Wednesday, October 31, 2007

2007-8 Season Preview

Here’s a thought experiment: let’s say you have a gut feeling that something horrible is going to happen—like Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone—except it’s not totally guaranteed, you’re just pretty sure about it. How much would you be willing to pay someone who had the ability to lay down accurate, reliable odds of your fears coming true? I suppose the answer depends on who you are as a person and just how bad the premonitions are.

Anyway, whatever figure you come up with, that’s what I owe’s John Hollinger, who has the gift/curse of quantifying my nightmares. My two biggest dreads this year are Jeff McInnis and Primoz Brezec. I really think they are the primary reasons why the Bobcats have the potential to be bad-to-horrible this year. Anyone who watched those two in “action” last season knows what I mean. But oddly, if you look up their numbers from last year in any traditional stat sheet, there’s nothing really there to justify their sheer hideousness.

Until you check out Hollinger’s profile of each guy.

According to Hollinger, Brezec had the second-highest number of fouls-per-minute in the league, and he ranked 50th out of 62 centers in rebound rate. Oh, and that’s not all: he only made 47.1% of close-in shots in the immediate basket area, down from 61.5% the year before. As for McInnis, he had the second-worst player efficiency rating among point guards, ranked 64th among point guards in steals, and only eight 1’s had a higher rate of fouls-per-minute. More transparently, McInnis had a heinous 39.2% shooting percentage. Ladies and gentlemen, this is our starting center and our backup point guard

Hollinger isn’t a deity, mind you, and I’m not a huge believer in his “Pythagorean Win” theory (especially the ridiculous name—what’s next, "Socratic Shots Blocked"? "Hegelian Turnover Rates"?), but I can’t tell you how cathartic it was to see statistical evidence of what I knew to be rampantly bad play. I almost felt like a character in some crappy thriller who’s trying to “warn the others” about something but nobody believes me or just thinks I’m crazy until in the very end when I prove it. Forget the fact that Primoz missed 24 games and his minutes dropped from 20.8 to 14.5, he was much, much worse than that. But until I saw Hollinger’s profile, I only had anecdotal evidence, like when he lost that jump ball to Earl Boykins or the fact that I stockpiled reserves of “Primoz-fouls-out-again” and “Primoz-misses-from-in-close-again” jokes because I knew I would inevitably need them. The same goes for McInnis, who went Ellisonian invisible out there in his 18 mpg of impactless activity. So thank you, John.

As for the upcoming season...any suggestions? Other than acquiring surplus point guards from Houston or Atlanta (or finding a “Zoltar Speaks” coin machine and having McInnis stand in front of it say, “I wish I were…good”), I would shift ultimate glue-guy Derek Anderson to back up Raymond Felton. DA’s got a pretty decent handle, averaged over a steal a game, can take a charge like it’s nobody’s business, and generally puts a smile on my face. One little caveat to this remedy: Felton needs to raise his mpg from 36.4 to…oh, say, 44. As crucial as Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, and Jason Richardson are, if Felton goes down, we’re getting zipped up in plastic when it happens, that’s it. I don’t care if Felton shoots too much, tries to do too much, or when he steps on stage the girls boo too much, he still averaged 7 assists and 1.5 steals last year, and that was with a woozy Wallace for the first quarter of the year and no Okafor for much of the last quarter (and all of it BR—Before Richardson). And other than Wallace and Richardson, Raymond’s the only one who can create his own shots.

As for center, well, there’s always prayer. We can pray that Brezec returns to the semi-competency of his past, or that mild-mannered Ryan Hollins and Jermareo Davidson both discover they have superpowers. But right now, I don’t even think Vic Mackey could bail us out of this dilemma. The center spot is a gaping hole of horror; it’s like a Sarlacc on Tatooine. Coach Vincent might want to just avoid playing anyone there altogether and run out a small lineup; we simply can’t fight fire-with-fire there against the East’s better centers or it’ll be like fighting fire-with-a-Bic-Lighter.

