Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bobcats Thoughts, 11/29

When we last saw Miami, they shot 38% and had Pat Riley contemplating suiting up for the first time in 31 years. That was two weeks and 20 percentage points ago. On Tuesday they had Dwyane Wade back in the lineup and their performance ratings rose faster than Mike Huckabee’s. Never mind that Wade only played 26 minutes for them, just as voters don’t seem to mind that Huckabee thinks the Earth is only 6,000 years old: D-Wade transforms his team from the Miami Clank Machine to the Hot Hot Heat. D-Wade is to the Heat what Accutane is to Jessica Simpson: he completely changes the complexion.

You know what I’m starting to think is the true definition of a superstar? The ability to bomb a long-distance 3-pointer with no time left on the shot clock. Think about it: all the great ones do it—LeBron, Kobe, Gilbert, Wade. You pin them down outside the arc, isolate them with a double-team, seal off all of their passing options, manage to bleed the 24-second clock down to 3-2-1, and what do they do? Chuck up a what-the-eff trey that...goes right in. Only a select few can do it, and the effects can be traumatizing. Wade did it in the first quarter last night, and right then and there, I knew the “Heat Suck” party was over. Someone could have dumped pig’s blood on Gerald Wallace while he was shooting a free throw and I wouldn’t have been more demoralized.

Much has been made of Riles’ decision to bench Ricky Davis and Jason Williams to start the game, but Wade is the straw that snorts this team’s coke. He wasn’t perfect, he only scored 13 points, and he launched enough bad passes into the first row to make Carlos Arroyo blush. But with him in the lineup, the Heat regained their swagger and drive. Miami shot 58%, converted 19 Charlotte turnovers into 28 points, and stuck the dagger in when they had the chance by going on a 15-0 run that spanned the 3rd and 4th quarters. For his part, Davis was sensational, getting 23 points on 9-14 shooting and 3 steals. Meanwhile, rookie Daequan Cook became Daequan the Chef, serving up a fine cuisine of 19 points and a perfect 9-9 from the foul line.

For the Bobcats, it was the same old recurring themes: inconsistent play from the stars (Crash had 4 turnovers and only 6 points after the 1st quarter, Emeka Okafor had just 7 points and 6 boards, and Richardson had just 10 points, or 1 point for every $1.11 million he’s owed this year), a non-presence at the center spot (although Jermareo Davis (8 points) is making a strong case for 2nd Best Rookie Named “Jermareo” (after Toronto’s Moon)), and an over-reliance on outside shooting (we’re the 6th-worst shooting team in the lead because we can’t penetrate). Also, Raymond Felton’s got to be leading the league in the Most-Drives-That-End-Up-With-The-Ball-Spinning-Agonizingly-Long-On-The-Rim-Before-Rolling-Off-And-No-Fouls-Called-Despite-Obvious-Contact category.

And not to beat a dead horse, but Jeff McInnis’s season-to-date numbers? 23 MPG, 4.2 PPG, 4.1 APG, and the 4th-worst PG efficiency in the league. Smush Parker is after him, and he was a DNP on Tuesday; McInnis played 21 minutes…I’m starting to envy other team’s point guard situations the way I imagine rappers envy each other’s G-4’s. I’m even jealous of Portland, for cripes’ sake. When we played them a few weeks ago, I was like, “Wow, Steve Blake, Jarret Jack, and Sergio Rodriguez—imagine if we had them.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 12

By my unofficial estimate, the consensus picks for the NFC and AFC Most Disappointing Teams of the Year have been the Rams and Bengals, respectively. In fact, as a thought experiment, before reading further, ask yourself whether or not you agree with these choices, and why or why not.

Done? Okay. Now here’s why I think St. Louis and Cincinnati have been disappointing in critics’ eyes. On the eve of the season, most NFL prognosticators believed both teams would make the playoffs and—in the Rams case—compete for the division title. The rationale behind these healthy outlooks was that both teams had good-to-great quarterbacks (Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger), wide receivers (Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry; Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Drew Bennett), and running backs (Rudi Johnson, Steven Jackson). While the defenses for both teams weren’t great, weaknesses had been addressed through the draft (the Rams selected DE Adam Carriker 13th overall, the Bengals took CB Leon Hall 18th overall).

The fact that both franchises are now floundering—with no realistic shot at anything—spotlights the lackadaisically narrow view many analysts take when appraising a team. Last season, the Bengals ranked 17th in points allowed and 30th in yards allowed, while the Rams ranked 28th and 23rd. Other than the Bengals’ acquisition of Lemar Marshall, neither team acquired a significant defensive free agent in the off-season, and Cincinnati placed Marshall on injured reserve in the first week of October, where he joined teammate and fellow starting LBs Dave Pollack and Caleb Miller. And though both teams focused on drafting defensive talent, considering the historical lack of impact that even high draft picks have their rookie year, both teams had essentially done nothing to improve themselves on defense in the near term.

So why did NFL analysts expect so much out of these teams? Quite simply, most people—including high-paid experts—ignore the importance of defense, even though—as the cliché goes—it “wins championships.” And do you know why I think they do this? Two words: fantasy football. According to some estimates, as many as 20 million people now play fantasy football—often in several leagues at once. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the rules, fantasy football rosters generally consist of quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, kickers, and “defenses/special teams.” The first five groups are drafted by fantasy “owners” on an individual basis, while “defenses/special teams” are selected collectively. Thus, for example, a fantasy football roster might feature Tom Brady at quarterback (plus backup), Steve Smith and Andre Johnson at wide receiver (plus backups), Heath Miller at tight end (plus backup), Brandon Jacobs at running back (plus backup), Neil Rackers kicking, and the Baltimore Ravens defense/special teams. Further, the scoring structure within fantasy football is such that the defense/special teams “position” matters the least, because by nature the majority of scoring in football comes from the offense. While defenses do provide quantifiable results (e.g., sacks, interceptions, and even the occasional defensive touchdown), the founders and participants of fantasy football had too much trouble coming up with a method of properly integrating individual defensive statistics into their point-scoring systems. Or they didn’t feel like it.

