Which Positions Teams Valued Most in the 2014 NFL Draft

The first pick of this year’s NFL Draft, Jadeveon Clowney, is a defensive end, and his selection marks the first time since 2006 that a defensive player was taken No. 1 overall. But does that mean teams put more emphasis on defensive prospects as a whole this year? And while we’re at it, how much did they invest in each position?We can begin to answer these questions by looking at how many Jimmy Johnson draft-value-chart points teams devoted to each position (3,000 points for the top pick, 2,600 for the second, etc.). “The Chart,” as it’s affectionately known in NFL circles, isn’t a very good gauge of the relative value of each draft spot, but that’s mainly because NFL general managers tend to overvalue the right to pick early. Research on draft-day trades has shown The Chart does a great job of describing how valuable teams perceive each slot to be, which is a more relevant shade of meaning for our questions anyway.As it turns out, while Clowney and the 3,000 draft points the Houston Texans spent on him were a feather in the cap for defense, teams spent the majority of their draft points on the other side of the ball this year. Specifically, they used 52.9 percent of points on players listed at offensive positions, 47.1 percent on defenders and 0.03 percent (21.1 draft points) on punters and kickers.How do those proportions compare to other drafts? Well, last year, the numbers were flipped: 52.2 percent of draft points were devoted to defense, 47.6 to offense and 0.2 percent to specialists. The long-term tendency, though, is somewhere in between. Over the last 10 years’ worth of drafts, the average NFL team spent 50.3 percent of its draft points on offense, 49.3 on defense and 0.3 percent on special teamers. Here’s what that looks like graphically:Positionally, you might think this was a big year for defensive linemen, given Clowney’s top billing. But overall, defensive linemen received only 17.7 percent of all draft points, 3 percent below the position’s overall 2004 to 2014 average of 20.7 percent. (Meanwhile, their counterparts on the offensive line were up 3.4 percentage points to 20.5 percent.) Quarterbacks were also down 1.8 percent compared to their long-term average, and running backs had a 3.9 percent shortfall. The big winners of this year’s draft, then, appear to be pass-catchers: Teams spent 3.5 percent more on wide receivers and 1.3 percent more on tight ends than those positions’ usual distribution.Here’s the summary of the percentage of draft points spent on each position over the last 10 years of drafts:These long-term percentages can also give us an idea of how general managers tend to value positions relative to one another, but we need to adjust for how many players in each position are typically on the field at any given time — something we can do thanks to Pro Football Focus’s snap counts. Armed with that data, I computed an “index” of how important teams seem to consider a given position (given the amount of draft investment in it) relative to the average player on the same side of the ball.Teams spent 15.2 percent of their points on running backs over the past decade, despite running backs only making up, on average, 1.3 of the 11 offensive players (11.8 percent) on the field for any given snap. Running backs have an index of 128, then — meaning teams used 28 percent more draft points on them than we’d expect.This metric is far from perfect — the draft is a fundamentally forward-looking endeavor, while the snap counts are retrospective and track an entirely different set of players — but it provides a good reference point when comparing this year’s draft to the long-term valuation of each position. read more

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The Scouts And Stats Agree Kris Bryant Is Going To Be Dope