I’m really not worried about the rest of the lineup, even with no Adam Morrison or Sean May. Richardson and Wallace are capable of taking a game over, and are backed up ably by Matt Carroll and Walter Herrmann. If Jared Dudley does nothing more than grab some rebounds, hit a couple of garbage buckets, and stay mustache-free, I’d call it a success over Morrison. We might as well accept that Okafor will have some sort of back/calf issue at some point, so hopefully a Wallace-Herrmann-Dudley combination can minimize the damage—either that or the FBI will have tracked down Othella Harrington by then.

Because we let Brevin Knight walk and couldn’t find anyone better than newbies Hollins and Davidson for the 5, we’re looking at Brezec and McInnis spending substantial amounts of time on the floor together. And that could get really ugly. I’m talking Willie McGee-ugly. It’ll be like 3 guys playing ball with George and Lennie, and it will be particularly destructive against division rivals Orlando, Miami, and Atlanta, whose bigs are going to clog the key, eat Primoz alive, and force McInnis’s shooting percentage down into the single-digits.

Atlanta’s had a monster preseason and Joe Johnson will be back and healthy. Orlando had a similarly terrific preseason, and did anyone see the Dwight Howard story in Dime magazine? It looked like a Playgirl spread—the guy is ripped. I’m predicting MVP for him. I think the Heat are in for a downfall and so are the Wizards, but you’ve got to pencil in the Nets, Raptors, Celtics, Bulls, Cavaliers, and Pistons in some order for the top six slots. The Bucks will be competitive and—dare I say it—so will the Knicks, so you add it all up and I see another 30-win season and no playoffs--not even really close. Who needs a drink?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 8

This was a pretty terrible week of football. There weren’t any marquee matchups, and the two I got in New York were particularly bad. The best thing about the Giants’ sloppy win over Miami was Jeremy Shockey’s new haircut, while the only redeeming feature of the Jets-Bills game was that it ended. And yet I watched both of them, because I just like football—even if it’s really crappy, it’s still football. Where else but football can you get a guy like Devin Hester, who took speaking in the 3rd person to new, unprecedented levels this week? Discussing the dilemma opposing teams face when kicking off to the Bears, Hester boasted: “You can either give it to us on the 40, or you can pitch to Barry Bonds.” What do you call speaking of yourself in the 3rd person, only the 3rd person is someone else? 3rd person metaphorical?

Anyway, my wife is the same way about vampire movies that I am about football. We saw (read: “she dragged me to”) 30 Days of Night, which is a poor facsimile of 28 Days Later, itself a sequel to 28 Days, which was a riff on Dawn of the Dead, the weak remake of the original Dawn of the Dead, sequel to Night of the Living Dead. As you can imagine, very little new ground was broken or blood was spurted on this one. Josh Hartnett, whose star has clearly fallen, was reduced to peering out of a barricaded window every twenty minutes or so and grimly announcing to the others, “We’ve got to move.” Meanwhile, the standard conflicts cycled through their expected motions: what to do when a character gets bitten but doesn’t die right away (answer: tearfully apologize, then decapitate him with an axe); characters weighed the pros and cons of staying safe in the attic vs. making a run for supplies; plot contrivances led to identifying the vampires’ ONE weakness (and actually, I’ll give the writers a couple of points on this one: it’s the UV lamp Grandma uses to grow her medical marijuana), etc., etc., etc.

I think the best testament to the utter lack of originality here was the high number of audience members who went to the bathroom—even during the middle of “key” sequences. It was a collectively tacit admission that we’d seen this all before, and it made it feel very much like we were all just watching a crappy movie in someone’s living room (which I suppose would be comforting if the tickets hadn’t cost $12 a pop). Come to think of it, even the characters in the movie were relatively unfazed by the events that unfolded, considering they revolved around an entire town being ravaged by hordes of undead flesh-eaters. Erin was no exception. She openly acknowledged afterward (and heck, even beforehand) that the movie was not only unoriginal and terrible, but clumsily executed. But at the end of the day—or in this case, 30 days—she just likes vampires.

