Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Much Improved Orlando Magic

The 2015-2016 Orlando Magic will make the postseason! You can book it, guarantee it, bet on it, whatever.

The young Magic are poised to bring playoff basketball back to Central Florida. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

Yes, I’m aware we are only two games into the season. You’re correct, they lost them both. And, I know they haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-2011 season. I’m well aware that they’ve had 3 consecutive 50+ loss seasons (62 losses in 2012-2013.) All those are very important points. But, I trust my eyes, and after watching this team struggle the last three years of the post-Dwight era with a lack of talent, then a lack of chemistry and confidence, I now see they’ve reached a breakthrough point.

Friday night this team went toe to toe with the last two NBA scoring champs, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and the team many “experts” have picked to represent the Western Conference in the 2016 NBA Finals. Even though they lost 139-136 in double overtime, It’s very likely that last season’s team, or the last three for that matter, wouldn’t have even been in the game to force overtime to begin with.

Victor Oladipo registered a triple double, 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

6 players reached double figures—in regulation—for the Blue & White. 4 had 20+, with Tobias Harris leading the way with 30. The Magic have shown—through two games—they can get easy buckets inside by playing through center Nik Vucevic, who made his first 9 shots and finished 10-14. Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris continue to slash defenses for lay-ups and mid-range jumpers. This team can also stroke the three ball with Evan Fournier, Channing Frye and rookie Mario Hezonja.

Coach Scott Skiles has them playing with the tenacity and hustle that he was known for during his 10 year playing career. There was no slouching  when the Thunder cut their 18 point 4th quarter lead to force overtime. Then, they kept fighting in the first OT down five points with no made field goals before Victor Oladipo tied the game with a three at the buzzer.

Defensively they are a better team. They forced the Thunder into 20 turnovers and the Washington Wizards into 17 on opening night.

The Magic’s biggest weakness right now is defensive rebounding. Oklahoma City beat them up on the glass 62-49. Against both OKC and Washington they had significant 4th quarter leads before ultimately losing in the last moments. Learning to hang on to them will come with experience as they’re in more close games. That wasn’t the case in season’s past because they were getting blown out.

Again, I know it’s only two games, but something is different with this team. You can’t tell me you don’t see it. Maybe, just maybe, this Orlando team will be this season’s Milwaukee Bucks of a season ago or the Boston Celtics, and bring playoff basketball back to the Magic Kingdom. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. Next up for the Magic, at trip to the Windy City to face Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Orlando’s next four games are against playoffs teams from last season.

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Analytics, Smanalytics: New Stats That Should be Added to Basketball 

This is what an official basketball box score looks like, but there should be more categories added.

It seems these days everyone is enamored with stats and analytics in sports. Especially in the game of basketball. Thank Fantasy leagues for that. No matter how much people like Charles Barkley, Shaq dislike them, myself included, we might as well get use to them.

While I agree stats and numbers can often be overrated and deceiving, I understand how they can play a factor in-game planning. But, most of those numbers only detail offensive efficiency. Defense still wins championships. Just look at Golden State, who trotted out a stingy defense to go along with their high-powered offense.

But, some of the stats in the game today don’t tell the overall story of a player or teams effectiveness on that side of the court. That is why I propose the game of basketball, specifically the Association, add these categories to help the casual fan as well as die hards, better understand a player’s value. You hear the saying all the time, “it won’t show up in the stat sheet, but this player’s impact on the game has been immeasurable.” Well, I found a few measurables that could help certain player’s get in the box sc

The Hockey Assist 

First let me say, you wouldn’t add this to the total of assist. This would be its own separate category.

Points, assist and offensive rebounds shouldn’t be the only numbers that determine a players contributions to the offense. So many times players pass the ball to a teammate in rhythm to shoot a good shot, only to have that player pass it up to another teammate to get a better shot, and that player gets the assist and credit. But, what about the guy who started it with his unselfishness? The Hockey Assist in basketball results from great ball movement and high basketball I.Q. Like a player’s plus/minus stat, this stat would further so how important a player’s overall effectiveness is on his team. The San Antonio Spurs would probably lead the Association in this category.

