Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to Define an NBA Draft Bust

Recently Chad Ford of espn.com named his top 10 NBA draft busts of the decade. Highlighting the crew was Darko Milicic, Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison and a bunch of foreigners. Some surprises included Jordan Hill, a current rookie, and Greg Oden. So how do we define a draft bust?

It's not completely fair to label either Jordan Hill or Greg Oden as busts. Oden is still only 21 years old. Jordan Hill, the New York Knicks' first round pick this year, has barely played half of an NBA season. So why does Chad Ford consider these players busts? He falls into the trap that many others do: comparing draft picks to the success of others of the same class. The success of Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings and Kevin Durant has made them look terrible.

Darko Milicic is the prime example. We have all witnessed the success of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, David West, Mo Williams and Josh Howard. At the time, every scout loved Milicic. A 7 footer who could play the post physically and shoot 3's was unheard of. So it's hard to blame Detroit for this pick. But it looks so much worse when so many players from that draft succeeded. Yet rarely does a draft class have that much success. The same goes for Sam Bowie. With Hakeem, Jordan and Barkley all drafted in 1984 as well, that pick by Portland looks even worse.

In 2002, Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Drew Gooden, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Dajuan Wagner, Nene Hilario and Chirs Wilcox were all taken ahead of Amare Stoudamire and Caron Butler. No one remembers this because they were the best players to come out of that draft, which is not saying much. However, as everyone knows, it's impossible to truly know how great a player will become. With so many busts in 2002 more praise should be given to Miami and Phoenix for finding the only gems than to the other teams for swinging and missing.

Some aruge that there were so many stars in the '03 draft that Detroit is even dumber for taking the one bust. But second guessing draft picks is stupid. No one argued the Milicic pick (among scouts). With the public watching Carmelo lead Syracuse to the NCAA Championship, it gave us something tangible to hold onto. Milicic was foreign to us, both literally and metaphorically. Therefore, to the public, the pick looked especially bad. And when he went to Larry Brown, who detests playing rookies, he had even less of a chance to succeed.

So what makes a true bust? A player's draft potential vs. where he was picked. But it's also players who were given opportunities. Darko never cracked the Detroit rotation. The same goes with NFL QBs. A QB is only truly a bust if he has significant time starting and never finds his way. Others like Brady Quinn, who have had very few NFL starts, cannot yet be considered busts. He has still not had an adequate opportunity. We all conveniently forget that Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions his rookie year. But with plenty of experience, Manning improved. There's a reason why he was taken number one. The Indianapolis coaching staff gave him time to fulfill his potential.

But back to the NBA. If a player is not drafted in the top 5, he's probably not supposed to be a superstar (I do realize that the majority of NBA stars were drafted outside of the top 5.) And we cannot call rookies and 3rd year players busts. We can however, call Memphis 4th overall pick Drew Gooden a bust. Or the entire top 5 of the 2000 draft (Kenyon Martin, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer, Mike Miller). These guys are busts because they had superstar potential, and came nowhere close to fulfilling it, despite being given every opportunity.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

NFL Picks Week 16

Last Week - Spread: 6-8-2
Last Week - Game Winner: 8-8
Overall - Spread: 79-80-3
Overall - Game Winner: 103-59
This Week: 1-0

Green Bay Packers (-14) over Seattle Seahawks
Game Winner: Green Bay Packers

Kansas City Chiefs (-13.5) over Cincinnati Bengals
Game Winner: Cincinnati Bengals

Oakland Raiders (+3.5) over Cleveland Browns
Game Winner: Oakland Raiders

Buffalo Bills (+9) over Atlanta Falcons
Game Winner: Atlanta Falcons

Miami Dolphins (-1.5) over Houston Texans
Game Winner: Miami Dolphins

New York Giants (-8) over Carolina Panthers
Game Winner: New York Giants

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+14) over New Orleans Saints
Game Winner: New Orleans Saints

Jacksonville Jaguars (+10) over New England Patriots
Game Winner: New England Patriots

Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) over Baltimore Ravens
Game Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers

Philadelphia Eagless (-7) over Denver Broncos
Game Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