Similarly, I got just about what I expected out of Week 8, and it wasn’t much. But I still watched anyway, because, hey, it’s football. In Carolina, the Panthers were predictably run over by the Colts. Even though Indianapolis fumbled twice and dropped six passes, Carolina couldn’t be led to water to drink if Peyton Manning were to pour it for them out of his protective cup. And though I was disappointed—not only by the Panthers, but by the games in general—I wouldn’t call it a wasted experience. For some of us, when it comes football games and vampires, irony and quality productions aren’t a requirement.

Offensive Player of the Week: Reggie Wayne, Colts. 7 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown. Without Marvin Harrison to steal his glory, Wayne torched Carolina’s secondary like it was southern California forestry.

Defensive Player of the Week: Mike Vrabel, Patriots. 13 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 3 sacks. I think he also caught some touchdown passes, assisted Kevin Garnett, and homered off Manny Corpus. All hail the Kingdom of Boston.


If you go this site, you can download a radio interview with yours truly—along with my better half—speaking extremely knowledgeably about the 2008 elections. Among the many poignant observations I make is that the President is, in fact, the Commander-in-Chief. I also note that Fred Thompson resembles a St. Bernard (the ball’s in your court, Tim Russert). In my defense, I was answering the reporter’s questions while trying unsuccessfully to prevent my dog, Lincoln, from rolling in a pile of mud and emerging looking like a grinning Al Jolson. Because I had bathed him approximately fifteen minutes beforehand, I was a bit preoccupied.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Morrison Tears It Up/NFL Thoughts, Week 7

Heading into the 2007-08 season, one of the primary challenges facing the Bobcats was how to find minutes behind Jason Richardson for both Matt Carroll and Adam Morrison. Well, mission accomplished! Morrison, tore up his ACL and joined incumbent Sean May on the injured reserve list, thereby ending that particular controversy. All I can say is, thank god for the Atlanta Hawks. If it weren’t for them, all any fans in the Southeast would be talking about is our horrendous drafting history. Fortunately for us, not only have the Hawks stockpiled rookie forwards like T.I. on a firearms shopping spree, but at last check I think Atlanta’s owners had actually filed restraining orders against each other—put them in a trailer park at 2 AM and you’ve got an episode of Cops.

I actually feel really bad for Morrison. Criticism of his play last year was so abundant it became something of a cottage industry. His shooting percentage was bad, his defense was bad, he couldn’t dribble, his PER ratings fell worse than The Bionic Woman, and ESPN’s David Thorpe even published a ridiculously long critique of him that read like The 9/11 Commission Report. And yet, I can think of at least a dozen or so games in which Morrison came up HUGE for us, and was far and away the biggest reason we won. He’s an easy guy to cheer for, and I’m sure he was looking forward to this year.

No Panthers game this week, so I focused on the Giants, who in turn focused on ending Trent Dilfer’s career. It was kind of sad watching Dilfer stumble around out there; he reminded me of Evander Holyfield or Gary Oldman at the end of Sid and Nancy. Like Sid Vicious, Dilfer was never particularly talented, but he did have some brief glory days with the Ravens. That’s all in the distant past now. "They bring enough pressures right when you think you're getting comfortable," a beat-up Dilfer said after the game, sounding like the sad, defeated lyrics to some Radiohead song. "They do a good job making adjustments and overloading you.” Three fumbles, two interceptions, and six sacks. This is what you get, Trent, this is what you get when you mess with the Giants D-Line.

Meanwhile, announcers Daryl Johnston, Kenny Albert, and Tony Siragusa remain unmatched in their level of obsession with “momentum.” I am almost shocked that Fox hasn’t come up with some sort of “Momentum Meter” yet, because to hear those three yammer on about it, speculate on which team has it, announce when it has shifted, etc., it sounds as important and measurable as the score. A team apparently can’t win without it, and although it’s possible to lose a little bit of it, it’s critical to have “all” of it at certain junctures, such as going into halftime and starting each quarter.

