pretty bad for the guy's current position. He's trying to have fun in the game, and he's trying to ward off thoughts that he isn't good enough to keep going. The trope of the wayward bully who becomes a sympathetic character after reaching a moral quandary is well-worn. But it's a trope for a reason: trials and sadness bring out the pitiable sides of even the hardest bullies, and Bynum has always been more of a devil-may-care jerk than one who's actively trying to make people's lives worse. Hence, as situations arise where Bynum is struggling through loss of self-worth and possibly career-ending mental blocks, it's hard not to feel bad for the guy. Feeling like you're a shell of yourself isn't a feeling I'd wish on anyone, even a guy who's been utterly intolerable in the past. If you'd told me a few years ago that all it would take would be a single sad interview and a few games of "Bynum struggling up and down the court" game tape for me to stop being judgmental and disenchanted with Bynum's game, I'd have told you you're crazy. When a bully is being called to task for their actions it's hard to imagine EVER being positive about them again.

But they're human, with struggles and trials all their own. And in the long run, try as we might to demonize the bullies, sympathy tends to win out. Which -- to circle back around -- makes all the focus on the victim in the Incognito case even more confounding. After all: we're probably going to forgive Incognito en masse in the long run anyway. It's how we are. So why NOT focus on his awful behavior while it's the reason he's on our minds? Why are so many willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as a non-responsible product of his environment and take Martin to task instead? If only we knew.

Aaron McGuire on sabtwitterAaron McGuire on sabtumblrAaron McGuire on sablinkedinAaron McGuire on sabgithubAaron McGuire on sabfacebookAaron McGuire on sabemail
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

First-Week Surprises -- Odds & Ends from the Week That Was

"SPEED IT UP... because fast never apologizes."

Now that Monday's games are in the books, we've had an entire week of NBA action to digest and enjoy. Every team has played three or four games (...with the exception of Denver), every team has played their home opener, and almost every team has recorded a loss or two. We're starting to get a handle on this year's prominent early storylines (BREAK UP THE SIXERS!) and this year's particularly flawed early expectations (See: Washington). I admit, I haven't gotten quite as much game tape down as I'd like, to date -- I was back in Arizona for a friend's wedding and the revelry tended to disincentivize becoming a league pass hermit. I have, however, noticed a few interesting odds and ends that may pique the interests of a few team's fanbases, and a few general leaguewide trends that should continue to be monitored going forward. Instead of doing a bunch of separate posts exclusively analyzing each, I figured it made as much sense to shorten the text and examine five interesting things at once. Let's get to it.

• • •

Observation #1: THE NBA IS ON SPEED

Okay, no, the NBA isn't on speed. But you'd have to excuse anyone who's been paying attention to the last week for thinking so. Basketball Reference has a neat statistic they share in their season summary page -- Pace Factor, meant to represent the number of possessions per game that a team plays in their average game, normalized to account for pace inflation from OT and other such things. Let's go through the last 5 seasons or so, as the NBA has sped up a bit in recent years, and find each year's fastest-paced team and each year's league average.

  • 2009:          GSW, 98.2     (AVG: 91.7)
  • 2010:          GSW, 100.4    (AVG: 92.7)
  • 2011:          MIN, 96.5     (AVG: 92.1)
  • 2012:          SAC, 94.7     (AVG: 91.3)
  • 2013:          HOU, 96.1     (AVG: 92.0)

Fun times. Want to venture a guess what the current NBA high is?

This year's current fastest team (the young 76ers, much to Doug Collins' eternal chagrin) are averaging a blistering 103 possessions per game. What's more interesting is that they aren't doing it against a skewed schedule -- three of their four opponents to date are currently at or below league average in pace. The Sixers are the ones pushing the tempo, as anyone who's watched Brett Brown's young team can attest. Generally it isn't considered a great idea to rack up a wealth of extra possessions as a team with lagging talent -- as the old adage goes, increasing your sample size vis a vis your possessions per game tends to be a bad idea when your "average" performance is worse than the other guys. Hence why you get so many upsets in the NCAA tournament (... and so many losses for the 2012 Kings). But the Sixers have avoided infamy by being strikingly good at pushing the pace in the right sort of way, taking advantage of the defensive miscues of their foes and any particular slow-footed veterans for easy leak-outs, transition baskets, and open threes before the defense sets. They almost certainly won't be able to keep it up, not with a negative overall margin of victory at a 3-1 record and a league that's suddenly flush with scouting tape on them. But it does appear that Brett Brown may have been a particularly inspired coaching choice, and that's always a delightful find.

Still, that's just one team. Early season results are generally chock-full of outlier values and averages skewed by one or two one-off games. What does the league as a whole look like? Is there anything interesting there? Yes, in fact. While the highest team may be averaging 103 possessions per game, the pace isn't just picking up in Philadelphia. The pace is picking up virtually everywhere. After 50 games played, the current league average pace stands at 96.2 -- higher, I might note, than last year's fastest-paced team. The speed of the game hasn't just gone up for the league's usual fast-paced teams, either (HOU, GSW, DAL) -- it's gone up for the league's slowest teams too. Last year's slowest paced team was the Memphis Grizzlies, who averaged 88 possessions per game. They're currently averaging 94. The Bulls were averaging 89 last year -- they're at 95, now. One other item of interest -- many of the league's highest risers are teams with recent coaching shifts (and, accordingly, shifts in their overall strategy). To wit, three of the top five risers are new coaches, and six of the top eleven.

Lg Rk	Team	New Coach		2013	2014	DIFF
1	PHI	BRETT BROWN		91.0	103.0	+12.0
2	LAC	DOC RIVERS		91.1	99.6	+8.5
4	ATL	MIKE BUDENHOLZER	92.6	99.6	+7.0
6	BKN	JASON KIDD		88.8	94.9	+6.1
10	MEM	DAVE JOERGER		88.4	94.0	+5.6
11	CLE	MIKE BROWN		92.3	97.3	+5.0
22	DET	MAURICE CHEEKS		90.8	93.5	+2.7
23	CHA	STEVE CLIFFORD		91.5	93.5	+2.0
25	PHO	JEFF HORNACEK		93.4	94.6	+1.2
27	BOS	BRAD STEVENS		91.7	91.3	-0.4
28	DEN	BRIAN SHAW		95.1	94.2	-0.9
29	SAC	MIKE MALONE		93.6	91.9	-1.7
30	MIL	LARRY DREW		94.7	92.5	-2.2

That said, the only four teams with a downward pace trajectory are new coaches, so... your mileage may vary.