Deflections

How many times has a player deflected a ball of an offensive player out-of-bounds creating a turnover? How about a defender jumps in the passing lane and tips a ball, disrupting the offensive set and forcing the opponent to force up a bad shot as the shot clock runs down? Or, what about the countless times a player has deflected a pass only for a teammate to swoop in and get the steal as the ball is lose?

Too many to count right? Think of this stat like a how a defensive back in football is credited with a pass defended.

Hustle Stats

Changed shots: a great shot blocker probably only averages a shade under four a game, that’s at least 6 to 8 points saved a game, but his intimation may cause a player to shoot an awkward or bad shot another four times a game for another 8 points. That’s 16 points one player single-handedly kept off the board.

Charges: Blocking shots or changing shots above or at the rim isn’t the only way to defend the paint, basket. Taking a charge is a skill and while its counted as a turnover in the stat book, the individual should be credited taking it as a show of their impact on defense just like a blocked shot. For the record, Shane Battier probably would have been the Associations All-Time leader.

Just like the NBA has made on court changes like illegal defense, removing hand checking and reducing the ten second timeline rule to eight seconds to speed up offenses to score more points, these changes to the stat book can also be easily made to help better analyze the game. Since, you know, we’re in that analytics world anyway. Might as well go all the way with it.

Winners & Losers: Revisiting the ’05 NBA Draft

Coming into the 2015 NBA Draft, the debate was over who was the better big man to draft number one overall. Karl Anthony-Towns or Jahlil Okafor. Anthony-Towns had been tabbed the better overall player, built for the wide open up and down game the Association has morphed into, while Okafor the more historically traditional low post threat. Those two will battle it out for the rest of their careers, and we won’t know the answer for about another decade. Just like ten years ago the debate was over who was the better point guard to draft, Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That discussion actually still caused rifts as close as three or four years ago.

Ten years later we know that answer, and we also now have a clearer view of who the winners, losers, stars and bust are in the class of 2005 Draft. At first glance, this could be one of the most disappointing in NBA history. Several projected All-Stars are out of the league or journeyman bench warmers. And, there’s only one sure-fire Hall of Famer.

The 2005 Class may be one of the most disappointing in history. Photo Credit: NBA.com

HALL OF FAMER: Without a doubt, Chris Paul is the best player in this draft. Paul has turned into one of the historically great point guards, and has made his case that he’s the better of the point guards between himself and Deron Williams. Today I think most would give the edge to Paul.

Paul enters the 2015-2016 season with 6,950 career assists, that’s good for 15th all-time, he also has 1,641 career steals. He’s Newman 8-time All-Star, All-NBA 7-times (4-times 1st team), 7 All-Defensive team selections (5-times 1st team), the 2006 NBA Rookie of the Year, 6-time NBA steals leader and 4-times NBA Assist leader.

WINNERS:

Deron Williams: The 3-time All-Star and 2-time All-NBA second teamer was selected 3rd overall, ahead of CP3. Williams combines strength and quickness at the point guard at 6’3″ 205 pounds that was very rare when he first entered the league. Even though he’s on his third stop (Jazz, Nets, Mavs) and been labeled a coach killer, when D-Will is right he’s one of the lethal combo PGs we’ve ever seen. For his career he averages 17.0 points and 8.5 assist per game. Hopefully for Dallas’ sake he has a return to All-Star form.

Andrew Bynum: Selected 10th overall by the Lakers out of New Jersey’s St. Joseph’s high school in the last draft where high school players were eligible.  Los Angeles got two NBA Championships (Three NBA Finals), and an All-Star appearance out of the 7 footer. The Lakers also win for trading him off just before his eventual demise. He hasn’t played in an NBA regular season game since the 2014 season due to chronic knee injuries. Bynum was drafted after Charlie Villanueva, Channing Frye and Ike Diogu.