And finally, here’s a public service announcement: unless you enjoy seeing total self-destruction, avoid the movie Gone Baby Gone. This is a movie that was cruising along nicely, complete with what appeared to be a serviceable ending, until it careened horribly out of control at about the 90-minute mark with not one, not two, but three entirely unnecessary and utterly preposterous plot twists. Talk about a momentum shift, this thing snowballed into an avalanche of absurdity and just couldn’t stop. You know that scene in The Naked Gun when the bad guy crashes his car into a truck, which in turn crashes into a trailer carrying a nuclear missile, all of which rolls into a fireworks factory? That’s like what happened to this movie: the overwrought stupidity collided and compounded upon itself exponentially. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the movie’s plot, how ridiculous does this sound just by itself: the culprit behind the high-profile kidnapping of a 4-year-old white girl ending up being the Boston police chief…played by Morgan Freeman…who would have gotten away with it if not for one guy. Didn’t anyone in production find this even slightly implausible? How could no one say anything? The only explanation I can think of is that the REAL reason Affleck shot this film is that he was conducting some sort of modern-day Milgram experiment on the perils of herd mentality.

Defensive Player of the Week: Elvis Dumervil, Broncos. I don’t know if Denver’s season can be saved at this point, but Dumervil certainly did his part. His two sacks and a forced fumble played a huge role in the Broncos first impressive outing of the year. Special recognition goes to Darryl Tapp, who had 4 sacks and forced fumbles up the wazoo, but he did it against the Rams, so who cares? It's like saying you had a great game of Scrabble against a 2nd grader. I'm not even sure what it would take for me to make someone defensive player of the week against St. Louis...probably 8 sacks, 4 interceptions, and using one of Stephen Jacksons dredlocks to pick your nose after a tackle--something like that.

Offensive Player of the Week: Randy Moss, Patriots. From a guy you couldn’t pick out of a police lineup to a guy who literally HAS been picked out of a police lineup. Moss had 122 yards and two positively phenomenal touchdown catches. Moss is so incredible in the end zone, he’s got Brady just haphazardly heaving stuff out there in his general direction and getting away with it, a la Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 6

“At this point in my career,” the ancient Vinny Testaverde told reporters after this week’s unlikely Panthers victory, “I didn't want to go without seeing my family for as long as I thought I would be away from them. And that was really the reason why I did not come to the Cardinals.”

It’s unclear whether the “family” he was referring to was his wife or his great-grandchildren.

“I'm just glad they believed a guy my age could come in and help them win,” Testaverde said. I’m not entirely convinced the Panthers actually DID think Testaverde would help them win, anymore than conservative Republicans thought Fred Thompson would help them win the 2008 elections when they urged him to run a few weeks ago; both organizations were simply out of options. Jake Delhomme’s bad elbow and poor decision-making were like Rudy Giuliani’s support of abortion and three marriages, and David Carr’s unproven track record and bad back were like Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and opposition to torturing prisoners. Faced with these unappealing options, both the Panthers and the GOP Committee came to a remarkably similar conclusion: let’s throw a really old guy out there who some people remember seeing on TV years ago, let him sleepwalk through the motions, have him frequently refer to his faith and family (preferably by using folksy words like “Mama”), and we can at least keep things from getting embarrassing.

And thus this week’s Cardinals-Panthers game matched up Kurt Warner and Vinny Testaverde, who I believed last squared off in 1984, although nobody remembers that one because they were either standing in line for Cabbage Patch Kid dolls or too busy gushing over the new commercial for Apple II computers. Or they weren’t born yet. The Panthers are turning into a “Spinal Tap” team of sorts, going through quarterbacks like drummers. If Testaverde spontaneously combusts over the bye week, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of it, because I’m here in New York City, watching a surprisingly high number of people engage in two activities I didn’t think anyone at all still did: skateboarding and smoking. In fact, lots of people seem to do both simultaneously. The other thing they do is boo, especially at the sight of the New York Jets. The bubble on head coach Eric Mangini has officially popped, and until further notice the only thing amazing about him should be that he looks remarkably like Paul Simon when he wears a baseball cap in press conferences after losses. Mangini’s fourth-and-one decision to throw at the Philadelphia 4-yard line was utterly inexplicable, as is his decision to keep running Chad Pennington out there. I wouldn’t pick Pennington to win a fight with Def Leppard’s drummer at this point, let alone a football game; his arm is that weak. TV commentator Daryl Johnston criticized Mangini repeatedly for not stretching the team’s offensive formations wider, and I seriously think it was because the coaches can’t rely on Pennington throws to make it even to the sidelines—forget about down the field. And that about says it all for Mangini: when a guy nicknamed “Moose” is questioning your wisdom, it’s probably time to retire the “Man-Genius” title.