That’s a shame, because as crazy as it may sound, I really think a side effect of this derivative, pretend game (fantasy football) has been to marginalize the contributions of half the participants—i.e., defenses—of the real thing. I really can’t think of any other reason why—when analyzing a weekly match-up, for instance—commentators will go in-depth on each team’s QB, WR, RB, and TE (and often even touching on their backups) before—almost as an afterthought—merely rating the entire defensive unit as either “good” or “bad.”

Similarly, an over-exaggeration of the draft’s importance distorts our assessment of teams. Out of the entire first round of picks, I count only about five rookies who have made truly significant contributions: Joe Thomas (3rd), Adrian Peterson (7th), Patrick Willis (11th), Jon Beason (25th), and Greg Olsen (31st). Others have been steady if unspectacular, and about a third of them have barely even played. According to Len Pasquerelli at, only 13 first round selections are even starting for their teams this year, and out of the 260+ total selections made every year, only 30 or so on average start. Yet a rundown of each team’s draft picks is typically at the very top of every season preview.

We all love offense, and we’re all excited about rookies. High-scoring games are generally more fun to watch. I’m told fantasy football is really fun to play. Meanwhile, rookies are new, interesting, and prone to saying stupid, thoughtless, highly-quotable things. But sometimes I worry that both fantasy football and the draft are dumbing down our overall analytical skills. Football isn’t all that hard to absorb in its totality in the first place. Let’s face it, watching football and following it obsessively is time that could be spent pursuing more intellectually challenging endeavors. We basically do it because it’s a visceral experience that’s easier than, say, reading a book or listening to an orchestra. So by focusing mostly on five positions and draft picks, what are we saying about our attention spans? They’re not even robust enough to account for half a football team?

This all reminds me of some ads I’ve seen for a product called “Executive Summaries,” which boils down popular business books into 1-page synopses. These uber-Cliffs Notes are targeted for “busy” executives who apparently don’t have time to take in the entire book and would really just like the bottom-line main points. What’s sort of disturbing is the fact that these are books like Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which doesn’t exactly reach James Joyce-levels of complexity to begin with. Is all this hyper-truncation where society’s ultimately headed? I wonder what might be next; perhaps songs that only feature a repeated chorus, or movies that cut straight to the shoot-outs and sex scenes. If that’s the case, the pharmaceutical companies better get started on their Soma production…

Offensive Player of the Week: Brett Favre, Packers. 381 yards, 3 touchdowns, no picks, and a stretch of 20 consecutive completions. To me, Favre’s like Bono. For a long time, I basically thought of them both as cagey charlatans—Bono with his supposed worldliness, and Favre with his fake tears. But now I’m convinced that both are the real deal and should be celebrated.

Defensive Player of the Week: Patrick Kerney, Seahawks. Forget about drafting Seattle’s defense for your fantasy team, just draft Kerney, who amassed 3 sacks, an interception, and a forced fumbles. Although I don’t know how many fantasy points that’s worth, it helped his real team win the game.

RIP Sean Taylor. Between the spitting, the jet-ski related assault charges, and the explosive plays in the secondary, there was simply never a dull moment for this amazing talent and volatile personality. He lived fast and died much too young…

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bobcats Thoughts, 11/26

I’ve had to wait a few days for the sting to go down before I could comment. Man, it’s been a rough week. I’m already naturally down on Thanksgiving week, because I’m a vegetarian and not inclined to celebrate over the mass slaughter and consumption of 46 million helpless animals. The little “gobble” sound effects noises on radio shows, all the idle chatter about people stuffing themselves, the humiliating Presidential “pardon” of two turkeys who've already had their lives cut in half thanks to the genetic manipulation performed by factory farms…ha-ha.

I actually do eat Thanksgiving dinner with my family, although I consume “Tofurkey.” Relatives think I’m crazy, laugh at me, and roll their eyes at my irrationality before gorging on the carcass of an innocent bird that spent an unbearably short 14-week life crammed in a 2-foot cell, had its beak and toes severed without anesthesia, got pumped full of hormones to increase its girth to twice its natural size, then—still fully conscious—was hung by its toes while its throat was slit, before finally getting tossed into a steaming vat of water, covered in its own blood, and boiled alive—happy holidays, everyone! Enjoy those leftovers…

Anyway, as I was saying, I was down BEFORE the Bobcats’ 3-game losing streak with results that ranged from merely “painful” to “soul-sucking.” Like all of us, I’m sure, I was salivating with anticipation just prior to the Wizards game on Wednesday. Washington was coming off a back-to-back, they were on the road, and—what was it, something else…oh yeah, they'd just learned they’d be without Gilbert Arenas for the next three months. AND they wouldn’t have Brendan Haywood either—for Washington fans, the Haywood announcement probably felt like the sports fan equivalent of learning the Pentagon had been hit after the WTC went down. Charlotte fans couldn’t have asked for much more.

Instead, Washington rallied without their star like Teen Wolf’s team in the state championship. Antawn Jamison (27 points, 12 rebounds) and Caron Butler (39 points) led the way. I forgot just how fast Butler is, considering his size—he had two breakaway steals and excelled at getting charges called on people due to his ability to quickly get in position. Meanwhile, if only Andray Blatche could solicit prostitutes as well as he filled in at power forward; the man had 12 points, 13 boards, 5 blocks, and 2 steals. We also learned a harsh lesson in what happens if you don’t bother guarding Antonio Daniels. (Answer: he shoots and scores repeatedly)

Don’t let the OT fool you: the effort was terrible, and we deserved to lose this in regulation. Washington out-rebounded us 53-40, had leads as large as 9, and had 18 fast break points to our 10. Only a series of weird fouls at the end of regulation sent this to an extra frame. The chief culprit in our crime spree of laziness was Jason Richardson. And as bad as he was (4-14 shooting for 10 points in 39 minutes), he STILL had a chance to be a hero when he drew an “and-1” with a minute left in regulation and the score tied at 101. But he missed it. I guess I should be happy that he drove, though, because it seems like he hardly ever does—why I don’t know, considering he’s got a good handle and he’s lithe.