Now for the cold water. Pace is usually up a little bit at the beginning of the NBA season. While it's never been quite as obscene as this (at least to my knowledge -- don't really feel like pulling together the data to confirm that, at the moment), teams generally start fast and peter out as the season gets on and injuries tarnish the high-flying exuberance of the first month or two. It's unlikely we've seen a sudden sea change into a vastly faster league. It does appear, however, that we've got an inside track on clinching the NBA's highest paced season since 2010. The last time the NBA had an average pace above 93 possessions per game was the 2000 season -- with the Sixers, Clippers, Nets and Rockets exceedingly likely to keep their fast-paced style going (and Mike Budenholzer keeping his Vin Diesel impression immaculate) and many of the league's usual suspects for "slow team that ruins your life" speeding it up (thanks, Joerger!), it seems like taking the over on league pace may serve a solid bet on this one. All good news for fans of faster basketball.

 • • •

Observation #2: STEPH CURRY HAS ALL OF YOUR THREES

The percentages players shoot on threes this early in the season are not particularly significant. Rife with variance, it's hard to get a sense of whether a player's hot shooting represents a new mean or a future trivia fact about a player's unbelievable start to the season. Hence, I'm not going to go insane about Curry's current shooting percentage of 50% from three point range. We know he's a good shooter. That's enough. But there IS one thing that may portend to be a leading indicator of a season-wide trend. That indicator? Attempts. Stephen Curry -- through four games -- has shot 36 three pointers. That's nine per game, which has him on track to break the all-time record of threes taken in a single season (678, set somewhat hilariously by George McCloud in 1996) in the 2nd quarter of game 75, with 7 games left to pad his record. Whether Curry continues to shoot 50% or not is irrelevant. The fact that the Warriors aren't afraid to challenge the historical border lines between usage and efficiency to figure out the true maximum value Curry's incredible shooting can give a team should be heartening to Warriors fans. And anyone who likes threes. (... And Tom Haberstroh, since Stephen Curry apparently reads his work.)

• • •

Observation #3: LEBRON SHOULD GET SOME REST, MAYBE

I poked around, thinking that someone else would've probably made this observation already. Apparently not. Despite the Heat's 2-2 record, LeBron James has played: 38, 36, 42, and 34 minutes so far this season. These aren't egregious minute totals, in a vacuum -- especially for the best player in the world. But the Heat are a team that above all else should be looking at the long haul. They don't need to keep to a Popovich-type rest schedule to keep LeBron at 36 minutes a night or fewer. A lot has been made over his career about how LeBron has never suffered an injury that caused him to miss significant time. It's a good observation, but it also comes with an important counter-observation -- he's never actually had to recover from an injury, either, so LeBron's recovery process (whenever it ends up happening) is going to be a touch-and-go thing that's entirely new to all parties involved. Which all comes around to make me think that 42 pressure-packed minutes in a generally meaningless November game against a still-gelling Brooklyn Nets team is a bridge too far, if only just.

I get the whole "certain games are statement games" thought, and I understand that it's difficult to keep LeBron out of the game. They may decide to approach the problem from the other end, effectively cancelling practices for LeBron in order to keep him in the game as much as possible while resting him when it doesn't matter. I also understand that the Heat aren't exactly lighting the world on fire right now -- at writing, the Heat are currently nestled in at 21st in the league in defensive rating despite their evisceration of the Bulls in their season-opener. If you're Coach Spolestra, you're a bit worried about complacency and a team collectively resting on their laurels. But they'll come around, and they know they will. If you combine LeBron's regular season, playoff, and Olympic totals, you're looking at a superstar that's played 11,484 minutes of professional basketball in the three years that have passed since he first donning his Miami reds. Yet another 38-39 MPG season with the assumption that LeBron is an inhuman monster that knows nothing of fatigue or injury may be as reasonable as it's ever been (and don't get me wrong -- by his track record, that's exactly the assumption we SHOULD have)... but count me as one of the few who think the Heat are playing with fire here.

• • •

Observation #4: TOM THIBODEAU'S MINUTES ARE COMPLETELY REASONABLE

Come with me, dear boy, and look at the minutes per game Tom Thibodeau has allotted his top six players in the three games the Bulls have played to date.

  1. Jimmy Butler, 36.7 MPG
  2. Luol Deng, 35.3 MPG
  3. Derrick Rose, 33.7 MPG
  4. Carlos Boozer, 32.3 MPG
  5. Joakim Noah, 29.3 MPG
  6. Taj Gibson, 24.7 MPG

As someone who's spent roughly the entirety of the past 3 seasons sounding the alarm about Thibodeau's absurdist minutes distribution, I have to give credit where credit is due. These are patently reasonable. Butler, their youngest core piece, is the only one above 36 MPG and he's barely there. Rose is getting a slightly shorter leash to help acclimate himself to NBA game speed. Deng is finally -- FINALLY -- not averaging 38+ MPG (which, if it holds, would represent the first Thibodeau-coached season where Deng plays less than 38 minutes a night). He's keeping his big men under 33 MPG, which is generally the danger zone for injury-riddled bigs. The Bulls have not looked very good at any particular moment of their uninspiring 1-2 start. But Thibodeau is keeping his minutes-demons in check, which is fantastic news to anyone hoping that the Bulls get through the season healthy.

• • •

Observation #5: DENVER LOOKS RIDICULOUSLY BAD

There are several teams that could be highlighted here that have looked like genuinely terrible teams to start the season -- the Bucks, the Celtics, and the Wizards all have looked pretty rudderless in the action I've seen them in, as do the Knicks. (The Bucks in particular are starting to worry me a bit -- especially coach Larry Drew's insistence on playing his old friend Zaza Pachulia over Larry Sanders, even though admittedly Pachulia has looked a fair sight better than Sanders in the early going.) But this week's "wait, oh my god" moment for me was when the Denver Nuggets were getting blown out in their home opener by a good-but-not-incredible Portland team.

Let's set the stage. The Blazers had just flown from Phoenix to Denver after having been crushed by a crummy looking Suns team in their home opener, and represented a chance for Denver to get back on track after losing their way against the Kings in THEIR home opener. It looked like the classic situation where Denver's altitude and play-style would carry them against a team that had more talent on their roster. At least, that was my thought going into the game. Suffice to say, that didn't happen. The Nuggets were roundly embarrassed by the visitors, giving up 40 points in the second quarter and trailing by 26 before the Blazers took their foot off the gas in the fourth frame. But even that was hardly a comfort to Denver's season -- after the Nuggets got close, a series of foolish defensive breakdowns by Denver's porous big men let LaMarcus Aldridge drain jumper after jumper to extend a 101-94 lead to a 15-point laugher of a margin. The game never seemed in doubt.