David Wright2.0.83549.7 PLAYERAVERAGE PROSPECT RANKPROJECTED OPSCAREER WAR Matt Wieters1.1.94113.6 Kris Bryant1.7.881— The names on this list combine for three MVP awards, 34 All-Star appearances and 273.2 wins above replacement3Baseball-Reference.com version. (a statistic that measures the overall value of a player, combining his hitting, baserunning and defense). Bryant’s predicted OPS, relative to the league average, is higher than the comparable projections for all the players on the list before they entered the league.Several of the above players are potential Hall of Famers (Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Joe Mauer), while others have been merely very good (Jose Reyes, Jay Bruce). Notably, there’s not a true bust among them. Melvin Upton (formerly B. J.) isn’t a good hitter anymore, but he was excellent for the first six years of his career (just less than the seven years for which the Cubs will control Bryant).A few of these players (such as Profar and Wieters) have fallen victim to injuries. This is the kind of problem that can end the career of any young player, no matter how bright his future might be. But Bryant has yet to suffer any serious injuries, whether in the minors or in college before that.4Whereas both Profar and Wieters lost time in the minors due to injury. To the extent that players can be injury prone, Bryant has so far shown no such inclination.Bryant has won the acclaim of both the projections and the scouts. Rarely are the two in such resounding agreement. He is likely to be great, and while it may be too soon to be planning a parade, it’s not too early to begin envisioning a long period of Cubs offensive dominance led by Kris Bryant. Jay Bruce1.1.84914.3 Evan Longoria2.6.79940.0 Miguel Cabrera2.0.76259.4 Even the messiah can strike out three times on his first day in the majors. Last Friday, Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ anointed savior, was called up from the minors after weeks of debate about whether he should’ve just started the season in the majors. There is an aura of myth to Bryant’s arrival, as though the stars have aligned to offer the Cubs a chance to fulfill a prophecy. Yet Bryant is still an untested prospect, and, as Cubs fans know too well, even the best prospects can fail to live up to expectations.But Bryant really is special — he’s the rare prospect that has both scouts and stats in complete agreement. Because of the unique intersection of scouting know-how and minor league data, Bryant is likely to match the hype.Let’s start with the stats. In this case, all we have to go by are projection systems, which take the minor league data of previous prospects and compare it with their MLB results to predict what up-and-coming players will accomplish. That’s no easy task — the minor league data is sparse, and performance is confounded by the effects of the league and the age differences between players.In Bryant’s case, however, the projections are so high that there is little room for doubt. No matter whether you look at FanGraphs’ Steamer (.260/.333/.498) or Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA (.265/.356/.525), all the algorithms are in agreement in their preseason projections: Bryant is going to be a fantastic hitter.1This kind of agreement among separate systems often means greater certainty in the resulting prediction. ESPN’s Dan Szymborski, who runs another algorithm called ZiPS, tweeted that Bryant’s is the best prediction he’s ever given to a prospect.There’s no mystery as to how Bryant arrived at these projections — the guy hit between 60 percent and 120 percent better than average while in the minors, depending on the level. Still, Bryant’s projection is so extreme that at one point, the developers who run the projection systems became worried. In a mid-winter Twitter consultation, baseball projection system developers compared Bryant’s projections to make sure that they weren’t out of line. There was consensus: All of their independently developed algorithms were giving Bryant one of the top hitting lines in the majors.Even so, not all prospects hit as well as their projections say they should. The computers, operating solely on minor league performance, can fail to notice fatal flaws in a hitter’s swing, flaws that can be exploited ruthlessly at the major league level. That’s partly why projection systems aren’t as good as scouts at predicting how prospects will perform in the major leagues. So, despite their depiction in “Moneyball,” scouts are an integral part of evaluating baseball players, and that goes double for prospects.Scouts look at the shape of a hitter’s swing, if he can generate power, and how easily he adapts to a pitcher’s shifting tactics. Bryant’s ludicrous numbers in the minors were no guarantee that the scouts would love the tools he used to achieve those numbers.The scouts are every bit as high on Bryant as the projections. He was ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball for 2015 by venerable scouting organization Baseball America. FanGraphs also put him at No. 1, Baseball Prospectus put him at No. 5, and a host of others ranked him similarly. All publications praised his rare, top-notch, seemingly effortless power. As with the projection systems, a consensus quickly developed, and that consensus proclaimed Bryant the best prospect in baseball.The highest-rated prospects of the past 25 years have tended to become great major leaguers — on average. Yet there are some notable busts, players who the scouts thought were destined for greatness but who ended up falling short. Orioles outfielder Delmon Young, for example, consistently rated among the best prospects in baseball four years in a row, only to turn in a disappointing, journeyman career. Projection systems aren’t immune to mistakes, either. Once upon a time, Eduardo Nunez was PECOTA’s favorite, but he’s since become better-known for hitting a preponderance of popups. There’s no foolproof way to tell how a player will develop or respond to the challenges of the major leagues.Independently, then, each source has its share of errors. Often, the scouts will disagree with the predictions, or vice versa. Scouts might see future potential that never manifests in the majors. Or PECOTA will fail to consider a player’s unfixable weakness against major league competition.But Bryant has the approval of both stats and scouts, which is why he’s so special. Using data on historical prospect rankings2Which are generously provided by Chris St. John. and PECOTA projections going back to 2004, I looked for players who received comparable acclaim from both PECOTA and the scouts. Here is a complete list of the players in my data set who received a consensus prospect ranking better than fifth and a PECOTA-projected OPS greater than the projected league average. Jurickson Profar1.7.678-0.1 Joe Mauer2.2.82346.3 B. J. Upton3.0.78013.8 Jose Reyes2.0.72336.2 read more

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Mike Woodson Knicks Plan To Match Jeremy Lin Offer