Saint Louis Rams (+15) over Arizona Cardinals
Game Winner: Arizona Cardinals

Detroit Lions (+14) over San Francisco 49ers
Game Winner: San Francisco 49ers

Indianapolis Colts (-4) over New York Jets
Game Winner: Indianapolis Colts

Dallas Cowboys (-7) over Washington Redskins
Game Winner: Dallas Cowboys

Minnesota Vikings (-7) over Chicago Bears
Game Winner: Minnesota Vikings

Saturday, December 26, 2009

NFL Salary Cap Woes

With the NFL on the brink on an uncapped season, the most glaring issues of the salary cap are coming to light. With no regulation on rookie contracts, the Matthew Staffords of the NFL can walk away with 6 year, $72 million contracts and $41 million guaranteed. How can we expect players to be totally motivated with that kind of money already in their pockets before they even play a down? So let's go NBA on these players and mandate contracts for certain draft picks. Start off with a contract of 3 years, $15 million, decreases of 1% (in terms of money) with every pick. Day two selections have to make the roster in training camp to even get a real contract. Players are then motivated to play for a bigger contracts when their rookie deals expire, and high draft picks do not make or break teams.

The counter argument is that nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. That's why players go for so much guaranteed money; one injury could end their careers, and thus their paychecks. For the same reason teams want cheaper labor. No one in their right mind would choose a 50-year-old with more experience demanding $10 an hour to run a cash register when a 25-year-old only wants minimum wage. Owners are the same. Not wanting to invest in higher priced, more injury prone veterans (even if they're better players) makes them go for unproven rookies. Well, there's an easy solution. Guarantee contracts. NFL owners have too much power. They control their players' fates in every way. Let's take some of that control away.

However, if the NFL does in fact guarantee contracts, they will run into the same problem that exists with high draft picks: there's no reason to compete as hard. Here's the solution: a maximum of three years per contract, except for 6 guys. Therefore, players are always fighting for new contracts, and thus playing harder. With 6 guys as exceptions, teams can lock up their best players so the core of their team remains intact. With so much player turnover in the NFL, it's not as if most teams have more than 6 core guys anyway.

I realize these changes may be implausible or impossible in the current NFL and economic climate, but they would make for better competition and better player security. Draft picks like Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf will no longer completely handicap franchises, and teams will be comprised of the best players, as opposed to the cheapest.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Abolish the NFL Kicker

Imagine an NBA game tied with 3 seconds left, ball at half court. Instead of getting the ball to LeBron or Kobe to win the game, the coach brings out a 5'8 150 lb. white guy to answer a trivia question. Or how about bases loaded, 2 outs, bottom of the 9th, tie game, and the coach calls on an overweight white guy (oh wait, these guys really do play baseball!) to attempt a 30 foot shot on a basketball hoop located behind the wall in center field to decide the game. These scenarios make no sense. They have no relation to what has happened for the entire game. Neither does the NFL kicker.

Imagine if we gave MLB teams an almost guaranteed opportunity at an extra 1/6 of a run every time someone crossed home plate, and an extra 1/2 of a run every time they left a runner on third base. Or worse, what if a game was decided because, for whatever reason, a team did not get this 1/6th bonus and lost the game by 1/6 of a run? If you're thinking this sounds totally implausible and stupid, you're quite right. But let's take a step back for a moment. These ridiculous scenarios sound oddly familiar to football . . .

Each time a team scores, they get an opportunity to get an extra 1/6th of the points they just acquired (1 for the extra point, 6 for a touchdown.) Any time teams get somewhat close to a touchdown, they get a relatively good shot at a field goal (3 points,) or half of a touchdown. These opportunities for easy scores are no different from the absurd scenario of NBA trivia questions for extra points. Yet, one sounds completely bizarre and the other is widely accepted. It is only because we are so used to the kicker that we accept it, but if we rationally analyze their effect, it is one of the most ridiculous aspects of any sports. By allowing teams to rack up additional points in these ways, the NFL is basically saying:

Extra Point - "Hey guys! Great job getting into the end-zone! Have a little candy bonus with your touchdown!"

Field Goal - "Well, you couldn't quite make it all the way. But buck up! We're giving you a shot at points so you don't feel so bad."

In no other sport is there an extra bonus for doing what you're supposed to do. Teams try to score baskets, goals and runs, but they don't get a bonus for doing so. And since when is "almost" good enough in sports?

The most bothersome part about kickers: who they are. All other NFL players have some combination of size, strength, speed, athleticism, skill and intelligence. Kickers do not. Have you ever witnessed a kicker trying to tackle a return man? It's really quite sad. An NFL player should not be congratulated for making a tackle 1/20 tries.