It essentially cemented my prevailing thought when looking at Denver's mish-mash roster. That is: they can't defend anyone. J.J. Hickson may get his boards, but he can't keep in front of anyone and his rotations are two steps late at best. Javale McGee hunts for blocks, not substance, and Anthony Randolph? Get real. Faried may actually be a defensive positive compared to those three, which is pretty awful news for the Nuggets brass that would like to think they didn't completely dismantle a 55-win team and leave themselves a most improbable cellar-dwelling tank machine. Apparently, they did. The Nuggets have time to recover, and I'm sure they will to some extent. Gallo is a solid defender, and as Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler come back, they'll start to get a bit of their mojo. And they will always have their built-in home court dominance to fall back on when things get rough -- I can't imagine they won't squeeze out 15 wins or so from opponent back-to-backs in the Pepsi Center alone. But this team looks about as far from a repeat playoff appearance as the Miami Heat look from the lottery, and to fans who were getting used to last season's Cinderella contender, that's not a good look. (NOTE: Now that I have written this, the Nuggets will beat the Spurs by 30 points tonight.)

• • •

One last thing. Hoopdata was officially retired today. Count me as one of the 10-20 remaining people who still used Hoopdata regularly. It's old-hat, now, and other sites DO have everything it once held dear. But humans are creatures of habit, and Hoopdata's delightful quirks were one of mine. I will miss the site dearly. Absolutely incredible work to Joe Treutlein and Matt Nolan for their years of hard work and perseverance to build one of the absolute first public databases that completely changed the game for basketball statistics. You may be gone, but you'll never be forgotten.

Aaron McGuire on sabtwitterAaron McGuire on sabtumblrAaron McGuire on sablinkedinAaron McGuire on sabgithubAaron McGuire on sabfacebookAaron McGuire on sabemail
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

LAC vs GSW: Perfect Execution of a Clever Bluff

curry handlin the rock

How do you defend a team you know you can't? It's a good question, one that 4 to 5 teams face every night during the NBA's regular season action. Whether it's because of your defensive struggles or the other team's offensive mastery, there's always a set of games on the schedule where a team is faced with opposition they don't have much of a chance to defend. It's always interesting to try and pick out the one or two strategies the defensively challenged team comes up with to try and defend their offensive kryptonite. Sometimes the strategies work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they're abandoned early in the game, and sometimes they become entirely irrelevant due to a poor shooting night or another random malady. L.A. did not do either of these things, and stuck with a neat little strategy that proved to be the difference in a tight contest between defensively challenged contenders. It involved misdirection, open men, and one of Stephen Curry's few flaws. Let's examine it, through the lens of Curry's eleven (!!!) turnovers.

To wit, a list of those eleven turnovers last night:

  1. Q1, 10:48 remaining -- Stephen Curry bad pass (Jared Dudley steals)
  2. Q1, 7:43 remaining -- Stephen Curry bad pass (DeAndre Jordan steals)
  3. Q1, 5:37 remaining -- Stephen Curry bad pass (Blake Griffin steals)
  4. Q2, 6:50 remaining -- Stephen Curry bad pass
  5. Q2, 5:56 remaining -- Stephen Curry lost ball turnover (Chris Paul steals)
  6. Q3, 9:55 remaining -- Stephen Curry bad pass (Jared Dudley steals)
  7. Q3, 5:07 remaining -- Stephen Curry bad pass (Blake Griffin steals)
  8. Q3, 4:48 remaining -- Stephen Curry lost ball turnover (Chris Paul steals)
  9. Q4, 9:30 remaining -- Stephen Curry bad pass (Jamal Crawford steals)
  10. Q4, 4:26 remaining -- Stephen Curry bad pass (DeAndre Jordan steals)
  11. Q4, 0:50 remaining -- Stephen Curry lost ball turnover (Chris Paul steals)

Apologies for the lack of video, here -- I honestly don't know how to capture videos for posts like this. And even if I did, I generally prefer writeups, because (as I detailed on Twitter last night) I am a 76 year old. Benjamin Bonner, as my friend John aptly noted. Go figure. But Curry's turnover problems intrigued me. One would be excused if you looked at Chris Paul's impact and assumed he was responsible for 6 or 7 of Curry's "bad pass" turnovers, but that isn't really accurate at all. Paul only directly accounted for three of Curry's giveaways -- that left a full eight turnovers to the rest of the Clippers, which made me wonder if there were some general themes in the takes remaining.

So, let's go over them.

With the first turnover, Curry was shooting a pass that -- out of context -- actually seemed pretty safe. It was a semi-cross court pass to an open man in the corner (in this case, Iguodala) whose defender, Jared Dudley, had appeared to completely leave him. Fun story, though -- while Dudley was a good distance from Iguodala, he kept his body and line of sight oriented in Curry's direction, which made it easy for him to slide over and catch the pass. It was clever and tricky -- from the angle Curry was at, it'd be almost impossible to see that Dudley was both covering one of Curry's inside options and watching him and in exactly the right position to jump a pass to the corner man. But there he was. Turnover #6 was less of an acceptable move from Curry, but the Clippers were being similarly pressuring -- Dudley was right in front of Curry with his hands flailing, which ended up disrupting the pass and causing the steal, but both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were making a bee-line for the corner man Curry was intending to pass to anyway. They had a decent shot at replicating that first turnover, where the open man was something of an illusion.

Turnover #7 was yet another of the same ilk -- in this case, Marreese Speights appeared to have ample room on each side to let off a nice long two (or, more likely, a drive to the basket and a kick-out to a then open shooter). The problem was, Griffin had just slid over to screen Curry, and had his eye on Speights for essentially the whole play -- when Curry's pass was a hair too slow, Griffin pounced on the ball and took it from midair before Speights or Curry had any idea what was happening. Turnover #9 was a lesser version of the same story -- it was more problematic than the others from Curry's perspective (as Curry really should've noticed Jamal Crawford bounding into the play), but he telegraphed the pass to a once-open man and it was (again) too slow to get past the scurrying  gazelle in a Jamal Crawford jersey.

There were a few turnovers that were simply boneheaded no-excuse moves from Curry -- his second one was particularly stupid, where he drove the basket with David Lee trailing and delivered a no-look behind the back pass. Would've been a neat play, if Lee hadn't gotten caught on what appeared to be The Weakest Screen Of All Time. There's a reason no-look passes are generally a bad idea, Steph. You have to pay attention. Turnover #4 was of a similar cadence -- Curry's "bad pass" appeared to be directed at one of the courtside cameramen. (They don't really have a good angle for that shot anyway, Steph.) His tenth was simply a poor decision, passing to a definitely-open man in the middle without realizing that the only reason that man is open is because DeAndre Jordan was smack in the middle of Curry's passing lane with both eyes on the ball. And there were a few turnovers that weren't really Curry's fault -- his third one in particular, where Lee bobbles an inconceivably short ranged pass and Blake Griffin took advantage.

But there's an overall moral to this story, and it points to a very smart move from the Clippers. The Clippers honestly couldn't hope to guard the Warriors on offense -- even in the loss, Golden State shot 52% from the floor and 57% from three. Absolutely unconscious. Stephen Curry was effectively unguardable (scoring 38 points with a single free throw, a surprisingly rare game type that's only happened 4 times in the last 4 seasons), and virtually every time the Warriors managed to confuse the easily-befuddled Clipper bigs, an easy bucket resulted. But the Clippers seemed to be well aware that they didn't have the capability to consistently guard this Warriors team. And if that's the way you've got to play, your best bet is keep their blasé run-the-offense type possessions as low as you possibly can by forcing turnovers and keeping the action from challenging your big men.