Nate Robinson: The 5’9″ guard was selected by the Phoenix Suns at #21, but traded to the New York Knicks. While Robinson’s numbers won’t WOW you, he’s played significant roles on playoff teams with championship aspirations, most recently with the Chicago Bulls in the absence of an injured Derrick Rose. Robinson has also been a stellar defender, and then there’s what’s he’s mostly known for, being the only three-time Slam Dunk Champion. He’s currently playing for the New Orleans Pelicans.

BUSTS:

Andrew Bogut: The Australian big man out of Utah was the number one overall pick to Milwaukee over Paul, D-Will and All-Stars Danny Granger and David Lee to name a few. This was still a time when the big man was highly coveted and teams felt you needed one to compete. But, to be fair to Bogut, he has had some very unfortunate fluke injuries. He also was a key defensive presence on an NBA Championship team with the Golden State Warriors, although, the team looked dead in the water until head coach Steve Kerr made the lineup change that saw him get a DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) in a couple of the Finals games.

Marvin Williams: He was drafted #2 after Bogut by the Atlanta Hawks ahead of all the same players bypassed by Milwaukee for Bogut. Williams who left North Carolina after winning a National Championship in his freshman season, was labeled a can’t miss prospect. His decorated high school career, and National Freshman of the Year season is why so many “experts” were high on him. Williams is now on his third team (Hawks, Jazz, Hornets) with career averages of 10.4 ppg, 1.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds.

Raymond Felton: You might be sensing a theme with the North Carolina Alums and it may seem like I’m picking on them, but I’m not. Several of the 2005 Tar Heels’ stock were sky-high after winning it all, and Felton was no different. The 5th overall pick in the draft to the Charlotte Bobcats, had a very decorated college career where he was All-Confernce three straight years, one time first team, in the highly competitive ACC. He was also named the 2005 Bob Cousy award winner, given to the Nation’s top point guard. So his collegiate career justified his high selection.

Felton’s biggest knock may be that he was the third point guard selected after D-Will and CP3, so expectations and comparisons may have been unfair. However, here are some guards that have outplayed him in their careers;  Monte Ellis and Jarrett Jack. Felton has played for 5 teams (Bobcats, Knicks twice, Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Mavs).

Sean May: Another Tar Heel alum, May was drafted 13th overall ahead of fellow bigs, All-Star David Lee, second rounders Brandon Bass, Ersan Ilyasova, Marcin Gortat and Amir Johnson, who are all still active in the Association. May spent five years in the NBA with the Charlotte Bobcats and Sacramento Kings with career averages of 6.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg and 1.0 apg before finishing his career overseas last season. Just this week his was hired to the coaching staff at his alma mater.

Rashad McCants: the 14th pick in the draft by the Minnesota T-Wolves, the 6’4″ shooting guard spent 4 years in the league, his last with the Sacramento Kings in 2009, and even a D-League stint with the Texas Legends in 2010-2011. McCants career averages: 10.0 ppg on 43% FG and 37% on 3-pointers , 1.3 apg and 2.0 rpg.

McCants may be more known for a brief relationship with Khloe Kardashian, I know what you’re thinking and I’m not going there. He’s still playing professionally in Venezuela and has been playing overseas since 2012.

Other Busts; power forward Ike Diogu drafted 9th by the Golden State Warriors, power forward Hakim Warrick drafted 19th by the Memphis Grizzlies and shooting guard Julius Hodge drafted 20th by the Denver Nuggets.

BARGAINS: 

Marcin Gortat: “The Polish Hammer” as he’s known around the Association, was drafted 57th overall by the Phoenix Suns and traded to the Orlando Magic where he saw quality minutes as a backup to Dwight Howard on a team that went to the 2009 NBA Finals and 2010 Eastern Conference finals. He’s now the starter on a Washington Wizards team that has steadily improved over the past couple of season and is in the hunt for the Eastern Conference crown in 2015.