The loss to Washington was critical, because it was the only winnable looking one out of the three games. Orlando was next, featuring Dwight Howard, who greeted us like a cyclone does to Bangladesh. Finishing with 34 points, 17 rebounds, 4 blocks, and even 3 steals, I don’t know if Howard prefers playing as George, Lizzie, or Ralph, but whatever the case, he went on a total rampage. The only reason his totals weren’t far higher was Howard’s poor FT-percentage (12-21). If you’re wondering why Orlando’s now 12-3, look no further than Howard. He’s so dominant that it really doesn’t matter if the rest of the team is a bunch of one-dimensional shooters (and not even good shooters at that—take away Howard and the rest of the Magic only shot 27-of-66); Howard will just grab the rebound. And stuff it. And run the fast break. And rip Ryan Hollins’ arm out of his socket and start beating him with it. Howard once said that his ultimate goal was to get a cross on the NBA logo, which—depending on your religious views—is either inspirational or terrifying. In this game, he dropped a hammer of the gods on us.

At least the effort was slightly better on this one. Even though we never led and trailed by as many as 22, we kept scrapping. For once, Gerald Wallace was unable to summon his Claire Bennett powers, and a calf injury limited him to even fewer minutes than Primoz Brezec. Outgunned down low, Emeka Okafor put up a heroic 12 points and 18 boards. What’s alarming, though, is that Mek’s range this season has been even less than Anton Chigurh’s. Unless Okafor is point-blank and armed with a cattlegun, he can't seem to make his shots. Walter Herrmann led the way for us with 16 points, but they were largely inconsequential. This blowout paved the way for…

…Boston. My cycle of emotions during this game mirrored that of the doomed hostage cop in Reservoir Dogs. Follow me here: at first I was basically just praying for a quick death, which I knew I wouldn’t get. Then all of a sudden Mr. Blonde gets shot out of nowhere (or in this case, the Celtics go a full three minutes at the end without scoring a point) and I had a little hope, but then suddenly “Nice Guy” Ray Allen guns me down unexpectedly. It was absolutely devastating.

Making matters worse, I had to watch the game on League Pass with the Celtics announcers, which means…oh dear lord…Hi, Mr. Heinsohn, always a pleasure. After 3 hours with Tommy, and lots of insistence on fouls against the Celtics not getting called, lots of claims about being unable to see anything, and lots of praise for Brian Scalabrine, I was pretty much an emotional wreck. My personal favorite Tommy line of the night: “Needless to say, with a couple of minutes left, the Celtics need some stops here…they also need to score some buckets too.” You’re right, Tommy, that was needless to say.

Anyhow, though I still wish he’d drive more, J-Rich partially redeemed himself with this one by going 5-5 from downtown (although he $#%&ed it up with that inbounds at the end—ARRRGH!). And despite being not particularly big, fast, strong, or athletic—actually, he’s kind of like Sean May, I guess, except without the injuries—Jared Dudley is playing some fabulous ball. Subbing for Crash, Dudley did a little of everything with 11 points, 9 boards, and 3 assists. He’s got a knack for getting open, he’s a good shooter, and he gets to the free throw line the way I wish J-Rich would. And as Beanie Sigel is the general of the ROC, Raymond Felton is the general with the rock. Anything I say about poor effort does not apply to him. Ever.

How odd were the similarities between this game and the Eagles-Patriots? Think about it: two huge underdogs, both playing without their marquee names (Wallace for us, McNabb for Philly), both going up against Boston-based juggernauts, and both ALMOST winning. A little too ironic, yeah I really do think...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bobcats Thoughts, 11/20

Just about everything from Saturday night’s game against Seattle went perfectly. First, traveling across the country, coming off a double-OT game the night before, playing the dreaded 4th game in 5 nights, and in general sucking, the Sonics were handed to us on a silver platter. Second, Charlotte continued to defeat the teams that it should defeat. Third, Jason Richardson justified my love by asserting his ability to dominate, drilling 4 3-pointers for 14 points in three minutes during the 3rd quarter and thereby catalyzing a victory. Fourth, Ryan Hollins put in another 25 minutes of solid work, collecting 6 points, 7 rebounds, a block, and a steal; as long as Hollins keeps this up, Coach Vincent can continue to yank starter Primoz Brezec faster than Viva Laughlin. Finally, we held Seattle to just 31% shooting and committed just 15 turnovers in another inspired team effort.

In fact, all in all, there was just one small problem: I couldn’t watch any if it because the game wasn’t televised. I swear to Pat Riley, I was pretty darned angry when it wasn’t even available on League Pass. I tried to make due with watching the running ticker on, but after about twenty minutes or so, ayo! I was tired of using technology. Instead I flipped over to the Nets-Heat game, observed Vince Carter in a suit, and gave silent prayers of thanks to our management for not signing him to a 4-year, $66 million deal (with the whole MJ-VC-UNC thing, it had been one of my greatest fears this past spring—in fact, next time I see a Jumpman insignia, I’m going to cross myself). At least they ran some highlights on NBA TV Daily the next day, although they were of the "cheerleader-cam" sort: directly under the basket and hard to make anything out. I remember this happened twice last season, but not until much later in the year.

Oh, and one other semi-related note on this one: did anyone see Peter King’s “MMQB” column on yesterday—the part where he wrote about the ongoing NFL Network-Cable war? King actually wrote the line, “I don't watch the Network much, because I don't have time to watch much NFL programming other than games…I have nothing against it, and I'm sure I'm missing things by not watching the regular programming. But there's a sea of NFL programming on ESPN and Fox and everywhere else, and you could go blind watching it all.” Umm, anyone have a problem with this admission? King doesn’t have time? How could you be a paid commentator—who covers only one sport, I might add—and not watch the network that’s solely devoted to your sport? And then the “ESPN and Fox is enough for me” part—brother, no wonder they all sound alike…We need some sort of indie-sportswriting revolutionary figure to topple these empires. I can see it now: t-shirts of The Basketball Jones’s Skeets and Taz looking like Che Guevara.

Anyway, onto last night’s game with Portland, wherein we got our first look at their prized hulking rookie...Josh McRoberts. Josh played his first minute (not minutes) of the year, but he didn’t do much other than exhibit his wild-looking hair. Jeez, the last time I saw him flaming out at Duke, he had a crew-cut. Now he looks like he played one of the Dylan parts in I’m Not There.