A source close to Lin who spoke with ESPNNewYork.com was somewhat surprised the Knicks didn’t offer a contract right away, but knew Lin wouldn’t be leaving New York. The source believed the Knicks would match any offer because of his value to the organization on and off the court in business growth. In 35 games during the regular season, Lin averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists per game. When Lin was leading the team to a 6-1 stretch in mid-March right after Woodson took over for Mike D’Antoni, five players (including Lin) were scoring in double figures, and the Knicks were averaging 100.9 points per game and holding opponents to only 86.9. Mike Woodson New York Knicks’ coach, knows he needs players to win. So it was no surprise that he said emphatically that the team would “absolutely” match the Houston Rockets four-year, $28.8 million offer sheet for point guard Jeremy Lin. Woodson said he may use Lin and Kidd together at times in the backcourt, so Prigioni could get some solid minutes with the second unit. A report surfaced Wednesday from the New York Daily News that Lin was upset the Knicks didn’t offer him a new contract before the Rockets came calling. But Lin went on to tweet, “Lol why do u guys believe everything? No quotes from me = probably not true.” Woodson said he didn’t blink at all when the Rockets made their official pitch last week. “Never once,” he told a small group of reporters in Las Vegas where the Knicks are participating in summer league. “Jeremy Lin has always been a big part of what we’re trying to do as we move forward with our franchise.”This wasn’t the first time Woodson used the word “absolutely” when asked whether Lin would return to New York. He mentioned it at season’s end after their first-round playoff exit to the Miami Heat, saying the “future’s very bright for him.” Woodson said the Knicks probably will sign Jason Kidd to their mid-level exception of $3.09 million on Thursday. Woodson said Kidd will be “a perfect fit” for Lin. In addition to Prigioni’s proven success playing for club teams in Argentina and Europe, where he was a top passer and defender, Bass said the Knicks felt like he was young enough with no major injuries to help the team. Prigioni will serve as a backup to Lin — once the Knicks match the Rockets’ offer sheet for four years, $28.8 million — and Kidd, who’s yet to sign. Kidd’s deal will likely be at the mid-level exception for $3.09 million. “Jason’s a veteran guy that brings leadership,” he said. “He’ll be able to tutor (Lin) as he grows as a point guard for our franchise. And Jason can still play and run a ballclub, so that’s important I think as we move forward and get ready for (training) camp and start the upcoming season.”On Wednesday, the Knicks finalized a one-year contract with Argentinian point guard Pablo Prigioni for the rookie’s minimum, according to a source.Prigioni’s agent, George Bass, said his client had been on Knicks GM Glen Grunwald’s radar for about five years. Grunwald  and the team’s front office met with Prigioni a few weeks ago in New York, where he’ll be playing in the NBA for the first time as a 35-year-old. Bass said Prigioni is a pass-first point guard like Kidd and will do a great job mentoring Lin. read more

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Aqib Talib Keeps the Patriots Unbeaten with Superior Defense

The Patriots held on to beat the Falcons 30-23 and remaining unbeaten, after Aqib Talib denies a final touchdown attempt in Sunday’s game at the Georgia Dome.The Falcons were making a phenomenal comeback late in the game, bringing a 30-13 Patriot lead to within one touchdown. With the Falcons down by seven points in the closing seconds of the game, Aqib Talib stopped the Falcons’ charge by breaking up a fourth-down pass from Matt Ryan in the end zone, sealing the 30-23 win for the Patriots.Talib’s last minute defensive play got the team hyped, but not as hyped as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.“Aqib’s played great for us all year, all the way back to the spring training camp,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s stepped up in every game, played well, played the ball well, played against good receivers, and he’s tackled well, he’s covered well, he’s done a good job for us.”Check out the the pic below. read more

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Why Does Maria Sharapova Make More in Endorsements Than

Credit: CNNIn case you missed it, Serena Williams won her 20th singles Grand Slam title over the weekend at the French Open, a feat that adds to her legacy as the most dominant athlete on the planet. No one—male or female, team sport or individual sport—can claim the sustained success she has over her remarkable career.In a world where athletic accomplishment is layered with corporate piggy-backing, it is a little more than curious that Williams is not the reigning women’s tennis endorsement darling.That title goes to none other than Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis star who has not had nearly the amount of success as Serena, and yet last year made twice as much money in endorsements.Let’s break it down to try to figure this out: Serena is beautiful, with a glowing dark brown complexion and a beautiful smile. She’s physically fit. She’s smart and engaging and, some diva moments notwithstanding, is as likable as you can get. And she has 33 major titles, including the 13 doubles Grand Slam championships she earned with big sister Venus.Serena would seem a corporation’s ideal representative.Meanwhile, Sharapova is attractive in her own right—tall, thin and blonde. She’s had her diva moments, too, but comes across as a pleasant person overall. She has five Grand Slam titles, which is four times less than Serena Williams.Williams’ career WTA earnings: $69,528,369—almost double that of No. 2 Sharapova at $35,059,407.But, according to Forbes, Sharapova made $22 million off the court last year compared to Williams’ $11 million.Surely, Serena Williams is not complaining— $11 million is quite a purse. But the disparity points to racial profiling and the warped definition of beauty that pushes companies to their decisions on representatives.When comparing the two players, it’s hard to fathom that a bias based on race has not come into play. When Magic Johnson was the best player in the NBA, Larry Bird did not lead the league in endorsements.When Sugar Ray Leonard was boxing’s best, Gerry Cooney did not get the biggest endorsements. When Tiger Woods, pre-divorce, was dominating golf, Phil Mickelson did not top the endorsements leaderboard.So why is Serena Williams trailing in this area when she’s not only the best woman’s tennis player, but the most dominant athlete, regardless of sport?Head-to-head, Serena Williams, 33, has beaten Sharapova 17 of 19 times. Her sister, Venus, has more Grand Slam titles than Sharapova with seven.Further, Williams’ story of growing up in troubled Compton, Calif. learning the game from her father on tattered tennis courts, coming behind her sister who had dominated the game before her, losing an older sister to murder, battling racists who booed her during a match in California, is the kind of redemption and overcoming-the-odds logline that could be considered fairy tale if it were not really her life.Photo by USA Today SportsIn the end, though, it comes down to the perception of race and beauty. Around the world, the negative propaganda machines about who Black people are still resonates with many, even in this advanced time of other-worldly technology.It is that technology also that streams worldwide via social media many of the ridiculous behaviors and acts that taint the African-American community. Sadly, to many, those images are more believable and influential than the goodwill and humanity that overwhelmingly represents who Black people are.So, the corporate bias takes into account what their customers consider safe and beautiful and make their calls with that in mind.On beauty, the perception that Black is beautiful is stronger than ever among Blacks. The horrid killings of Black males at the hands of law officers have, to some extent, forced the community to look at itself and recognize the value of Black life. In doing so, the recognition that Black is beautiful has come with it.But not everywhere, apparently. Black women have adorned mainstream magazine covers and non-Black women have turned to making cosmetic changes to their lips and hips to resemble African-American beauty.Still, when it comes to Serena Williams—a strong-bodied, dark-skinned woman who has taken stances on racial issues—against the ubiquitous global perception of beauty—thin, blonde hair, blue eyes—Sharapova wins.No one is feeling sorry that Serena Williams earned half of what Sharapova made in endorsements last year. But it speaks to a sorry state of perception on beauty and likability. read more