The Clippers were clever, and by keeping just about everyone on the floor "aware" of Curry's passing at all times, they preyed on his often somewhat-low-speed passes and created illusions of open men to entice Curry into a doomed pass. This strategy worked on four separate occasions, which I'd consider quite the accomplishment if I was Doc Rivers. Curry only had 33 games last season with four turnovers period... and in this case, those four Clipper-orchestrated turnovers were alongside three "poor decision" turnovers, three "Chris Paul came to play" turnovers, and one where Curry wasn't entirely at fault. It all amounts to a career-high in turnovers for Golden State's star, his first double-digit turnover game since his rookie year, and (most importantly, to Doc!) a win over a division rival for a Clipper team that's gunning for a top-4 seed.

In essence, the Clippers took a poker bluff and made it a key component of their Curry-centric defense. They figured that Curry would realize the Clippers couldn't guard the Warriors and would leave certain obviously-open opportunities. Curry just assumed the open men were open because of defensive breakdowns rather than as a conscious Clipper decision. The Clippers certainly had their fair share of ugly defensive breakdowns throughout the night -- but their ability to use that to their advantage on several distinct plays served to be the difference in an extremely close game. For all the crap the Clippers get about their defense -- which, yes, may be deserved -- that was quite the clever move and worthy of a lot of praise.

Superlative work, Clips.

Aaron McGuire on sabtwitterAaron McGuire on sabtumblrAaron McGuire on sablinkedinAaron McGuire on sabgithubAaron McGuire on sabfacebookAaron McGuire on sabemail
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Out of their Depth (or: L.A.'s Fatal Flaw?)

gasol and griff

It's easy to make all-too-quick conclusions from the first game of the NBA season. After all, it's opening night! It lends itself a built-in aura of oversignificance and inflated import. It's the first meaningful basketball we've watched in months. Even if we try to watch preseason and summer league and extract tinctures of meanings, opening night is different. It's the night when everything starts to matter again. Bad nights are henceforth reflected in your record, good nights reflected in your hype. It's easy to take that heightened importance to overconfident conclusions about a team's true nature, overriding all you thought was true with the unexpected wrinkles you see in the on-court products. We'd all like to avoid it, but it's quite difficult to resist the urge.

That said, it's also far too easy to get pig-headedly locked into a "wait-and-see" type attitude. The first games of the season don't make up an entire year's production, but they certainly represent new information that should be used to update, support, or revise potentially outdated theories about the teams involved. Last year, notably, the obscenely hyped Lakers lost badly on opening night to a Dirk-lacking Mavericks squad. Most people assumed that it was a temporary blip in what would otherwise be an incredible season. It wasn't -- the loss was far more meaningful than most people realized, highlighting a defense more porous than anyone ever expected and various issues in roster fit that most people had ignored completely. The year before, the defending champion Mavericks were roundly annihilated on their home floor by the team they'd vanquished months earlier -- this turned out to be a relatively true reflection of how much the Mavericks had fallen and how much the Heat's new acquisitions and playbook had bolstered their team.

You can find examples on either side relatively easily. Frankly, it's easy to get locked into either mistake -- overreactions to the highest degree or understatement to the point of lunacy. I'd like to avoid either, but I'd also like to point out a roster construction flaw common to both of last night's biggest surprises that hasn't gotten a whole lot of print.  Last night's games tended to support the theory, with a special emphasis on the Clippers. That flaw? Brutally lacking big men rotations, especially compared to the majority of their contending brethren.

 • • •

"But, Aaron! Joakim Noah is one of the best centers in the NBA!"

Oh, indubitably. Note that I said "rotations", not "the top cog in their rotations." I like Noah, and for all the criticism Blake Griffin gets, he's a solid young player who's improved his skillset every year (even if his numbers haven't necessarily reflected his improvements.) Both the Clippers and the Bulls have a solid big as one of their core pieces, with the Bulls having two half-decent big-men beside Noah and the Clippers having a talented center next to Griffin. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all they've got.

Chicago's big man rotation behind Noah is better than L.A.'s, but that really isn't saying much. While Taj Gibson's defense is absolutely phenomenal, his offense hasn't developed in a meaningful way since 2011. He's a league-average finisher with no other offensive talents -- the Bulls pull him out of the paint and try to use him as a floor spacer, but he's never been particularly good at it without being gift-wrapped incredibly open shots. The other issue with Gibson is that of his off-games -- when Gibson is having a particularly offensively brutal night, he gets caught in dread frustration fouls far too often. That tends to artificially compress his minutes and keep him off the floor. And Boozer? Occasionally you get a decent offensive showing from him, and he's dependable as Chicago's best finisher. He spreads the floor a bit with his long two, but that's about it. And his defense is poor enough that on any poor offensive night he's generally indistinguishable from a below-replacement-level player.

Behind them, though? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nazr Mohammed is a 36-year-old center who's coming off an injury-plagued season where he shot 36% from the floor, including a startlingly bad 31-of-67 on layups. (LAYUPS!) His defense is still passable, but only just. And offense like that makes him virtually unplayable against any strong defensive team. You know who's behind Nazr in their big man rotation? Erik Murphy, their last-year second round pick. If the Bulls suffer any injury to Noah, Boozer, or Gibson, Murphy/Mohammed are their best bets to fill those minutes. That's a bit scary, all things considered -- for all the talk about how this year's Bulls roster is the deepest team Chicago has seen since 2011, it certainly isn't reflected in their big men. You can count on a good game from Noah, and generally get a good game from one of Gibson/Boozer. But when either of them go to the bench -- or get injured -- the Bulls have a lot of trouble. It certainly showed last night, where Mohammad and Gibson had generally crummy nights and Noah was too injured to stay on the court. It's a flaw, and it's one they'll need to address -- either through internal development (Murphy, who I don't mind) or a free agent acquisition to shore up their situation a bit. Otherwise, they may find themselves forced to overplay their three good men and cause a litany of problems.

... And despite all I just said about the Bulls, the Clippers have it far, far worse.

Just look at L.A.'s minutes distribution in last night's blowout loss to a probable lottery team missing its best player. Blake Griffin had a decent game, but he was on-court for 40 minutes in the loss. DeAndre Jordan played 35 minutes despite foul trouble -- he ended the game with 5 fouls, and a few instances where he could've been whistled and taken out of the game. Their third-best big man got 4 minutes. Their third best big man is Ryan Hollins, who should arguably be out of the league. He's their third best big man. It's either him, Antawn Jamison, or Byron Mullens -- which may very well be the worst set of three big men an NBA team has on their roster.