Anyway, onto the game itself. We were in firm control for the better part of three quarters, thanks to foul trouble to bigs LaMarcus Aldridge, Channing Frye, and Joel Pryzbilla (who’s not much more than a rich man’s Primoz Brezec anyway). The lackluster play of their interior was a key aspect of Portland’s loss. "Not to blame LaMarcus and Joel,” Coach Nate McMillan said after the game—and I love when jocks use the phrase, “Not to blame,” because then they go on to do precisely that— “but the two of those guys had two rebounds.”

The Blazers narrowed the score to 40-36 at the half, courtesy of Steve Blake’s ridiculous half-court shot at the buzzer, but we came out charging in the third. “You never know when it’s going to come,” Coach Sam Vincent said after the game, speaking of Jason Richardson’s 24-point performance. Actually you do, Coach, it’s going to come in the 3rd quarter. Richardson had 14 points in his latest third quarter outburst and had us hovering around a double-digit lead. “Sometimes the basket is the size of an ocean, sometimes it's the size of a cup,” Richardson later told reporters, and for one terrifying second I thought he was going to recite a poem that he had written. Thankfully, he simply added, “When you see the ocean, you shoot.”

All of a sudden, though, the Blazers came back, even briefly leading by 3-points at the beginning of the 4th quarter. This was mostly due to some really cheesy referee work, in my opinion (not to blame them, but…). Gerald Wallace and Jeff McInnis both got called for some ludicrous charges and touch fouls (even the Portland announcers believed they were bogus), and of course Crash was crushed on a bunch of drives that weren’t whistled at all. I think the refs were subconsciously refusing to foul out Aldridge, Frye, Pryzbilla, and Brandon Roy. Jarrett Jack (18 points) also deserves some huge credit for sparking Portland off the bench, as does Blake (4-5 3’s, 14 points, 6 boards), and even though Roy had a somewhat muted night (14, 5, 5), he was still a 2nd-half force.

But Raymond Felton refused to lose, getting 16 of his 24 points and dishing 7 of his 10 assists in the last stanza. Gerald Wallace also had his 3rd straight 27-pointer, plus six steals and some truly demoralizing stuffs. Okafor had a solid 12-12 double-double. And even though neither scored much, Matt Carroll and Ryan Hollins both had 2 huge offensive rebounds to bail out the offense and keep the possessions going.

We’re now 6-4, and yeah, we haven’t exactly been facing the 1996 Bulls night in and night out, but we haven’t been facing the 2007 Bulls either. These are some solid young teams we’re beating, and the wins are especially impressive when they come despite blowing leads. And just think, last year at this time we were 2-8.

NFL Thoughts, Week 11

In Sunday’s losing effort, Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson rushed 16 times for just 62 yards (although he did catch 5 passes for 93 receiving yards). One of his non-runs included a somewhat perplexing decision by Norv Turner to have LDT pass on fourth-and-two late in the game and San Diego trailing by a touchdown; the ploy failed. For the year, Tomlinson is projected to rush for 543 fewer yards than last season—a 30% decrease. He’s also on pace to score 15 fewer touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s Shaun Alexander missed his second straight game and has played in only 8 overall, gaining a paltry 492 yards on a whispy 3.3 average gain per carry. Interestingly, his team has won both of those games without him and has looked its strongest all season.

Finally, Baltimore’s Steve McNair also did not play this weekend, due to an injury that is widely believed to be a PR move that spares him the embarrassment of a formal benching. McNair has the 6th worst passer rating among starters and presides over the 21st-ranked passing team in the league.

What do these three have in common? Along with Peyton Manning, they are the most recent MVPs. Consider the winners of the past 10 years:

2006 LaDainian Tomlinson
2005 Shaun Alexander
2004 Peyton Manning
2003 Peyton Manning, Steve McNair
2002 Rich Gannon
2001 Kurt Warner
2000 Marshall Faulk
1999 Kurt Warner
1998 Terrell Davis
1997 Brett Favre, Barry Sanders

Of this group, only five (Tomlinson, Favre, Manning, Warner, Alexander) are still playing, and only three (Favre, Manning, and Tomlinson) are performing at a high level. Sanders, Davis, Faulk, and Gannon are long gone, and Warner’s playing time and efficacy over the past few years has been highly sporadic. Now contrast this list with that of the last ten years’ worth of baseball winners:

2006 Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau
2005 Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez
2004 Barry Bonds, Vladimir Guerrero
2003 Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez
2002 Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada
2001 Barry Bonds, Ichiro Suzuki
2000 Jeff Kent, Jason Giambi
1999 Chipper Jones, Iván Rodríguez
1998 Sammy Sosa, Juan González
1997 Larry Walker, Ken Griffey, Jr.

Only two of these recipients, Walker and González, are completely retired, and the latter has been attempting a comeback (and Bonds and Sosa might be retiring this offseason). Moreover, every single one of the others is still a great-to-elite player, and one of them, A-Rod, has just won this year’s MVP again. A similar situation exists for the last ten NBA MVPs:

2007 Dirk Nowitzki
2006 Steve Nash
2005 Steve Nash
2004 Kevin Garnett
2003 Tim Duncan
2002 Tim Duncan
2001 Allen Iverson
2000 Shaquille O'Neal
1999 Karl Malone
1998 Michael Jordan
1997 Karl Malone

Only the two furthest back, Malone and Jordan, have retired, while the rest—except for Shaq, I guess—remain perennial MVP candidates.

The difficulty of sustaining superlative individual achievement in the NFL is a product of three factors: the extreme brutality of the sport that shortens careers through injuries, the highly-specialized positions that effectively minimize any one player’s impact, and the salary cap and revenue-sharing plans that promote parity.

Offensive Player of the Week: Tom Brady, Patriots. Speaking of MVPs, Brady could justifiably win this award every week. But this seemed like the best time to pick him because a) he passed for 373 yards, completed 31-of-39 of his attempts, threw 5 touchdowns, had no picks or sacks, and rated 146; and b) the alternative would have been Terrell Owens (8 receptions, 173 yards, 4 TDs).