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How FiveThirtyEight Is Forecasting The 2016 NCAA Tournament

UPDATE (6:30 p.m. March 18): We’ve updated this post to add information about the excitement index. PittsburghEast10178782.31.20.1 ArizonaSouth6195389.06.01.8 TEAMREGIONSEEDELOCOMPOSITEFINAL 4CHAMPS Virginia CommonwealthWest10179883.12.20.2 ColoradoSouth8175681.50.4<0.1 Florida Gulf CoastEast16154471.4<0.1<0.1 Michigan StateMidwest2207891.833.98.9 TempleSouth10173078.50.2<0.1 SyracuseMidwest10177282.71.30.1 Stony BrookEast13166377.10.1<0.1 TexasWest6178884.75.90.9 BaylorWest5183785.56.01.0 HawaiiSouth13173778.0<0.1<0.1 Texas A&MWest3191586.812.42.4 OregonWest1203388.022.62.6 IowaSouth7190485.93.20.6 KentuckyEast4201490.715.94.4 MarylandSouth5187687.46.31.3 IndianaEast5193887.45.81.1 TulsaEast11169079.90.2<0.1 GonzagaMidwest11191686.03.20.5 SouthernWest16139268.0<0.1<0.1 Miami (FL)South3193387.14.91.0 UtahMidwest3188786.65.30.8 Wichita StateSouth11189386.62.70.7 CaliforniaSouth4187186.54.00.7 Middle TennesseeMidwest15163875.0<0.1<0.1 Cal State BakersfieldWest15163575.00.1<0.1 RATINGSPROBABILITY OF… ButlerMidwest9181584.22.50.3 ProvidenceEast9182482.50.80.1 ConnecticutSouth9187285.32.10.3 Arkansas-Little RockMidwest12173478.90.2<0.1 Stephen F. AustinEast14182481.00.4<0.1 CincinnatiWest9179483.73.20.3 Notre DameEast6183284.42.60.3 Southern CaliforniaEast8173381.40.2<0.1 VillanovaSouth2204591.322.46.4 PurdueMidwest5193888.713.02.7 DukeWest4191087.312.11.7 OklahomaWest2197290.032.06.8 Note, however, that Elo is still just one of six computer rankings that we use for the men’s tournament. The other five are ESPN’s BPI, Jeff Sagarin’s “predictor” ratings, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Joel Sokol’s LRMC ratings, and Sonny Moore’s computer power ratings. In addition, we use two human-generated rating systems: the selection committee’s 68-team “S-Curve”, and a composite of preseason ratings from coaches and media polls. The eight systems — six computer-generated and two human-generated — are weighted equally in coming up with a team’s overall rating.We’ve calculated Elo ratings for men’s teams only. For women’s ratings, we rely on the same composite of ratings systems that we used last year. You can find more about the methodology for our women’s forecasts here.As has been the case previously, our ratings are also adjusted for travel distance and (for men’s teams only) player injuries. Our injury adjustment has been slightly improved to account for the higher or lower caliber of replacement players on different teams: Stony Brook, for example, won’t be able to replace a star player as easily as Kentucky can.As a final reminder, these forecasts are probabilistic — something especially important to consider in the men’s tournament this year when there’s about as much parity among teams as we’ve ever seen. In some sense, every team but the UConn women should be thought of as underdogs to win the tournament this year.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 March Madness Predictions. Oregon StateWest7174077.60.2<0.1 Fairleigh DickinsonEast16141766.7<0.1<0.1 HamptonMidwest16148868.6<0.1<0.1 Texas TechMidwest8177781.30.4<0.1 YaleWest12179280.21.0<0.1 Saint Joseph’sWest8181481.61.10.1 Fresno StateMidwest14170876.6<0.1<0.1 DaytonMidwest7178882.41.60.1 North CarolinaEast1207593.943.615.0 North Carolina-AshevilleSouth15155374.2<0.1<0.1 North Carolina-WilmingtonWest13172277.70.2<0.1 XavierEast2197387.79.91.8 Austin PeaySouth16147768.8<0.1<0.1 Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s forecasts of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. We’ve been issuing probabilistic March Madness forecasts in some form since 2011, when FiveThirtyEight was just a couple of us writing for The New York Times. While the basics of the system remain the same, we unveil a couple of new wrinkles each year.Last season, we issued forecasts of the women’s tournament for the first time. Our big change for this year is that we won’t just be updating our forecasts at the end of each game — but also in real time. If a No. 2 seed is losing to a No. 15 seed, you’ll be able to see how that could affect the rest of the bracket, even before the game is over.Live win probabilitiesOur interactive graphic will include a dashboard that shows the score and time remaining in every game as it’s played, as well as the