So let's imagine the NFL without kickers: What would this entail? Games would be decided by the right players. Teams would go for it on 4th down way more often. There would be fewer fluke victories (consequently, coaches would not get ridiculously overpaid and overhyped for one season of success...*cough* Lovie Smith *cough*). Combined with a switch to the college overtime system, games would be just as exciting. But think about it: how many times has your team been killed by field goal mishaps? They're painful. In fact, no one remembers great kickers. We only remember the ones that blow it (Scott Norwood, anyone?) I say we just get rid of them so there's no need to think about them anyway.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NFL Picks Week 15

Last Week - Spread: 8-8
Last Week - Game Winner: 11-5
Overall - Spread: 73-72-1
Overall - Game Winner: 95-51

Indianapolis Colts (-3.5) over Jacksonville Jaguars
Game Winner: Indianapolis Colts

Number of teams that rest their players after securing #1 seeds: almost everyone. Number of teams that go on to win the Super Bowl title: I can't think of any. As everyone has already pointed out, the only time the Colts won was when they were the #3 seed and played hard every week. Another exciting stat: The amount Jim Caldwell has contributed to Indianapolis' success: zero. To take another shot at him, what is the percentage of people (outside of Indy) that would recognize him if they saw him walking on the street? Approximately 3.7%.

Dallas Cowboys (+7) over New Orleans Saints
Game Winner: New Orleans Saints

Indy and New Orleans might be the two worst 13-0 teams ever. You know they're especially bad when ESPN analysts don't unanimously, or at least almost unanimously pick them to: a.) win each week and b.) make the Super Bowl. Truthfully, I really wanted to pick Dallas to win this game, but as we all know, it's December, which means 3 things . . . Wade Phillips' only solace from his team's yearly breakdown is eating his 18 daily Big Macs. Jerry Jones is hiring even more attractive cheerleaders to make his fans forget that they won't make the playoffs. And lastly, Tony Romo has a stupid smile on his face. On another note: Did anyone else jump for joy when Romo became the holder again?

Green Bay Packers (+2) over Pittsburgh Steelers
Game Winner: Green Bay Packers

The only way to explain this line is that Vegas is a Steelers fan. 5 game win streak vs. 5 losing streak. Though Mike Tomlin is still by far the coolest coach in football. If I could pick any coach to be my best friend, he would definitely be the one.

Tennessee Titans (-3) over Miami Dolphins
Game Winner: Tennessee Titans

The two consistent underdog/Vegas does not favor them enough so everyone picks each week teams. This begs the question, who do we pick now? The home team, I say. Although it pains me to think Tennessee is actually in the playoff hunt with a win on Sunday, once again falsely validating Jeff Fisher. It seems like everyone has forgotten that THE OWNER turned the team around by making his own coaching decision.

Buffalo Bills (+7) over New England Patriots
Game Winner: New England Patriots

It's obvious: if the Bills win, Perry Fewell goes Mike Singletary and removes the "interim" label. Lucky for him the Pats are not what they once were, with a 1-5 record away from home. Every Pats game this season has been an "eff you" challenge for the opposing team. Some other evil dynasties: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Red Wings.

Arizona Cardinals (-11.5) over Detroit Lions
Game Winner: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona has not lost two in a row the whole season. Detroit is missing Matthew Stafford and Kevin Smith. Baltimore beat them by 45 last week. To anyone who has Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin or Kurt Warner on his fantasy team: Say hello to the next round of the playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers (+8.5) over Philadelphia Eagles
Game Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco is 1-5 on the road, but they have not lost a road game by more than 6. What has been driving me crazy all week is how Vegas knew to make the spread only 4.5 last week against the Cardinals. It's like they knew Arizona was due for a collapse. There has to be an inside job here. Tim Donaghy #2, anyone?

New York Jets (-6) over Atlanta Falcons
Game Winner: New York Jets

No Matt Ryan, an injured Michael Turner and the Jets fighting for the playoffs. Throw in Mike Smith and you have the holy trinity of race-neutral names (random, I know).

Chicago Bears (+11) over Baltimore Ravens
Game Winner: Baltimore Ravens

Gotta love Vegas for completely overrating the Ravens because of an offensive outburst against a horrendous defense. What if it had been the Saints winning 48-3? What would the spread on this game have been? 20? 30? On an unrelated note, how is Lovie Smith not on the hot seat (at least with the media)? Tony Dungy could only pull off the "laid back, players' coach" thing because he had Peyton Manning. I know they went to the Super Bowl, but c'mon. They were not that good.

Kansas City Chiefs (-2) over Cleveland Browns
Game Winner: Kansas City Chiefs

It makes me so happy that the Chiefs are a favorite; they really do work hard, even if they have no talent. If I had to rank bad teams that I hope will turn things around, it would look like this:

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Detroit Lions
3. Saint Louis Rams
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
198. Cleveland Browns

I actually spent 10 minutes trying to come up with a reason why the Browns are likable. There isn't one. Someone prove me wrong.