Defensive Player of the Week: Antrel Rolle, Cardinals. 3 interceptions, 2 of which were touchdowns, led to a big win on the road in Cincinnati. It’s been a tough couple of years for the former Miami Hurricane, but as he points out, “I never pouted, never ranted and raved, never became a cancer to this team.” This is what it’s come to: players praising themselves for not becoming cancers--well done!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bobcats Thoughts, 11/16

The last two matchups have played out like a game of Doom, with the Bobcats blasting Miami and then getting blasted by Atlanta. The Heat game on Tuesday made for a pleasurable companion piece to our earlier victory over them this season, a sort of Kill Heat, Vol. 2. I guess that made Gerald Wallace the Bride, as he slashed Miami for 19 points, 7 boards, and a jaw-dropping block on Shaquille O’Neal that really iced things.

In general, though, the Heat finished themselves off with a 38.5 field goal percentage and just one 3-pointer the whole night, low-lighted by Udonis Haslem and Ricky Davis, who combined to shoot just 6 of 25 from the field, despite being more open than a Waffle House at 2 AM. Although Shaq supposedly had his “best” game of the season (17 points), I counted at least 4 misses on his part that were either slams or alley-oops. Miami is still capable of coming out strong, intimidating, and seemingly overwhelming, but they can't sustain their surge—at least, without Dwyane Wade. They’re like a collective George Forman, and if you wait long enough, they’ll punch themselves out.

In this one, we had them on the ropes at halftime, and then we outscored them 31 to 12 in the 3rd quarter to knock them out. Miami’s performance was so terrible it had Pat Riley swearing to God afterwards. “Eventually you've got to shave the beard and either look younger or get somebody else in there,” Riles said in the post-game interviews, “You can't continue like this.” Continue like what, with a beard? I’m not even sure what this means.

Anyway, what about our guys? First of all, we don’t have any beards, so we’re good there. Second, we got the turnovers down to just 8(!). Third, Jason Richardson had 18 points, 8 boards, and 4 assists, including 4-5 3-pointers. But the finest shooting came from Emeka Okafor, who made 7-of-9 free throws! And if not for Manu Ginobli, Josh Childress, Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa—and, hell, probably 5 or 6 others—Matt Carroll (10 points) would be a frontrunner for 6th Man of the Year. Jermareo Davidson had 6 points, 2 blocks, and 3 boards in just 8 minutes. Even Primoz Brezec had 6 points. “That’s what he does best!” one of the Miami commentators noted, after PB dropped one of those high-arcing mid-range shots of his. Well, I don’t know about that, but it’s certainly what he does.

Then it was on to Atlanta, where the Hawks have turned into a 6-8” high-flying forward factory. Ironically, their extreme depth of sameness makes them a total wild card. I don’t think they’re a great team, but because they’re so unlike any other team in the league, preparing for them is a nightmare; it’s like playing against a wishbone offense in college football. Look at their record, because it totally bears out their inconsistency: wins against us, Dallas, and Phoenix, but losses to Detroit, New Jersey, Boston, and Washington.

This was my first good look at Al Horford (13 points, 13 boards), and the boy is scary good already with frightening potential to one day rule the galaxy. I think he’s the forward equivalent of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. He’s already got natural rebounding ability, burgeoning back-down skills, and even his range is even pretty good. Plus he gets higher than gas prices, so his blocking ability will soon rival that of teammate Josh Smith. Strangely, Horford didn’t actually start the game; Coach Woodson came out with Zaza Pachulia. The only theory I can come up with on that one is that Woodson was rewarding Pachulia for keeping that feathered, mid-80s haircut when so many guys are doing that horrible Scott Stapp-thing of flat, black, semi-long hair (see: David Carr, Luis Scola, that hideous UPS commercial guy, the priest from Deadwood, and that one eurotrashy vampire in 30 Days of Night (the latter three are all possibly the same guy))

Speaking of Smith: 15 points, 5 blocks, 3 assists, and 3 boards—all by halftime, before he got injured in the 3rd. Early on, Primoz was “guarding” him, and it had me wondering if there could possibly be more of a disparity in athleticism? In any sport? In life itself? Maybe covering Chad Johnson with Stephen Hawking, or Terrell Owens with Laura Bush. Anyway, needless to say, it didn’t last long—Primoz got 5 minutes of point-less pointlessness.

Taking PB’s place was Ryan Hollins, who had an impressive 11 points, 2 blocks, and 6 boards in 25 minutes of burn. He also does a hilarious Kevin Garnett scream impersonation after slams, which looks all the more ridiculous when we’re trailing by 13 with thirty seconds to play. J-Rich had his second strong game in a row (27 points), and Gerald Wallace single-handedly brought us back in the 3rd quarter from a 15-point halftime deficit by matching Richardson for points (including 8-13 on FT’s).

After digging too deep a hole, the second half was a series of frustrating boom-bust cycles, in which we would painstakingly whittle Atlanta’s lead down to 6 or so, and then all of a sudden be trailing by 15 again in, like, 30 seconds. Credit should go to Childress (23 points), Marvin Williams (19 points), and…oh yeah, Joe Johnson had 34 points and 10 assists.

I’ll take the 4-4 record. I’d say with the exception of the Philly debacle, we’ve won the games we’re supposed to, and ditto with the losses.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 10

Adrian Peterson is an unsolvable riddle, an indefatigable debate. He’s abortion. He’s the death penalty. He’s a pregnant woman who wants an abortion because she’s been sentenced to death. He’s Eminem. He’s Elton John. He’s Eminem hugging Elton John on stage.

Adrian Peterson is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,081 yards, 120 YPG, and a cartoonish 6.4 YPC, all on a team that can’t throw the ball. In a recent’s revisionist draft by Todd McShay, A.D. would have gone 3rd to Cleveland, rather than 7th to the Vikings. But this was before Peterson was injured on Sunday, after which he announced he will miss at least one more game. He’s amazing, he’s a bust; there is simply no correct answer for him.

And there never has been. At Oklahoma, Peterson gained almost 1,925 rushing yards and finished 2nd in the Heisman voting as a freshman. He eventually generated 4,045 yards and 41 TDs in less than three seasons. He runs a 4.4 40. He also injured his shoulder his freshman year, sprained his ankle badly as a sophomore, and missed half his junior season with a broken collarbone.