Offensive Player of the Week: Adrian Peterson, Vikings. 224 yards on 20 carries, 361 total yards, and 3 touchdowns: Peterson went Bernie Getts on the Bears defense, gunning them all down single-handedly. As long as he keeps doing this, the rest of the Vikings offense can just sit around like subway passengers.

Defensive Player of the Week: Jared Allen, Chiefs. His two-and-a-half sacks in the game actually eclipsed his career total of DUI’s (2), and helped Kansas City to its 3rd win. Plus he had a forced fumble, restoring some luster to the name “Jared,” which has been tarnished in recent years by guys like Jared Leto, Jared Padalecki, and Jared the Subway Guy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 5

I spent the majority of the weekend barricading myself emotionally from all of the horrible sports news collapsing around me. First was the Yankees’ disastrous elimination by Cleveland, then it was the report that Bobcats Forward Sean May would miss the season with microfracture knee surgery.

Neither of these developments is particularly surprising; in fact, both have become painful annual events in recent years—a sort of sports colonoscopy. The only wrinkle in either of them was Bobcats coach Sam Vincent’s bizarrely sympathetic remarks about the perennially injured and overweight May: “Sean has worked extremely hard to get back on the court this season, which is testimony to his off-season regimen and professionalism.” Either Coach Vincent’s crazy or he was accidentally reading his prepared remarks for whenever Emeka Okafor (who actually IS hardworking) inevitably injures himself later this year. There is no way on earth that Sean May—who, if he were your sister, you’d describe as “pleasantly plump”—worked extremely hard at anything this off-season other than maybe Halo 3. Half the problem with May’s knees has always been his extra girth, so Vincent’s claims are a token formality that glosses over an absolute impossibility, similar to how each cereal used to advertise that it “stays in crispy in milk.”

Without May to shore up the frontcourt, and with Primoz Brezec missing time due to “family issues” (considering he’s from Slovenia, the possibilities of whose those issues could be are practically endless), 2nd year beanpole Ryan Hollins is our new starting center by default. At least Hollins has clearly put some deep thought into his newfound responsibilities. “So me moving around, running after rebounds, and not just banging into guys but playing good defense with my hands up, that’s going to make me more valuable to the team,” Hollins articulated to reporters a few days ago after practice. “All I have to do is rebound, block shots, and play a role.” Wait a sec, Ryan, rebounding and blocking shots is your role—crap, he’s already confused…

Suffice it to say I was hardly in the mood for any Panthers news, because it’s almost NEVER good nowadays. But by golly they beat the Saints, with no small amount of thanks due to Kris Jenkins, who gave the type of majestic motivational speech not heard since Bluto’s in Animal House. “When 11 people play together on both sides of the ball and special teams, that’s what helps you win. It’s not always the Xs and Os and the skill set that you have and the tackling, it’s the integrity that you have when the chips are stacked against you. It didn’t look good at all points of the game, but we found a way.”

I dare you to read those words of utterly profound sublimity and not find yourself softly humming the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Jenkins was wrong about one thing, however: it didn’t look good at any points of the game. New Orleans had nearly twice as many first downs and third down conversions, a hundred more yards of offense, and eleven more minutes of ball possession. Plus, we somehow managed the nearly impossible task of letting David Carr get knocked around even more than he did with Houston. But a win is a win. And the Panthers are in 1st place. And Sean May is apparently a hardworking professional. Perhaps I need to reexamine my beliefs, which tend to lack integrity (especially when the chips are stacked against me).