Saint Louis Rams (+11) over Houston Texans
Game Winner: Houston Texans

This game screams "possible upset." Houston is coming off a huge win; Saint Louis a huge loss. I would be a fool to make the logical pick here. Too many times this scenario leads to the impossible upset. On a random but upsetting note, what was worse, Steve Spagnuolo leaving the Giants or the his becoming head coach of the Rams?

Cincinnati Begnals (+6.5)
over San Deigo Chargers
Game Winner: San Diego Chargers

It didn't take much time for the Broncos to be exposed. The same will happen to Cincinnati when they lose in the first round of the playoffs. Did you know they've only scored more than 23 points once (not including a 45 point outburst against the Bears)? Yet, I'm taking them simply because of the "death of a teammate/coach/etc." effect. It always makes teams come together. Case in point: in Chad Ochocinco's interview about Chris Henry, his eyes had a half teary, half "I'm gonna go for 15 catches 200 yards and 3 TDs because my friend died" look.

Denver Broncos (-14) over Oakland Raiders
Game Winner: Denver Broncos

It's so hard to pick Denver, especially when Josh McDaniels has become the coach everyone loves to root against. Isn't it ironic that he kicked out the player everyone roots against, and subsequently became that same person? Gotta love the irony of the NFL.

Seattle Seahawks (-6.5) over Tampa Bay Buccanneers
Game Winner: Seattle Seahawks

Seattle is 4-2 at home despite their 5-8 record. However, this is by far the most boring game of the week. In fact, no matter who they are playing, Seattle is always involved in the most boring game of the week. Even when they made the Super Bowl, was anyone really excited?

Minnesota Vikings (-9) over Carolina Panthers
Game Winner: Carolina Panthers

If there's any player in the league I feel bad for, it's Jake Delhomme. Everyone knows he's seen his last day as an NFL starter. If there's any player I truly cannot explain, it's Deangelo Williams. I still have no idea if last season was a fluke. And lastly, how long will it take until Carolina's Steve Smith truly becomes "the other Steve Smith?" I say by next season, but Carolina's Steve will not go down without a fight.

New York Giants (-3) over Washington Redskins
Game Winner: New York Giants

So Vegas is saying that this is an easy match up. As a Giants' fan, I'm offended. I hope the defense is also offended after receiving a non-conference Alabama vs. random college beat down last week. Although probably not as offended as Jim Zorn, now that his firing has been almost guaranteed with the hiring of a new GM in Bruce Allen. A part of me wishes Zorn would just get a break . . . but then I remember: I hate all NFC East teams that aren't the Giants and I love non-Giant NFC East coaching turmoil.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ron Artest: Lovable?

In a recent Bill Simmons podcast, Dan Le Batard called Ron Artest "lovable." Yes, the same man who started a brawl at the Palace in Detroit, admitted to drinking before and during games, does not always give 100% effort, dominates the ball offensively, and my personal favorite, decided to try his hand at rapping. But let's take this comment seriously for a second. What was your first thought when Artest came out with his in-game drinking story? Was it:
a) Wow. That's hysterical. In every way possible.
b) I'm so disappointed in him. Get him into rehab now.
c) I wish he also hired prostitutes at halftime. That would've been icing on the cake.
d) I am not even surprised. Nor disgusted. In fact, I don't really care.

Any combination of a, c and d would be correct (although I'd go with a and c). You would be lying to say that you really hated Artest. He's one of the biggest characters in the league. But what separates him from a Stephen Jackson or Stephon Marbury, who the public hates? They rip apart team chemistry like Artest. They've been involved in fights (Jackson was in the brawl at the Palace as well). The answer becomes clear if you look at some words and actions of his that in my opinion, make him the single funniest player in the NBA. I promise after reading this, you will not hate him. He may not be lovable, but at the least likeable.

1. When describing basketball on the streets where Artest grew up, he said, "It was so competitive, [some guys] broke a leg from a table and they threw it, it went right through his heart and he died right on the court. So I'm accustomed to playing basketball really rough."

2. In his rookie season with Chicago, he applied for a job at Circuit City just so he could get the employee's discount.

3. In '04-'05, he was suspended by coach Rick Carlisle for asking for a month off because he wanted to promote a new album for the group Allure, which was affiliated with his production label.

4. In June '01 he broke two of Michael Jordan's ribs during a pickup game while trying to be physical as Jordan posted him up. Somehow a flying elbow came into play.