Monte Ellis: Drafted 40th overall out Lanier High School in Mississippi by the Golden State Warriors. Ellis is one of the more lethal scorers in the game averaging 19.3 ppg on 45% shooting for his career. He scored 23.8 points per game from 2009-2012 for the Warriors. In 2007 he played a key role in the #8 seeded Warriors’ upset of the #1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs. That same season he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Danny Granger: Drafted 17th overall by the Indiana PacersGranger was an All-Star and the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2009. A big time scorer for the Pacers, he led the team in scoring from 2007-2012. Injuries have gotten the best of him later in his career, and he’s bounced around from the L.A. Clippers, Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons, who released him before the start of the 2015 season.

David Lee: Drafted 40th by the New York Knicks after a stellar four-year career at the University of Florida, Lee has been a two-time All-Star and 3-team All-NBA teamer. Just this past season he helped the Golden State Warriors win the 2015 NBA Championship. Lee is known as a high I.Q. player with above average passing and shooting touch for a big man. He’s now with his third team, the Boston Celtics, who are counting on his veteran leadership to accelerate their rebuilding process.

Jarrett Jack: Has been a steady backup point guard and spot-starter since being drafted 22nd by the Denver Nuggets and traded to the Portland Trailblazers on draft night. Jack has contributed mightily to several playoffs teams as their first guy off the bench. He averages 4.4 apg for his career, with his career high of 6.3 apg coming in 2011-2012 when he started 39 out of 45 games during the lockout shorten season

Other notable bargains, the 45th pick Lou Williams won the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year award, Ersan Ilyasova the 36th pick, and Brandon Bass the 33rd pick.

Buckeyes on Sunday (Week 7)

The last couple of weeks it’s been former Silver Bullets who’ve had the biggest impact for their NFL squads, this week it was a couple of former receivers who helped their team get a victory.

Wide receiver Ted Ginn Junior had 5 catches for 53 yards and 1 carry for 43 yards to help the Carolina Panthers beat the Philadelphia Eagles 28-16 and stay undefeated at 6-0. Corey “Philly” Brown, also a starting wide receiver for the Panthers, had 3 key catches to keep drives alive, for a total of 38 yards. 

In the same game, Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins had an interception and 2 tackles in defeat. While his counterpart at safety for Carolina, Kurt Coleman, had 5 tackles for the Panthers.

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward collected 4 tackles and a sack in the Steelers 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier had a half a sack and 4 tackles in his return from missing the last three games due to a shoulder injury.

St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis had 8 tackles to lead the Rams to a 24-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Browns wide receiver Brian Hartline made 3 catches for 22 yards in defeat. Browns strong safety and tackling machine Donte Whitner collected 6 tackles in the loss.

It seems every week we find former OSU defender making a name for themselves in the NFL. This week it was Houston Texans linebacker John Simon with 6 tackles and a sack in Houston’s 44-26 loss at the Miami Dolphins. 

Steelers: 4-3, Just Like 2014

The 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers have won ugly and loss ugly. Sunday against the 1-5 Kansas City Chiefs was the latter.

Steelers drop a great opportunity. Photo Credit: David Eulitt/Kansas City Star

Want a key indicator of your team’s chances to win a game? Watch the turnover and 3rd down efficiency categories. If your team is losing both of those, I can guarantee you they’ll be behind in the most important stat line, the scoreboard.

The Steelers were minus 3 in turnovers against Kansas City. Pittsburgh’s offense was 2/10 (20%) on 3rd down, while the Black and Gold D allowed Kansas City to go 9/16 (56%). The final score was 23-13. See my point?!

If the Steelers D could ever learn to cover the opposition’s tight end, they’d be one of the best units in the NFL. Travis Kelce caught 5 passes for a team leading 73 yards while gashing the Steelers linebackers whenever his team needed him to make a play.