Given that, the Clippers had to play a decent amount of Matt Barnes-at-the-four smallball, which is fine as a change-of-pace thing but not exactly a sparkling move long-term. Barnes is an excellent wing defender who balks a bit when you ask him to guard large big men -- he's quicker than the bigs he's guarding, but that quickness advantage is roundly obfuscated by his issues with their size. When Barnes is the small-ball four, he can get taken out of the game in a way he can't when covering wings and guards. And, again -- this was in an absolute best-case-scenario game, minutes-wise. They aren't going to get 40 minutes from Blake Griffin nightly, at least if they intend to bring a healthy Blake to the playoffs. DeAndre Jordan has never averaged more than 27 minutes a night -- he played 35, and nearly fouled out. And they played 10-12 minutes with Barnes as a nominal big man.

And even then, they still had to give Ryan Hollins four minutes! He used his four minutes by missing two shots and two free throws. The Lakers outrebounded the Clippers 12-2 with Ryan Hollins on the floor. In, again, four minutes of action, mostly against Laker scrubs. I can't emphasize this enough: Ryan Hollins is a remarkably bad basketball player. The fact that he's third in their big man rotation shouldn't just be an ill omen, it should be a giant flashing neon sign emblazoned with "TROUBLE CITY." I wasn't a huge fan of L.A.'s backup bigs in 2012, but at least they had SOME potential to have defensive competency. There's no real threat of that happening with these backups, which is troubling. Last night's game was likely an outlier -- I doubt the Clippers are going to be that defensively worthless over the entire season, and DeAndre/Blake had a bad enough defensive showing late in the game that you have to assume they'll improve as time goes on. But the problems with their big man rotation aren't just a small caveat to a great team -- it's a massive concern that should stifle at least a bit of the excitement about this Clippers team. They need better backups to their core-two bigs. Either that, or they need to count on 40+ MPG from Blake Griffin and 35+ MPG from DeAndre Jordan every night. Good luck with that, Doc.

• • •

this photograph terrifies me

One last thing. I noted that these big men rotations were lacking in comparison to their contending brethren. I'd like to actually outline why that is rather than just tasking you to accept it on faith, just so that it's a bit more obvious why this is an actual problem for these teams. It's easy to default to the assumption that two or three passable bigs is a decent rotation, and most people do. But the NBA season is long, and most contenders are well-stocked in case of injury. Or, even more aptly, in case of being able to assert a competitive advantage by using a big that matches particularly well with another team. Being able to mix and match from a variety of solid big men is a huge benefit to a creative coach in a playoff series. The Bulls and Clippers lack the ability to do that, even if they go through the season completely healthy. Anyway. These are not necessarily ranked by quality, although I tried to order them in rough tiers of their entire rotation -- that's ENTIRE rotation quality, not just the top few or the bottom few.

  • MEMPHIS -- Although Zach Randolph is on the downswing, people are far too quick to overlook Memphis. Their big man rotation is still the best in the league, bar none. Their moves this offseason only served to bolster it. They start with their star, Marc Gasol, who's good for 30-35 minutes a night of DPOY-quality defense and excellent passing. Their second best big is essentially a three-way tie -- Kosta Koufos was the best-by-a-mile big on a 57 win team last season (and perhaps the most underrated acquisition by a contending team), Ed Davis is a phenomenally talented prospect who's improved every year (and should finally get minutes with Hollins out of the picture), and Zach Randolph is -- even with age -- an excellent scoring talent with bruising one-on-one defense to boot. Their fifth big is Jon Leuer, a passable floor-spacing shooter with so-so defense who'd be the 3rd best big in L.A. and a rotation player in many other teams. When it comes to big men, the Grizzlies are STACKED.
  • OKLAHOMA CITY -- "Really? Aren't they just Durant and Westbrook?" Not really. I'm rather high on Steven Adams as a prospect, and if he gets decent developmental minutes this season, he could be phenomenal come season's end. Alongside the high promise of Adams, they have: Ibaka (a all-star caliber big with excellent shooting and solid defense), Collison (a rare great pick-and-roll defender who still helps on offense), Perkins (a bruiser who, admittedly, is bollocks on the offensive end and questionably useful on defense -- that said, he'd be valuable on the Clippers or Bulls), Thabeet (who... okay, yeah, he does kind of suck), and Perry Jones (who has some promise but, again, sort of sucks.) They're raised a bit because they also have the ability to play Durant at the four, which gives them ample ways to productively fill their big man rotation so long as three of their six big men are productive. (Conversely: they're docked a bit because Scott Brooks is absolutely terrible at assigning minutes and may once again squander the interesting cast they've put together.)
  • INDIANA -- Although I'm sure Vogel would like to have a fifth big (or a better fourth, as well), the Pacers are relatively well-off with the ones they've got. Hibbert is a DPoY-quality player whose playoff performance last year should bolster Indiana's confidence that they'll essentially always be a better playoff team than regular season team. David West is David West -- you know what you're getting, and you're getting something good. Ian Mahinmi has finally developed into a competent rotation big, and his defense is quite good. I'm extremely low on Luis Scola, but even I concede that Scola is vastly preferable to a Hollins/Jamison/Mullens combo platter.
  • SAN ANTONIO -- The Spurs have the pieces to get through the regular season relatively unscathed. They've got Tim Duncan, obviously, who's coming off a 1st team all-NBA season from the center position. They've got Tiago Splitter, whose defense is underrated and who generally serves as an immensely valuable offensive player against 29 of the 30 teams in the league. (Hi, Miami!) Behind them they have Diaw and Bonner, who are both exceedingly limited players who nevertheless are useful in a regular season context. Especially Bonner, whose stand-still three is one of the most valuable regular-season-only weapons in the league. Baynes is more of a do-it-all center who's been generally above replacement level in his minutes and Ayres exists to fill in the gaps. Compound all that with Popovich's thirst for small-ball (for which the Spurs have Leonard, one of the league's best smallball fours) and the Spurs sport an excellent, versatile big man rotation that's designed to ride out injuries and keep their star big healthy.
  • GOLDEN STATE -- Due to the ever-present threat of injury, the Warriors are a bit lower than they'd be if we were assuming everyone was healthy. But their core big rotation is quite nice. Andrew Bogut is their best, and at his best, he's a transformative defensive force. He can't always be counted on to be there, but he's a phenomenal defensive player. David Lee is a transformative defensive force in the other direction -- he's astoundingly bad on that end, but his offense is all-star caliber, so he's a decent option on the whole. Beyond them, they've got a decent set of options. I'd assert that Draymond Green is their best "true" big, slotting in behind Lee as a semi-smallball four. Festus Ezeli and Jermaine O'Neal are solid options behind Bogut (although neither are really starting-quality), and the Warriors are helped by the fact that they're the most fearsome smallball team in the league when they place Barnes or Iguodala at the four. Hence, their bigs need to occupy fewer minutes than they would on rosters with few smallball options. Which is nice.
  • MIAMI -- Although Miami's strength has never been their big man rotation, they've put together a passable one. LeBron James is the obvious star here, and he's absolutely the best large forward in the league when the Heat play him there. Bosh has transformed into an honestly productive center with a good scoring touch and a solid defensive reputation, and Chris Andersen's breakout season last year rounds out a stellar top-three. Docked because LeBron doesn't play the large forward full-time, and because beyond those three, they aren't exactly rife with talent. That said, I'd take a set of five relatively unproductive but inoffensive bigs (Haslem/Anthony/Beasley/Lewis/Oden) over one questionably productive big like Nazr Mohammed or three completely awful bigs like Hollins/Jamison/Mullens -- at least with the Heat's rotation you have change-of-pace options when those players have a bad game.
  • HOUSTON -- In terms of raw quality players, Houston is a lot higher on this list, but when you look at the full rotation and try to imagine how they'll gel in a full-season context you do start to get a bit worried. Dwight and Asik are both phenomenal players, both two of the 10-or-so best starters in the league. Unfortunately, playing them alongside each other makes absolutely no sense from a spacing standpoint and their pet offensive zones essentially completely overlap each other. Dwight's mobility isn't quite as compromised as last season, but I still wouldn't feel too great about throwing him onto fours and potentially migrating him out of the paint. He does his best work in there, for sure. Behind those two, the Rockets have Greg Smith (solid, but unremarkable), Donatas Montiejunas (who had a terrible season last year and doesn't look like a dependable option), and Terrence Jones (who did not look like an NBA player last year). Which gives them a relatively bare cupboard, even if I can imagine Smith/Howard and Smith/Asik looking pretty good. Smallball is going to be the key for Houston, as Casspi and Parsons can both act as large forwards for stretches and play a sort of modified version of Orlando's 2009 offense with the ball running through Harden.