chance that each team will win that game. These probabilities are derived using logistic regression analysis, which lets us plug the current state of a game into a model to produce the probability that either team wins the game. Specifically, we used play-by-play data from the past five seasons of Division I NCAA basketball to fit a model that incorporates:Time remaining in the gameScore differencePre-game win probabilitiesWhich team has possession, with a special adjustment if the team is shooting free throws.These in-game win probabilities won’t account for everything. If a key player has fouled out of a game, for example, his or her team’s win probability is probably a bit lower than we’ve listed. There are also a few places where the model experiences momentary uncertainty: In the handful of seconds between the moment when a player is fouled and the free throws that follow, we use the team’s average free-throw percentage. Still, these probabilities ought to do a reasonably good job of showing which games are competitive and which are in the bag.We built a separate in-game probability model for the women’s tournament that works in exactly the same way but uses historical women’s data. Thus, we’ll be updating our forecasts live for both the men’s and women’s tournament.Excitement indexOur March Madness “excitement index” (loosely based on Brian Burke’s NFL work) is a measure of how much each team’s chances of winning changed over the course of the game and is a good reference for picking the best games to flip to.The calculation is simple: It’s the average change in win probability per basket scored, weighted by the amount of time remaining in the game. This means that a late-game basket has more influence on a game’s rating than a basket near the beginning of the game. We give additional weight to changes in win probability in overtime. Ratings range from 0 to 10, except in extreme cases where they can exceed 10.The index isn’t perfect — this year’s play-in game between Holy Cross and Southern was good, but perhaps not deserving of its 9.4 rating. But even if it doesn’t quite capture the difference between a closely contested slog and a Dunk City run to the Sweet 16, it does a nice job of quantifying how tight a game was and how many big shots were hit.Elo ratingsOtherwise, the methodology for our men’s forecasts is also largely the same as last year. But we’ve developed our own computer rating system — Elo — which we include along with the five computer rankings and two human rankings we used previously.If you’ve followed FiveThirtyEight, you’ll know that we’re big fans of Elo ratings, which we’ve introduced for the NBA, the NFL and other sports. We’ve now applied them for men’s college basketball teams dating back to the 1950s, using game data from ESPN, Sports-Reference.com and other sources.Our methodology for calculating these Elo ratings is highly similar to the one we use for NBA. They rely on relatively simple information — specifically, the final score, home-court advantage, and the location of each game. (College basketball teams perform significantly worse when they travel a long distance to play a game.) They also account for a team’s conference — at the beginning of each season, a team’s Elo rating is regressed toward the mean of other schools in its conference — and whether the game was an NCAA Tournament game. We’ve found that historically, there are actually fewer upsets in the NCAA Tournament than you’d expect from the difference in teams’ Elo ratings, perhaps because the games are played under better and fairer conditions in the tournament than in the regular season. Our Elo ratings account for this and also weight tournament games slightly higher than regular season ones.Elo ratings for the 68 teams to qualify for the men’s tournament follow below. West VirginiaEast3195689.316.23.4 ChattanoogaEast12161076.6<0.1<0.1 Weber StateEast15162373.3<0.1<0.1 VirginiaMidwest1205292.530.49.8 IonaMidwest13175978.20.1<0.1 MichiganEast11176879.60.3<0.1 Seton HallMidwest6191484.51.80.2 Iowa StateMidwest4186786.56.41.0 South Dakota StateSouth12173578.60.2<0.1 Holy CrossWest16142066.9<0.1<0.1 KansasSouth1209794.545.1%19.1% BuffaloSouth14161375.7<0.1<0.1 Green BayWest14166776.20.1<0.1 WisconsinEast7189684.82.90.4 VanderbiltSouth11184685.62.40.5 2016 NCAA Tournament team ratings Northern IowaWest11175180.20.8<0.1 read more