On the eve of the draft, he was projected to go as high as 3rd and as low as 12th. Scouts were confounded by his toxic mix of ability and fragility. While injury concerns are nothing new—especially in football—what made Peterson unique in my eyes was that his potential for lost time was practically a certainty—a question of “when,” not “if.” Peterson himself openly admitted he’d opted for the draft before his senior year precisely because he was worried about injuries destroying his chances at a professional payday. So the ultimate question is, will he be worth it, because he WILL miss time. I guess the answer is going to change weekly.

At work we have a ratings system for all employees that looks like a graph, because it considers every worker’s attributes along two dimensions: Contribution (the x-axis) and Leadership (the y-axis). Contribution is mostly about what you’ve done so far, while Leadership attempts to gauge your future potential. The ratings scheme goes from 1-9, with 1-3 comprising the lowest row (left-to-right), 4-6 making up the middle row, and 7-9 sitting atop the highest row. So if you can picture it, a “1” would be in the lower left corner and a “9” would in the upper right corner. The further up and to the right you go, the better management thinks of you. So a “1” essentially means you’ve contributed nothing and have no potential (and can expect a pink slip momentarily), a “9” means you’re a stud with unlimited potential who will one day be CEO (and eventually get busted for accounting fraud), and a “5” is dead smack in the average-joe middle.

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long, when I first looked at this chart, I was most curious about who the company deemed to be “3” and “7” people. What would they be like? Because 3’s occupy the lower-right corner of the chart, that means they are phenomenal contributors but with zero leadership potential; I could only envision a “Rain Man”-like savant who could perform any function in seconds, but was sadly autistic. Meanwhile, 7’s contributed nothing but had somehow managed to exhibit extraordinary leadership potential, and that’s even harder to imagine—something like a lazy slacker-genius who never shows up for work but scribbles the idea for an iPod on a Twinkie wrapper and makes the company a billion dollars.

Well, to bring this back to football, ultimately Adrian Peterson is going to be one of those fringe “3” or “7” players. His production will be sporadic yet spectacular...

Offensive Player of the Week: Marc Bulger, Rams. They’ve been the Greatest No-Show on Turf this year, but Bulger finally leads the offense to victory with a 27-for-33/302 yards/2-TD/0-INT day against the Saints.

Defensive Player of the Week: Karlos Dansby, Cardinals. Dansby’s 2 interceptions and a forced fumble spelled doom for Detroit, though I’m not sure why his parents spelled Carlos with a “K.”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bobcats Thoughts, 11/12

Well, it wasn’t a sweep, but the last two games were like a fine filet mignon compared to the previous two games’ sack of White Castle. The Cats had an impressive come-from-behind victory on Friday against the Pacers and a heartbreaking defeat to the stacked Houston Rockets on Sunday that was in many ways more impressive.

Emeka Okafor was huge on Friday, throwing up 25 points and 23 rebounds. "I've been looking at other big men and what they do and watching what I do and kind of just comparing," Okafor said afterward, although it was unclear if he was referring to the game or quoting his favorite Dirk Diggler line from Boogie Nights. However, as amazing as his stat line was, even more delightful was Gerald Wallace’s performance. Crash’s 28 points and 4 steals sparked the 9-minute bridge between the 3rd and 4th quarters, during which our 8-point deficit became an 11-point lead. He played like the old Wallace too, driving to the hoop and getting 15 FT attempts (making 10).

For a long time though, things looked grim, particularly because the Pacers’ offense was supplied predominantly by Troy Murphy. I know he and Shawne Williams have range, but when big guys knock down five 3-pointers and a slew of 15-20-footers, it just feels more demoralizing. Add that to Jeff Foster’s 12 rebounds, all of which seemed to a) come on offense, and b) happen in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and I was looking forward to Quarter 4 about as much as the movie Saw 4.

Further, Raymond Felton was a bit gimpy on the bad knee and Jason Richardson (5 points, 2 turnovers) has gone MIA. (Say what you will about Adam Morrison, but at least you knew when he was out there. Morrison was the crazy homeless guy who drops his drawers and pees right in the center of town square, while Richardson thus far has quietly been taking a dump in the corner.) But anyway, the team rallied, thanks to some timely 3’s by Matt Carroll, a huge 52-39 rebounding advantage, and “just” 16 turnovers, which for us qualifies as “flawless.”

On Sunday, we owned the game for about 46 minutes. For the second straight game the Bobcats excelled in free throws (14/15), turnovers (just 12!), and Matt Carrolls (6-10 FGs, 3-4 3PTs, 17 points). Even Richardson was electric for the first two quarters (14 points), although he was Amish the rest of the way (2 points). Okafor also showed some serious Swan Lake moves early on (12 PTS-11 REB-2 BLK on some stellar ballet down low), but got into the old familiar foul trouble that ultimately hurt us. With an extremely balanced attack (four guys in double-figures), the Cats led by as many as 10. Houston’s Luther Head, Mike James, and Stab-to-my-Lou Rafer Alson were also doing their best to help us out, going a combined 4-for-15 from the field with 6 total assists (and Steve Francis can’t crack this lineup??).

But none of that mattered, because Yao Ming simply would not be denied. With 34 points, 8 boards, 3 blocks, and even 4 assists, we were no match for his powers. Yao missed just 2 of his 15 FG attempts and made all 8 of his free throws in a devastating one-man attack. Fittingly, he snagged the last key rebound of the game when he hauled in Alston’s idiotic 3-point attempt with 38-seconds to go, got fouled, and sank both shots to give the Rockets a 1-point lead. Wallace was called for a ridiculous offensive foul when he subsequently drove to the basket on Tracy McGrady, effectively ending the game.