You may have noticed that Houston has similar issues to Chicago and L.A. That's why they're at the bottom here. Other contenders have other problems, and everyone has their own nettles to contend with. But the Clippers are alone in having a big man rotation consisting of exactly two NBA-quality players, and the Bulls (with three injury-prone rotation-caliber bigs, scant smallball efficacy, and stark nothing besides) don't exactly inspire a wealth of confidence either. As the season goes on, I expect both teams will start to figure it out, and they'll make acquisitions to shore up their problems. But the idea that last night's performances were an abberation of the highest order seems off to me.

Aaron McGuire on sabtwitterAaron McGuire on sabtumblrAaron McGuire on sablinkedinAaron McGuire on sabgithubAaron McGuire on sabfacebookAaron McGuire on sabemail
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

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."

Aaron McGuire on sabtwitterAaron McGuire on sabtumblrAaron McGuire on sablinkedinAaron McGuire on sabgithubAaron McGuire on sabfacebookAaron McGuire on sabemail
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

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

Matt Carroll, in the most professionally produced photo I could find of him.

Hey, all! Last week, I wrote a piece lamenting the loss of one of the league's limited lights in Corey Maggette. He retired, causing me to go back into the tape and figure out which of the NBA's journeymen had departed -- or likely departed -- the league at some point during the 2013 season. It was a lot of fun. And thanks to the beneficence of my beautiful, go-getting, blisteringly attractive editor [ED. NOTE: Thanks, me!], I've got a good opportunity here to finish it off. Or try to, anyway. There were a LOT of probable retirements last year! Which, frankly, makes sense -- the league has a churn of 40-50 rookies a year that stick around for their rookie contracts. Unless the league also loses 40-50 veterans alongside those rooks, the league would constantly be expanding. Unlike the federal debt, that's not a sustainable sports-league practice.

As I noted last time -- fans don't tend to notice when the league's journeymen vanish because they play their last game around the end of the season, 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 is 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.

• • •

JOSH CHILDRESS (100 MP, PER of 7.0, 0 starts) -- 29 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Currently, Josh Childress is on Washington's training camp squad. He's played 19 minutes (total!) in Washington's 6 preseason games. Chances are pretty low he makes the squad.

CAREER HIGH POINT: In 2008, Josh Childress had the 6th best field goal percentage in the NBA. He shot 57% from the floor, 36% from three, and 81% from the line. Although his defense was a flaming tire fire even back then, it was hard to imagine that he'd go on a downward spiral. Alas -- after getting zero contract offers he liked, Childress went overseas for more money. A lot more. Atlanta was offering him a 5-year $33 million deal -- Olympiakos offered him a 3-year contract that was scribed to give him $20 in net-income-after-taxes. That's equivalent to a $32.5 million NBA contract, and he was getting that in three years along with a signature shoe contract with Nike. Pretty easy decision, although his game proceeded to fall off a cliff and effectively end his days as a useful player.

WHY HANG IT UP? Childress has played in 38 games over the last two seasons combined. He's been unfathomably awful, buried in Phoenix behind rookies and refuse before being buried in Brooklyn behind Jerry Stackhouse, Keith Bogans, and Marshon Brooks. His shot is effectively gone and he's been besieged by injuries that have aggravated his already shaky defense. He clearly thinks he can still play, and perhaps he can. But there's scant evidence to support that conclusion.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 65%. I mean, he's in training camp -- half the battle of getting back is simply staying active and searching. But he's played so poorly since coming back from overseas that it's hard to really get excited about him, and given the NBA's general migration towards three-point heavy offenses, a pure slasher with no defensive ability and no three point shot of note doesn't tickle too many fancies.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? A late December contest where the Nets beat the Bobcats by 16. He missed a shot and had no other statistical contributions in his two minutes on the court. Hilariously, the Nets were -7 with him on the floor, which means that they outscored the Bobcats by 23 points with Childress out of the game. Whoops.

• • •

HAMED HADDADI (322 MP, PER of 10.2, 0 starts) -- 28 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Haddadi recently signed with the Sichuan Whales, taking a $1.3 million dollar contract in favor of trying to stick in training camps on minimum contracts.

CAREER HIGH POINT: Every single time he logged onto Twitter. Seriously. As I mentioned in his player capsule, Hamed Haddadi seems like a hilariously nice guy, and his twitter was always a worthy follow. He really engaged with fans and brightened people's days. Too much fun, man. Too much fun.

WHY HANG IT UP? I doubt Haddadi is going to hang it up on basketball as a whole, but I get the feeling he may never return to the NBA. Haddadi's constant problem in the NBA isn't one of skill but of conditioning -- with the exception of some injury-related malaise last season, Haddadi has always been a reasonably decent backup-or-third-string big. The problem is that the demands of the NBA's insanely long schedule requires far more minutes than his body is willing to give him. Haddadi tends to be significantly improved in foreign competition, where the athleticism gap isn't quite as jarring and the minutes demands are quite a bit less. Especially in a place like China, where foreign players are minutes-limited by league dictate.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 50%. Keep in mind this isn't a likelihood that he stays out of basketball as a whole -- I'd venture Haddadi has at least 3 or 4 years of overseas play (either Euroleague or CBA) left in him. But coming back to the NBA? Could be a tough sell, unless he absolutely obliterates all comers overseas and has a substantially impressive workout in the future.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? In a 20-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, Haddadi managed to put up an impressive 20 minutes of play. Haddadi posted 14 points and 7 rebounds on 11 shots, with two blocks and an assist besides. Pretty great last game, all things considered, if that's how his career shakes out.