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The Pistons Trade For Blake Griffin Was A Desperate Move — And

As if the Clippers weren’t an easy enough target already, as one of the worst franchises in the history of North American professional sports, instances like Monday night happen and drive the point home even further.A quick recap, in case you missed it: The Clips swung a blockbuster trade, sending five-time All-Star Blake Griffin and spare pieces to the Detroit Pistons — all this just seven months after Los Angeles put on an elaborate free-agency pitch for Griffin, complete with a mock ceremony in which the team pumped in noise and lifted a banner into the arena rafters to simulate retiring his jersey.The optics of this are embarrassing for Los Angeles, a franchise that’s already overfed its fans with humiliation. Still, as cringeworthy as the change of direction seems, the Pistons could be the ones left with egg on their face as the deal all but puts a hard ceiling on the development of this club, which also gave up what could end up being a valuable first-round pick1Pistons fans know all too well from the last two drafts how painful it is to barely miss on star talent. Aside from watching their team take Luke Kennard over budding Utah star Donovan Mitchell, they also saw Detroit take Stanley Johnson over Devin Booker..Depending on who you ask, the Pistons look either smart or desperate here. If you buy into the notion that this move was smart for them, it’s because you believe Griffin is still one of the 10-to-15 biggest stars in the league, and that the 28-year-old has simply been hindered by fluke injuries in recent seasons. If you feel it reeks of desperation, it’s because you see the writing on the wall: That the Pistons have lost eight in a row, and that Stan Van Gundy, one of the few men in the NBA who holds a dual title as both coach and team president, may need a playoff run to justify holding onto both of those jobs.In any case, this certainly qualifies as a shakeup, and it’s undoubtedly one that could quickly reap benefits. Griffin brings a playmaking ability that the Pistons lacked badly prior to the deal.On paper, Detroit’s offense — at 21st in the league out of 30 — is bad, but not awful (Van Gundy, without injured starting point guard Reggie Jackson for the past month, has in turn given speedy backup Ish Smith an unthinkable 30 minutes per game). But a deep dive, both statistically and on film, shows how much of a challenge it can be for the Pistons to score; particularly in half-court scenarios, where they’re forced to grind things out. They rank 29th out of 30 in average length of possession in half-court offense after surrendering a made shot and are almost just as bad — 27th out of 30 — in efficiency following an opponent score, according to advanced stats site Inpredictable.Van Gundy and his assistants revamped the Pistons’ offense before the season to include more handoffs and ball movement, a strategy that might have gone overboard at times, given who the recipients were. Detroit sometimes looked as if it was bending over backwards to create shots for Avery Bradley by running dozens of off-ball screens for him — the most in the NBA, at 51.5 per 100 possessions, per Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats — even though he’s been below average as a shooter this year.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/avery.mp400:0000:0000:46Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.In trading both Bradley and Tobias Harris, who’s in the middle of a career year and leads Detroit in scoring, the Pistons might need a while to figure out the pecking order with the remaining roster — particularly among their younger wing players like Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard. With Jackson still out, Griffin will be called upon to handle the ball a ton, meaning it will likely be out of the hands of Andre Drummond a bit more, despite him having nearly quadrupled his assist rate this season.That dynamic between Griffin and Drummond is the enormous bet here; one that resembles a less versatile version of what the Pelicans decided they’d do last season when trading for DeMarcus Cousins to pair him with Anthony Davis. One where a club’s two best players are both big men, despite the league having moved in a direction that favors smaller, quicker teams.The gamble, though, is less a matter of tactics and more of sheer cost. By the 2019-20 season, Griffin and Drummond alone will cost more than $61 million in salary. To give that context, as of right now, that would make the Griffin-Drummond duo just one of five NBA pairings that exceeds the $60 million mark2A number of other teams like Golden State, Houston, New Orleans, Minnesota and San Antonio figure to join that list in the near future, assuming their All-Stars (Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kawhi Leonard) stay put and sign the sorts of big-money deals they’re eligible for. in combined salary during that season, according to ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks. Looking at the others — Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal; Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams; Boston’s Al Horford and Gordon Hayward; and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — highlights that other clubs who’ve invested in that way have already had perennial playoff success to justify that spending. It’s unclear whether Detroit would ever reach that point; especially without cap space to address the backcourt imbalance.Griffin and Drummond themselves will likely fit just fine. Griffin has shot uncharacteristically bad from midrange — at 24 percent, he’s the second-worst in the NBA from there among players with 50 attempts or more — but he knocks down 3s at a decent enough clip to create space between him and Drummond. Both men are good passers, and Drummond, one of the best rebounders in the game — approximates some of what DeAndre Jordan does on offense for the Clippers, as far as rolling to the basket and catching lobs. (Drummond isn’t nearly as good as Jordan on the other end of the court, and is a bit inconsistent with how he aggressively he defends pick and rolls.)Whether the Pistons can develop or find the right talent to put around these two remains to be seen. By trading Harris, Bradley (who was slated to be a high-priced free agent this summer anyway) and Boban Marjanovich — who is the most efficient scorer ever, but often unplayable — Van Gundy made this roster more top-heavy than before, which is risky, given Griffin’s injury history. The ex-Clipper has only played in 66 percent of his games the past four seasons after playing in 99 percent of his contests during his first four years in the association, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. Detroit’s first-round pick — one that could easily land in the lottery — could also be valuable for the rebuilding Clippers, too, given how many of those Doc Rivers essentially gave away in recent years.The deal is far easier to make sense of from the Clippers’ perspective: They’re finally embracing the idea of a full-on rebuild, and didn’t want to continue to carry the burden of the 5-year, $171-million contract they gave him in July. (The decision to offer Griffin a fifth year in exchange for leaving out the no-trade clause here looks brilliant in hindsight.) If anything, this deal should further embolden them to see what sorts of packages they can get in return for Jordan and Lou Williams, who is all but a lock for the Sixth Man of the Year award, and narrowly missed out on making the All-Star team. Depending on who all they get back in such deals, there’s a slight chance they could even remain in playoff contention while building a strong foundation — one that looks far different now that they’ll have the cap space to make runs at star-level free agents in the near future.For the Clippers, it was about knowing when to abandon ship, and finding a partner to help them kickstart the process. Only time will tell whether this enormous gamble pays off for Van Gundy and his Detroit club. By trading for Griffin and the weighty contract that comes with him, the Pistons just went all-in on something that might only marginally improve their hopes of reaching the playoffs this season and beyond. read more