T-Mac, everyone’s favorite existentialist superstar, got the results when it mattered most, scoring 12 of Houston’s final 16 points. "I don't think there's a better 1-2 combination ... they might be the best combination since MJ [Michael Jordan] and [Scottie] Pippen," a glum Wallace observed afterward (note to reporters: is it really necessary to clarify who Wallace meant by “MJ” and “Pippen”?).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bobcats Thoughts, 11/08

To quote Johnny Drama, these last two games were a “bloodbath,” starting at home against Phoenix. You know how economists say that gas prices aren’t that high when you adjust for inflation? NBA teams also use a similar technique for rationalizing blowout losses to Phoenix. “It’s okay if they shot 50% on us, it’s Phoenix,” the supposed logic goes. Well, I don’t care who we'ere playing, 37% shooting and 24 turnovers are horrible stats, not to mention being out-assisted 31 to 11. And normally when we lose to Phoenix, the consolation prize is that we at least beef up our own offensive output. Instead, we got just 83 points, and our top scorer a) had just 16 points, and b) was Jared Dudley.

Thank god no one’s got footage of Mike D’Antoni spying on assistant coaches, or else Phoenix might have REALLY run the score up. On the other hand, watching Sean Marks log 16 minutes of garbage time for 13 points was in many ways MORE humiliating than letting Steve Nash rack up, say, 30 assists. Phoenix executed its run-and-gun offense to perfection, hitting half their shots, 9-24 of their 3-pointers, and turning the ball over just 10 times. Our defense, meanwhile, looked more lost than the President in a stem cell research laboratory. We couldn’t get back fast enough in transition, nor could we rotate properly to cover the open man; Emeka Okafor was often left hilariously trying to guard Nash. Mek also had just 7 rebounds and a block. He also didn’t score…not didn’t score much, mind you, he didn’t score, PERIOD.

If there was any bright spot, it was Dudley. Having barely played at all in the first two games, starting one's career against the Suns is less a trial by fire and more a trial by explosion. Dudley showed some toughness and surprising speed, getting to the line 12 times. Jermareo Davidson also played 18 minutes, scored 6 points, and showed some range, but he also shot way too many times (10). But this game was The Empire Strikes Back, because there were far more highlights for the Dark Side. Beside the god-awful team play, Raymond Felton left in the third quarter after badly bruising his knee, and Gerald Wallace was an atrocity, getting just 12 points in 12 FG attempts and committing 5 turnovers. He’s suddenly pulling the Vince-Carter-settling-for-outside-shots-card, too.

Last night in Philly, things somehow managed to get worse. Amidst a listed crowd of 9,000 at a Wachovia Center that was about as raucous as a mall at 10 AM, the Bobcats turned in an all-time crappy performance. At least Phoenix is a good team; after Andre Igiodala, the Sixers’ second-most famous player is probably Reggie Evans, who’s best known for grabbing another man’s testicles. We actually looked like we were still trying to defend against Phoenix too, with the added twist of repeatedly leaving the lane WIDE OPEN—our interior defense has gone the way of Matt Carroll’s hair: it’s vanished.

I’m not sure how this game could have been any more depressing, unless maybe the halftime show featured a public hanging. How could we have played so uninspired? Perpetually sunny commentators Steve Martin and Henry Williams kept invoking the old back-to-back-games-exhaustion excuse, but I don’t buy it when a) it’s only the fourth game of the year, and b) Coach Vincent pulled most of the starters the night before once it got ugly (i.e., just after the opening tip-off). And before I forget, although I’m an unabashed Matt Devlin supporter, I’m already falling in love with Steve Martin. As we entered the 4th quarter with just 47 points, Martin enthusiastically chirped, “The Bobcats are ATTACKING some franchise lows.” Now THAT is putting a positive spin on it (FYI: we did end up scoring 63, one point better than the franchise’s lowest single-game total).

Unfortunately, none of our other “attacks” failed. Going through our stat line is like reading Citigroup’s latest earnings report. 30…percent…shooting. ZERO threes. And are you ready for this one: 26 turnovers. These are some serious write-offs. Jason Richardson gave what I can only hope will be his worst performance of the season: 4 points on 2-15 shooting in 34 minutes. Raymond Felton didn’t play at all and probably still had a better game than Jeff McInnis (2 points, 2 assists, 5 turnovers). I’ve pretty much said my piece on Jeff over the last few days—no wait, have I mentioned what a horrible defender he is? 4 fouls last night. And they’re not even hard fouls, either. Okay, that’s it from me on McInnis, I’m going to cease-fire on that one. We didn’t get a suitable backup PG, and now we’re paying the piper.

For the second straight game, Coach Vincent limited a completely demoralized-looking Primoz Brezec to just single-digit minutes, opting to go small instead. Usually, this implies going small AND fast, but right now we’re just small and turnover-prone.

Trying to pick anything good out of these last two games is like trying to pick the best Friday the 13th movie—it’s all sucked. The young’uns—Dudley, Davidson, and Hollins—got plenty of burn, but didn’t really do anything other than try really, really hard. Felton’s injury doesn’t look serious. And…um…Coach Vincent reminds me of Mack from the movie Predator. Those are about all of the compliments I can muster at this time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NFL Thoughts, Week 9

I must first confess to barely watching any football this weekend. I only caught the first hour of the Jets-Redskins game—which did not exactly inspire me to put pen-to-paper—before flipping over to the Celtics-Raptors game. And then, although you’d think I’d be glued to my seat for the Patriots-Colts game, you’d be wrong, because I switched to the Bobcats-Heat matchup. My irrational love for a basketball franchise that is so inept that its major offseason acquisition was purchasing the domain name “” from some hillbilly breeders in Montana aside, I think it’s possible to hype games to a fault.

I might be and possibly am the only one who thinks like this, but I find that the level of attention a game receives actually has an inverse effect on the chances I’ll watch it. In an era with instant accessibility to highlights and analysis via the web, ESPN, podcasts, your cell phone, snappy Keith Olberman one-liners, etc., I find the net effect to be a reduction of the necessity of watching the actual games live. For me, ESPN actually defeats its own purpose with its perpetual motion hype machine, similar to movie trailers that give away the whole story. They set the stage so thoroughly that all I really need to know is the end state. I’m results-oriented and I have lots of competing interests (some of which are four-legged and a threat to urinate on my furniture at any moment), so if I have no rooting interest in either team, and I also know beforehand that I’ll have a 3+ hour affair boiled down to a compact, 2-minute package of key plays (complete with a shouting Bob Costas/Chris Berman narrative arc) if I just wait until it’s over, why bother sitting through it?