• • •

MATT CARROLL (6 MP, PER of 2.9, 0 starts) -- 32 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Carroll officially retired this offseason. He's currently in the mix to become a shooting coach with the Philadelphia 76ers.

CAREER HIGH POINT: Being a part of the most hilarious trade in league history -- the 2009 classic where the Bobcats traded Ryan Hollins and Matt Carroll for DeSagana Diop. ... Okay, no, his ACTUAL high point was the 2008 season. He shot 43-44-90, played 26 minutes per game, and earned a decent contract extension from the Bobcats. He'd never average that many minutes per game again -- or match any of those shooting percentages over full seasons -- but that was the moment when his career looked rosiest.

WHY HANG IT UP? He played six minutes last season. Total. He made $3.5 million dollars last season. Total. Ergo, he made $583,000 per minute played last year before taxes. Gonna be honest -- on a per-minute rate, there's really nowhere to go but down from that one.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 95%. Again, I hate certainty, but this one seems pretty cut and dry. He's on the wrong side of 30, he's OFFICIALLY announced retirement, and he's in the mix for a coaching job.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? The game I keep referring to -- he played six minutes in a 27-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks. He accumulated no stats except for a single assist. Although his +/- in the game was -2, due to his lack of missed shots and his assist, his ORTG and DRTG for the game are a hilarious 217 and 121, respectively. Why is this superstar retiring?!

• • •

JOSH HOWARD (207 MP, PER of 9.5, 4 starts) -- 32 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Currently, Howard is trying desperately to convince teams he's good for another season. He had workouts with San Antonio and Houston in mid-September, but neither team picked him up for training camp.

CAREER HIGH POINT: In the 2007 season, Josh Howard had the performance of a lifetime in an early-season game against the Jazz. Seriously, it was a crazy game. Look at his box score. The swingman put up 47 points on just 19 shots, and snagged 10 rebounds to sweeten the pot. Added 2 assists and a block besides. Ridiculous game, and the Mavs needed it to dispatch the would-be Western Conference Finalist Utah Jazz. Howard ended up with an all-star appearance that season, but that singular game is stellar enough to stand as a high point on its lonesome.

WHY HANG IT UP? Howard hasn't had a remotely healthy season since 2008 -- five seasons ago, if you're counting. Call it injuries, call it bad luck, call it whatever the hell you want. He hasn't been good. His defense -- once one of his calling cards -- has been waning with his balky knees. With his offense in the toilet besides, it's really hard to find a spot for him on any NBA team.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 55%. He hasn't officially retired, and he's trying to convince teams that his reconstructive ACL surgery he went through this offseason wasn't a career-ending death knell. He might succeed -- after all, he's a former all-star! Who wouldn't want that?! (Answer: GMs who look at current performance over former glory. But that isn't every GM, so he certainly has a chance to make it back.)

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? Howard played a few minutes in an early-season Minnesota win over the New Orleans Hornets. He made one of his two shots, one of two free throws, and had two rebounds. Impact!

• • •

BRANDON ROY (122 MP, PER of 8.3, 5 starts) -- 29 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? /sobs

CAREER HIGH POINT: /sobbing harder

WHY HANG IT UP? WHY DOES GOD HATE BEAUTIFUL THINGS?

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: /takes long drag on a cigarette, sobs

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? /throws back shots of tequila in between sobs

• • •

HAKIM WARRICK (489 MP, PER of 11.5, 14 starts) -- 31 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Dead, like all good th -- oh, sorry, the Brandon Roy look-back is over. I can stop being like that. Hakim Warrick is not dead. I don't know where he is, as he hasn't shown up at any team's training camps and hasn't been rumored to be jockeying for a position with any either. He also hasn't shown up overseas. He made $21 million over his NBA career, which generally indicates a player that's going to fight tooth and nail to stay in the league, but there's no buzz to speak of.

CAREER HIGH POINT: His sophomore season, where Warrick averaged 13-5 (which was 17-7 per 36). His defense sucked -- a lot -- but like most freshmen and sophomores, it was considered something that Warrick could work on as time went on. Not so, as it turned out -- he'd never get better on that end and it would end up eradicating his usefulness as a player.

WHY HANG IT UP? Well, as I said before -- Warrick is a godawful defensive player, one of the league's true innovators in new ways to completely ignore defensive assignments. His athleticism on offense was neat, and he's a passable at-rim finisher if a good point guard sets him up. But his complete inability to do anything useful on the defensive end is a huge detriment for a big man, and his offensive talent is waning with age. Combine that with a rebounding deficiency and you've got a formula for a player that really isn't very valuable anymore.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 65%. He's only 31, which isn't THAT old for an NBA player. That said, he's fallen far since his "Amare Replacement" signing in Phoenix a few years back. And the complete lack of buzz around him leads me to believe he might not be trying all that hard to get back in the game. If you aren't trying, you aren't getting back.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS FINAL GAME? A 27-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Warrick had three made shots -- all long two pointers -- and two rebounds for a 6-2 line in 5 minutes of play. Not bad.

• • •

EDDY CURRY (25 MP, PER of -0.2, 0 starts) -- 31 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? No idea. No word that he's trying to stick in training camp this year -- he hasn't shown up with any of the usual suspects. This was probably precipitated by the fact that he played two games last year and performed about as poorly as humanly possible in both of them, but still.

CAREER HIGH POINT: May not be particularly fair, but Curry's real high point is probably his status as an eternal punchline. Some players are immortal because of their play, others are immortal because of their lack thereof. Curry's in that second group, and NBA fans have to admit, it'll be a very long time before anyone forgets Eddy Curry. (Especially Knicks fans.)

WHY HANG IT UP? Eddy Curry has had ample opportunities to stay in the league. He got a more-than-fair training camp chance last season with the San Antonio Spurs, and stuck around the Dallas Mavericks during a period of intense Dirkness (YUK YUK YU--/gets shot) where they desperately needed healthy big men. He spent an entire season with Miami jockeying for playing time and actually won a ring. Sometimes you run out of chances. Feels like we've hit that point with the big guy.

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 80%. Normally I'd assess it far less likely for a 31 year old former lottery pick, but Curry's a very special case. He's burned through way too many chances the last few years that most minutes-hungry big men would die for, and it's hard to picture any other contender in the league giving him a shot when last year's two NBA finalists have both rejected him in the last year. And why would a developing team risk it? Just doesn't make sense.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS LAST GAME? A 19 point loss to the Utah Jazz. In retrospect, this loss was actually marginally important -- if it had flipped the other way, the Mavs would've leaped Utah in the standings and ended the year 3 games out of the 8th seed instead of 4 games. Still. Curry had 2 points, 2 turnovers, and 3 fouls in eight awful minutes. He also missed two free throws, which is sort of impressive.