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Mens soccer Bowling Green presents challenges for Ohio States defense

Ohio State senior forward Christian Soldat pushes the ball up the field against Rutgers in a game at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on Sept. 18, 2016. Credit: Gene Ross | Lantern PhotographerAfter scoring only one goal through the first four games, the Ohio State men’s soccer team has defeated its last two opponents by a combined score of 7-2. The Buckeyes look to continue their hot streak as they take on Bowling Green on Saturday at 7 p.m.In the last game out against Valparaiso, OSU senior striker Danny Jensen recorded the first hat trick for the Scarlet and Grey since 2012. Jensen moved to eighth on the Buckeyes career points list with 48. “Its pretty cool,” Jensen said. “To be even mentioned in a list like that with some of those players is really special.” OSU has won three of its last four games. Coach John Bluem said that the team is starting to find a rhythm because his players are finally getting healthy.“One of the problems we have had all year is that we haven’t been able to play all our guys together because of injuries,” Bluem said. “This is two games in a row where we finally had the same starting lineup. I think it is helping to develop consistency.”The Buckeyes will take a one-game road trip to Bowling Green before returning to Columbus for two home games next week. The Falcons come into the game with a record of 5-2-1. The team has been dominant at home this season, playing to a 4-0-1 record at Cochrane Stadium. In those five home matches, the Falcons have outscored opponents 13-2. Senior forward Pat Flynn and freshman forward Chris Brennan lead their team in scoring. Brennan has found the back of the net four times in eight games, and Flynn has three goals and three assists on the season.Bowling Green also finds itself atop a few NCAA statistical categories. The Falcons are first in the nation in total assists and fifth overall in total points. The Buckeyes’ defense, which has shined as of late, will face a stiff test against the in-state foe.“It helps playing with confidence,” said redshirt freshman goalkeeper Parker Siegfried. “It’s awesome to know that even if we give up one, maybe a bad pass here and there, we can get it right back.”The Buckeyes are hoping they have overcome the troubles that plagued them during their slow start and can begin to go on a run much like last year. “Every year it takes some time to find what your players are capable of doing,” Bluem said. “If we were playing like this at the beginning of the season, we would not have gone 0-4.” read more

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Replacing Lauderdale Bucks turn to unprovens at center