If only David Carr could condense his football games to two minutes. “I don’t think David deserves a lot of criticism,” FB Brad Hoover told reporters after the game. No, what he deserves is an ice pack. Carr ate the turf 7 times and threw for fewer yards than Adrian Peterson could probably pee after chugging a bottle of Gatorade. I’m starting to think Carr’s got one of those victim-mentalities, and getting sacked is all he knows. He’d probably be the type of lifetime convict who continues to commit crimes because he misses jail. And I had such high hopes for him when the Panthers signed him too. Not that he’s had any help. The defense has managed just seven sacks the entire season, our running backs are apparently still “a year away,” and Jon Beason is the only one who has distinguished himself amongst the younger players (Dwayne Jarrett is a few DNP’s away from becoming the answer to a trivia question).

Offensive Player of the Week: Adrian Peterson, Vikings. It’s hard to argue with breaking the all-time single-game rushing record. Adrian Peterson is like Michael Jordan on the ’86 Bulls: an incredibly magnificent rookie who elevates his team to…mediocrity. As an added bonus, he also SOUNDS like a 1986 Mike Tyson. Have you heard him in an interview? Some reporter needs to ask him to repeat the line: “I’m the greatest fighter in the world. I fear no man.”

Defensive Player of the Week: Shaun Rogers, Lions. 2.5 sacks, a pass defense, and a 60+ yard interception returned for a touchdown. He probably lost 5 pounds alone on that pick-six that lasted longer than a UAW negotiation.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Observations, 11/5

“A lot of times we've been in big games and we've had the lead and around the fourth quarter they tie the game up,” Gerald Wallace explained after Sunday’s win over the Heat brought Charlotte’s record to 2-0, “We'd get confused or the team wouldn't know what to do.” As it turns out, the solution is pretty straightforward: continue to put the ball in the basket and/or stop the other team from doing so. The Bobcats have done just enough of both so far in their wins, with an emphasis on the “just.”

In both games, the team fell off a cliff starting with about four-and-a-half minutes to go. On Friday, we didn’t make a FG after Jason Richardson’s 3-pointer with 4:20 left. What followed was the worst display of anything involving free throws since Murphy Lee’s rap in “Air Force Ones,” as we hit just 11-of-22 freebies down the stretch to barely escape with a 102-99 victory. On Sunday, the Cats led 81-65 after Ryan Hollins’ 3-point play, and then watched it drip away over the final, agonizing 11 minutes. The last four were particularly painful, as we began hemorrhaging turnovers and AGAIN didn’t make a FG after Emeka Okafor’s 4-footer with 5:31. Thankfully, this time we made our free throws. It also didn’t hurt that Miami was without Dwyane Wade, whose replacement, Chris Quinn, is so green and boyish he probably gets asked by girls which junior high school he attends on road trips.

Besides the perfect record, the good news is that our Big 4 all look tremendous. Felton had more problems finishing last year than the 40-Year-Old Virgin, but so far this season he’s passing out of most of his drives and being more selective (and accurate) with his shots. The turnovers continue to be a problem (9 total), but you can’t his knock his hustle (4 steals). As for Emeka Okafor, his biggest improvement is knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. By this I mean he’s staying out of foul trouble by just conceding baskets when the opposing teams’ bigs have already got the inside edge to the hoop, whereas last year he’d just jump on them and get whistled. Meanwhile, Gerald Wallace waited all of 1 game to terrify me with his latest potential season-ending injury, grabbing his knee early in the Miami game and being carried off the court. But I’m starting to think he’s got the restorative powers of that cheerleader in Heroes, because he merely shook it off and came back to fill up the stat sheet. And finally, our shiny new addition, J-Rich, went 6-11 from downtown against the Heat for an electrifying 29 points. "I was in a place where it felt like every shot I'd take would roll in," Richardson said afterward, "It's an amazing feeling when you reach that." That’s exactly how Hindus describe nirvana, minus the “rolling ball” part.

The main questions I have after 2 games are:

1. Where is the love for Matt Carroll, Walter Herrmann, and Derek Anderson? All three of last season’s glue guys have gotten less time on the court than a streaker. Carroll only got 19 minutes of run against Milwaukee, and just about none in the fourth quarter, when I’m willing to bet he would have hit more than a quarter of his free throws. Herrmann only got 12, and Anderson got squat. Game 2 was even worse, as Carroll got 7 and Herrmann got 3. As for Anderson, maybe he should just change his nickname to DANP.

2. Why is the love for Jeff McInnis and Primoz Brezec? In Brezec’s case, it’s a matter of necessity—like loving your only son, even if he’s a heroin-addicted bank robber—because there aren’t any other options. And Primoz hasn’t completely shamed himself either. Actually, he’s been totally anonymous, but for him that’s a major step up. Yes, he still runs like a marathoner fighting off severe diarrhea, but he wasn’t in foul trouble either game, and he even provided a moment of levity by drawing a push-off foul from Shaq that nearly launched him into the first row. It looked like a cannon firing out a bassoon. McInnis has also been anonymous, but it’s been 24-minutes a game of anonymity for which I have no sane explanation. Not only is McInnis NOT just spelling Felton for a minute or so at the end of every quarter, Coach Vincent has actually got him out there WITH Felton, playing the 2!! Total McInnis production for two games: 8 points, 7 assists. Your guess is as good as mine…

3. Does David Stern actively hate us? Kudos to the NBA scheduling committee for giving us that coveted, 6 PM Sunday time slot, when the only competing entertainment was that underground NFL league. And even if you were one of the handful of people who care about American football, it’s not like there were any games of significance happening. Really, thanks again, Stern-o.

4. How insignificant are we? We’ve got to be the only team who’s made Andrew Bogut its archenemy. Bogut has monster games against us…and no one else. On Friday he had 17 rebounds and 5 blocks, plus he seemed to be involved in every single foul call, either giving or receiving.

5. How satisfying was it to watch Ricky Davis literally throw the game away? Very, especially considering that he’d tied it with a ridiculous 3-pointer only a few moments earlier.

6. What was on Mo Williams’ shoulder? It appeared to be an ammo belt.

7. Are we down to just one uniform?