• • •

GRANT HILL (437 MP, PER of 4.8, 0 starts) -- 41 YEARS OLD

WHERE IS HE NOW? Hill was recently announced as the new host of a revived 1990s NBA-style show, titled "NBA Inside Stuff." Kind of awesome, really.

CAREER HIGH POINT: His Detroit years, without a doubt. Grant Hill was a legitimate superstar in Detroit -- the man is eighth all-time on the NBA triple double leaderboard, and he hasn't had a single one since leaving Detroit. His career averages with the Pistons? 22-8-6, on 47% shooting and 75% behind the line. Hill was a star in Detroit. A stand-out everywhere, but a star there.

WHY HANG IT UP? He's 40-years-old, and he's finally lost the ability to contribute to an NBA team. He had a great run with Phoenix as his body got right and he finally escaped the injury bug that had haunted his career up 'til that point, but all great runs come to an end -- last season was Hill's least healthy season in ages, and his poor health depleted his already aging game. His defense was too slow to matter, his offense was crummy, and his injuries were painful. Why come back?

LIKELIHOOD HE STAYS OUT: 100%. Like Jason Kidd, I just don't see it -- he has his dream post-NBA job, he's on-the-record stated that he's retired, and he's unfathomably old for an NBA player. He's just not coming back, barring something insane.

IF HE'S GONE, WHAT WAS HIS LAST GAME? At least he got to hang it up in the playoffs. Grant Hill played 20 minutes in the last game of last year's Clippers/Grizzlies series, putting up 4 points, 4 boards, 2 assists, and 5 fouls in the Memphis clincher. That was an above-average game for him last year, which is sad, but at least it's a semi-high note.

• • •

There are a handful more I could discuss, so I might continue this next week right before the season starts with a final set. Even if I don't, at some point early in the year I intend to go over the odds on some players who will probably retire this year. Watch out for that. If there's one thing you love, it's ruminations on creaky old journeymen you haven't thought about in years!

Gothic Ginobili: We Know You.

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Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

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.

Alex Dewey
The co-founder of the blog, Alex is an unemployed jack of all trades, if you redefine "all trades" to mean "computer science, not owning a car, and mathematics." Writes ace book reviews as well as disturbing Lovecraftian horrors. Has a strange sense of humor that's part Posnanski, part coyote, and part Butta. "See you space cowboy."

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.

Aaron McGuire on sabtwitterAaron McGuire on sabtumblrAaron McGuire on sablinkedinAaron McGuire on sabgithubAaron McGuire on sabfacebookAaron McGuire on sabemail
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Duncan vows to follow Hrothgar's path from Beowulf to Widsith

Tim "Hrothgar" Duncan (Photograph by Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)

SAN ANTONIO -- After concluding the first practice of the season, San Antonio's former MVP Tim Duncan wanted to communicate a heartfelt promise to all his fans: "No matter what happens this season, know this -- I am absolutely dedicated to following King Hrothgar's path from the pages of Beowulf to the lines of Widsith. Nothing anyone says is going to stop me."

After uncharacteristic confusion among the gathered journalists, Duncan walked into another room and rolled out a whiteboard. "Okay. Look. Beowulf was an old English epic poem written somewhere between the 8th and 11th century. It tells of Beowulf, a storied hero of the Scandinavian Geats. Hrothgar was the lord of the Danes, his mead hall besieged by the wicked Grendel. I don't want to spoil the end of it for those who haven't read it yet, but it's quite the tale."

Duncan paused. "Anyway. Hrothgar was a character in need of assistance in the pages of Beowulf, what with Grendel attacking his mead hall and preventing the Danes from drinking in peace. In Widsith, Hrothgar is revealed to have played a key role in a war between Hroðulf and the Heaðobards Froda and Ingeld. Hrothgar allies with fellow Scylding Hroðulf, turning the tide of battle and brokering a peace that would last generations. Although the exact dates of writing are unclear, scholars have established that Widsith was scribed in the 10th century -- thus, if we assume equal likelihood of Beowulf's being scribed in each century from 8th to 11th, there's a 75% chance that it came before Widsith, making it a possible progressing tale of Hrothgar's evolution as a monarch."

"Come on, guys. It's simple math."

Pressed in follow-up questions regarding his choice of metaphor, Duncan expanded. "I know a lot of people would try to glam onto the hip and popular Geat heroes like Beowulf or King Gizer rather than the complex story of King Hrothgar. I'm not Beowulf, though. I'm clearly more of a Hrothgar. The resemblance is pretty clear, even before I enact my personal Widsith. I don't know anyone who'd say otherwise." At this, Duncan called out 22-year-old wing Kawhi Leonard, asking San Antonio's youngest central player for his thoughts on who Duncan best resembled.

Leonard thought for a moment. "Tim Duncan."

Continuing on, Duncan explained that last season's crushing finals loss was -- in his eyes -- equivalent to the pain Hrothgar felt at Grendel's vicious recurring attacks on his expensive mead hall. Although Duncan noted that there was significantly less loss of life in the 6th game of the 2013 NBA Finals, he felt that his reaction to Chris Bosh's unlikely rebound struck him as "essentially the same thing" as Hrothgar's torment at Grendel's murder of hordes of Danish warriors as they slept. Duncan vowed to amend these wrongs in the upcoming season, promising to broker a more enjoyable end to the season that mirrors Hrothgar's repulsion of the vicious Ingeld with a bow hewn of his own spear.

Duncan readily admitted that his comparison was not without its flaws. In particular, Duncan struggled in determining who exactly represented Grendel, Beowulf, and Hroðulf in the professional basketball league that framed his analogy. Duncan also noted that his height -- 7'0" -- was "probably very unrepresentative" of a Danish King in the middle ages. "Back in the 9th century, the average height was something like 5'8" -- ironically, people were taller than the average height during the renaissance, but they still weren't as tall as we are today. It certainly isn't impossible that a Danish king was my height, but it's definitely a bit of a 'stretch.' Heh."

At press time, Gregg Popovich could not be reached for comment.

• • •

Did this tweet REALLY generate this entire post? Yes, dear reader. Yes it did.

Aaron McGuire on sabtwitterAaron McGuire on sabtumblrAaron McGuire on sablinkedinAaron McGuire on sabgithubAaron McGuire on sabfacebookAaron McGuire on sabemail
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

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)

Aaron McGuire on sabtwitterAaron McGuire on sabtumblrAaron McGuire on sablinkedinAaron McGuire on sabgithubAaron McGuire on sabfacebookAaron McGuire on sabemail
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.
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