At the time, it seemed like nothing more than a harmless basketball play. But as P.J. Hill’s attempted steal broke Dallas Lauderdale’s hand, the Ohio State men’s basketball team was left without its starting center for the next four to six weeks.While it is possible that Lauderdale could be back for the team’s opener Nov. 9, it is more likely he will be sidelined for at least a couple of games. His absence opens the door for Kyle Madsen and Zisis Sarikopoulos, the only other centers on the roster.It’s not immediately clear which of the two will see the most time on the court, but Madsen said he expects both to make an impact.“Dallas brings a lot of things to the table that we will miss,” Madsen said. “[Zisis] and myself will really be able to step out and help the team while he is gone.”Sarikopoulos, a transfer from Alabama-Birmingham, has yet to play one minute in a Buckeye uniform. However, his inexperience has not left the seven-foot sophomore with a lack of confidence.“I know I can score on the block,” Sarikopoulos said. “I like to create action though, so if I’m on the block and I know I’m not going to score, I can find the shooter. I can pass the ball very well.”Junior David Lighty said that one of Sarikopoulos’ biggest assets is his ability off the ball. “He’s a real wide body,” Lighty said of Sarikopoulos, who is listed at 265 pounds. “He can get people open with screens, and he’s hit me with a couple of them this year.”While the Buckeyes may not miss Lauderdale on the offensive end, with most of the scoring expected to come from the other four positions, his absence on defense could be glaring. Lauderdale led the team and was second in the conference last season with more than two blocks per game.Sarikopoulos said he is plenty capable of blocking shots, but knows that it is unrealistic to reproduce Lauderdale’s production. He said he spent most of last year working with assistant coach Alan Major on rebounding the ball, on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.“Even though I didn’t play in games, the practice really helped me,” Sarikopoulos said. “I got stronger, I got more physical and I got more used to the Big Ten game in general.”No matter how Madsen and Sarikopoulos play, with the team down one center it will be important for both to avoid foul trouble. There is a certain leeway that comes with having three centers on the roster, but without Lauderdale, there is no room for error.“Coach [Thad Matta] has talked to us about it,” Sarikopoulos said. “We are going to have to be careful.”Though it seems Sarikopoulos will be ready to step up, Matta may be more inclined to lean toward Madsen, a senior. He is coming off a season in which he averaged only 7.7 minutes a game, but, with Lauderdale’s injury, expects to have a bigger impact.“Me and Dallas are really different players,” Madsen said. “Dallas is a lot more explosive blocking shots and dunking the ball. My game is a little more cerebral.”Madsen spends more time on the perimeter and said he prefers to face up his defender as opposed to the back-to-the-basket approach Lauderdale uses.However, the biggest difference between Madsen and the team’s other centers is his ability to shoot.“Kyle is a threat because he can take it inside or outside,” Lauderdale said. “He has the ability to shoot the ball very well.”The Buckeyes begin the season playing Alcorn State and James Madison, both inferior opponents, so it may not be necessary to get stellar play from the position right away.But if Lauderdale is unable to return before the Nov. 19 showdown with defending national champion North Carolina, the two inexperienced centers will have to step up. Madsen said he is ready for the challenge.“I’ve been here a while, and I’ve seen a lot of situations,” Madsen said. “I look forward to it.” read more

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Buckeye seniors hoping to go out with a bang

The Ohio State women’s basketball team has been dominant over the last six years thanks to the players that chose to attend OSU over all other schools. This year’s graduating senior class has had immense success on the court because of that choice.The four graduating seniors are guards Cherise Daniel, Shavelle Little, Maria Moeller and center Andrea Walker. They have had success as individuals, but as a whole, these four women have enjoyed more success than almost any other class in OSU’s history.Their career, regular season record is 106-20, including 58-12 in Big Ten play. Their 106 wins as a class is only three shy of the OSU record of 109.Regular season success is necessary and important, but many judge teams on postseason performances and this class has had success in that arena as well.They have made the NCAA Tournament in each of their four seasons on the team — one of nine classes in OSU history to do so. They have reached the Sweet 16 once.As it is with every senior class on every team in every sport, they have played a bigger role on this team than on any other they have been a part of. They are now the leaders off the court for their team, maybe the most important role in sports.“When I first got here, they were really welcoming,” sophomore guard Samantha Prahalis said. “If I needed help, they would help me. I think they’re great seniors and they were great last year too. … I don’t want to see them go. It’s just sad.”Prahalis isn’t the only future All-American they influenced. Junior center Jantel Lavender loves the seniors’ sense of humor and their ability to make everything fun.“I really enjoy all of our seniors. I could name something about every single one of them that I really enjoy,” Lavender said. “I just think that they bring so much to the team as far as sarcasm, being funny, being fun … they can just lighten up a room when they come in. … The team will really miss them in that aspect.”The seniors know that they made the right decision to come OSU, but none of them feel that the journey is over yet. Even with all of the success they have been a part of, they still want more out of their postseason play.“I’ve had an amazing experience here at Ohio State with the class that I came in with,” Little said. “Right now our main focus is for us to continue to get better and go as far as we can. … We’re setting goals for the Big Ten [Tournament] and the NCAA [Tournament].”Since they have been to three straight NCAA Tournaments, the seniors know what it takes to be successful there. Because of that, they are very excited with this year’s team and what they can accomplish.“I think we have everything that we need to go all the way,” Walker said. “Everyone understands what they need to do and how hard we have to play. I think this team is, out of all the teams, the most [capable].”All of the seniors believe this team has what it takes to make a statement in the postseason. With the successful teams that these women have been part of, their strong opinions carry a lot of weight.“I think this is the most talented team I’ve been on since I’ve been here,” Moeller said. read more

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