Offensive Player of the Week: Kris Brown, Texans. 5-for-5 on field goals, including two 54-yarders and a 57-yarder to win it. An historically great performance in Houston that prevented an Enron-sized meltdown against the woeful Dolphins.

Defensive Player of the Week: Carlos Rogers, Redskins. Six tackles and a pick-six to completely shut down the Detroit offensive juggernaut. Lots of credit needs to go—for the first time ever—to Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who realized that Lions QB/religious zealot John Kitna is certifiably insane, and hence not afraid of something so sectarian and earthly as constant blitzing—you might as well be threatening a suicide bomber with a can of pepper spray. So Williams simply rushed his front-four and kept his linebackers back, and Kitna couldn’t handle the extra coverage. Score one for evolution!

Monday, October 01, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 4

"Carolina's a different team without 17 (Jake Delhomme),'' Bucs CB Ronde Barber said after his team's beatdown of the Panthers. "Very different.'' No we’re not, we’re exactly the same: mediocre. We’re 10-10 since the 2005-06 NFC Championship Game, no matter if Delhomme, Chris Weinke, or David Carr is starting. Thus, I hope nobody’s too upset about Carolina’s middling start. It’s nice that Kris Jenkins has spent the last two weeks challenging the team to play better (especially when the only thing he used to challenge was the local Krispy Kreme donut-eating record), but really, were you hoping for?

Look at these linebackers: Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Nai’il Diggs, and a bunch of Dan Morgan MRI results. The secondary? One guy’s named “Gamble” and another guy’s named “Deke,” so that should tell you all you need to know—it’s like flying a plane piloted by guys named “Turbulence” and “Vomit Bag.” As for the offense, if there were a stat for most number of years expected to be the “breakout year,” Kerry Colbert and Drew Carter would be the career leaders. I saw in the box score that our leading receiver on Sunday was named “Williams” and didn’t even know who they were talking about until I realized it was DeAngelo Williams, the running back. "As a team collectively we have no heart," a distraught Jenkins said after this week’s pathetic loss to the Buccaneers. "We have no energy. We have no drive." We also have no talent, so—again—what did you expect? That this team is 2-2 should be about as surprising as the new 50 Cent album containing songs like, “My Gun Go Off,” “I Get Money,” and “Fully Loaded Clip.”

At least nobody’s complaining about wanting to be traded; that tactic seems to be reserved for NBA guys. I loved disgruntled Phoenix Suns’ forward Shawn Marion’s quote earlier this week: "I'm tired of hearing my name in trades," Marion said by phone from his Chicago home. "I love my fans in Phoenix, but I think it's time for me to move on." So essentially, after claiming how tired he was of hearing his name mentioned in trades by others, Marion decided to mention his name in trades himself.

Meanwhile, new Bobcats head coach Sam Vincent is going borderline Jon Kitna with his predictions of playoff berths. Considering that Vincent’s proclamations can’t simply be dismissed as the wacky ramblings of a born-again lunatic (like you can with Kitna), they’re actually more disturbing. Especially when he tells the Charlotte Observer things like, “I’m a firm believer that I have a style and that I have a system that I believe in.” Huh? ‘I firmly believe that I believe in my system?’ I wish Vincent would get himself to believe in believing that we need another point guard, because I cannot stress enough that Jeff McInnis is NOT the answer. Isn’t Earl Boykins still on the market? I firmly believe that I believe so.

Offensive Player of the Week: Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs. Sure, you could give it to Patrick Crayton of the Cowboys, but putting up big numbers against the Rams is like successfully completing the crossword puzzle in People magazine—anyone can do it.

Defensive Player of the Week: Osi Umenyiora, Giants. Six sacks. Six sacks! That sounds cool when you say it a few times. You can also drag it out sloooowww like the principal in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off did with “niiiiine times.” This is really a pretty astonishing single-game total. The only real downside is that it came at the expense of Eagles’ O-Line rookie Winston Justice, who I want to succeed simply by virtue of his awesome, 1950s-Western-sounding name.