However, even with the loss it’s not all bad news. The 2014 Steelers were also 4-3 after 7 games. That team finished 7-2, won the AFC North division and hosted a playoff game. All realistic possibilities for this year’s team. The caveat for 2015, is that while the record is the same, the defense is vastly improved. Also, Pro-Bowl QB Ben Roethlisberger should be back in the lineup next Sunday. That should jolt the struggling offense, just like at this point last season when he put up back to back 6 touchdown passing game performances.

Steeler Nation has to be real with themselves, if  you were told a month ago that Pittsburgh would go 2-2 with Roethlisberger sidelined with an injury, you would’ve taken it. Well here they are, with 9 games remaining to get hot before the most important part of the season begins. It starts at 1 PM at Heinz field, Sunday against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals.

Scarlet & Gray Sunday (Week 6 in the NFL)

It was a slow week in The League for Buckeye Alums. While some were on the injury list, and a few others enjoying their team’s bye week, a couple did contributed to their teams victory in week 6.

Carlos Hyde ran the ball 21 times for 55 yards in San Francisco 49ers 25-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Mike Nugent made scored 10 points on 6 field goals, 4 of them extra points, for the Cincinnati Bengals in their 34-21 victory over the Buffalo Bills. 
Cam Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers only had 2 tackles, but put plenty of pressure on Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, even forcing him to throw his 2nd interception of day which sealed the victory for the Steelers.Heyward had a huge day, even though it won’t show in the stat sheet. Missing from the game for the Steelers were safety Will Allen, and linebacker Ryan Shazier who missed his third straight game.

Donte Whitner had 6 tackles for the Cleveland Browns in their 26-23 OT loss to the Denver Broncos.

Ted Ginn junior only had one catch for 18 yards, but it was on the Carolina Panthers final drive to help them secure a 27-30 comeback win against the Seattle Seahawks.

A couple of Silver Bullets faced off on Monday Night Football. 

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins had 3 tackles and a pass batted down for the New York Giants. Free safety Malcolm Jenkins had 4 tackles and forced a fumble to help the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Giants 27-7, and gain a first place tie in the NFC East.

Steelers O Flips the Switch

In the middle of the third quarter, I was all ready to start this by post by praising the Pittsburgh Steelers D, and critizing the offense for another atrocious display against the Arizona Cardinals. And then something happened. An offensive explosion!

Jones entered early in the 3rd quarter, and led an offensive explosion. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

 

3rd year QB Landry Jones entered the game in the 3rd quarter after Mike Vick suffered a hamstring injury. Although he started shaky with a couple of under thrown an errant passes, he eventually looked more confident and the offense much more fluid while he was at the helm, scoring 19 points, including a sensational 88 yard catch and run for a touchdown by Martavis Bryant, in his first game of 2015. Bryant caught 6 passes for 137 yards and 2 TDs.

Bryant gave the Steelers O a huge boost in his 1st game of 2015. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

 

Jones finished the game 8/12 for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first regular season action since being drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round out of Oklahoma in 2013. He looked to have a better command of the system, especially at the line of scrimmage where he made a couple of adjustments based on what the Cardinals defense showed him.

It would be interesting to see what he could do with a full week of practice with the first team, that is if Coach Mike Tomlin makes him the starter for week 7.

But, the real stars of the game was the D. In the first three and a half quarters, they carried the entire load. I knew if they got anything from the offense they could pull off the upset. Holding the number one ranked scoring offense (38.0 ppg) in the NFL to only 13 is a huge confidence boost for this young group going forward.

This defense forced 3 turnovers, the last one, a victory clinching interception by Mike Mitchell. Most importantly they held Carson Palmer and the Cardinals to 5/13 in my favorite stat, 3rd and 4th down efficiency.

Finally, the Black & Gold has what seems to be a reliable field goal kicker. Chris Boswell was 4 for 4 on the day, including a 51-yarder in his first action in Heinz Field.

This was a huge win to stay in he race for the AFC North title, especially considering the Cincinnati Bengals remain undefeated at 6-0. FYI, last year at this point, the Steelers were 3-3 and they still wound up winning the division. Next up for Pittsburgh (4-2), the (1-5) Chiefs at Kansas City.