5. Before Game 7 against the Lakers last season, Artest missed the first two team buses, then showed up on the 3rd only in his underwear. Rockets owner Leslie Alexander was on the bus.

6. On his leadership skills: "It's the first time in a long time that I've been complimented on my leadership skills. Partly it was my fault that I hadn't been complimented in the past. Maybe some people just weren't recognizing."

We recognize. You're an idiot. But we love you anyway.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

NFL Picks Week 14

This Week - Spread: 0-1
This Week - Game Winner: 0-1
Last Week - Spread: 9-7
Last Week - Game Winner: 10-6
Overall - Spread: 65-64-1
Overall - Game Winner: 84-46

Indianapolis Colts (-7) over Denver Broncos
Game Winner: Indianapolis Colts

Cincinnati Bengals (+6.5) over Minnesota Vikings
Game Winner: Cincinnati Bengals

New York Jets (-4) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Game Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buffalo Bills (-2.5) over Kansas City Chiefs
Game Winner: Buffalo Bills

Green Bay Packers (-4) over Chicago Bears
Game Winner: Green Bay Packers

New Orleans Saints (-10) over Atlanta Falcons
Game Winner: New Orleans Saints

Detroit Lions (+14) over Baltimore Ravens
Game Winner: Baltimore Ravens

Miami Dolphins (+2.5) over Jacksonville Jaguars
Game Winner: Miami Dolphins

Carolina Panthers (+13.5) over New England Patriots
Game Winner: New England Patriots

Seattle Seahawks (+6) over Houston Texans
Game Winner: Seattle Seahawks

Saint Louis Rams (+13) over Tennessee Titans
Game Winner: Tennessee Titans

Washington Redskins (+2) over Oakland Raiders
Game Winner: Washington Redskins

San Diego Chargers (+3) over Dallas Cowboys
Game Winner: San Diego Chargers

New York Giants (+1) over Philadelphia Eagles
Game Winner: New York Giants

Arizona Cardinals (-3.5) over San Francisco 49ers
Game Winnner: Arizona Cardinals

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiger's Chance at an Exciting Life

Now that the Tiger incident has relatively blown over, let's appreciate something. Tiger Woods is the single most boring dominant professional athlete out there. But with this incident, he had a chance to add some excitement to his public life. Tom Brady has a child with someone that's not his wife. LeBron James' decision in the summer of 2010 will singlehandedly alter the future of the NBA. Michael Jordan is simply a mean person. Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds both use steroids. Alex Ovechkin is missing teeth and an out-of-control hockey player despite being a multi-millionaire. Obviously it would not have been in Tiger's best interest to admit he was drunk and going to see his mistress at 2:00 a.m., but a part of me wish it had happened.

Don't get me wrong. I love Tiger. I admire his golfing skills and always root for him to succeed. But man is he boring. When does anything exciting ever happen with him? Have you even ever heard him speak to the media? It usually goes something like this:

Reporter: Tiger, how'd you nail that putt on 18?
Tiger: I concentrated.
Reporter: What were you thinking at the time?
Tiger: Make the putt.
If he says more than ten words, it's headline news. But then he came out with that long statement about this car accident being a private matter. All I have to say is, why, Tiger? I realize that it would have ruined you had the truth come out (there's a lot of fishy stuff about what really happened). But we always truly love the athletes that are memorable for reasons other than their success. Babe Ruth was fat and called a home run. He even has a curse named after him. Magic Johnson had HIV and still maintained an all-pro NBA career. It's time for Tiger to do something.

I feel like Tiger is at the point where nothing exciting (in a positive sense) will ever happen to him. That's why when he crashed his car, a part of me hoped for the worst (not that he was hurt, but for his persona). What if the following scenario happened?

a) Tiger fights with Elin
b) Tiger leaves to see mistress
c) Tiger crashes car
d) Mistress calls Tiger to find out where he is
e) Elin picks up because he's unconscious and finds out about the affair

This definitely would have made his life more interesting. And maybe this even improves his image. Everyone loves a good comeback story (Birdman, anyone? Josh Hamilton? Kobe?). But in the classic Tiger fashion, nothing was revealed. He's still boring.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

NFL PIcks Week 13

Last Week - Spread: 8-8
Last Week - Game Winner: 9-7
Overall - Spread: 56-57-1
Overall - Game Winner: 74-40

New York Jets (-3.5) over Buffalo Bills
Game Winner: New York Jets

Denver Broncos (-6.5) over Kansas City Chiefs
Game Winner: Denver Broncos

Oakland Raiders (+15) over Pittsburgh Steelers
Game Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers

Houston Texans (-2) over Jacksonville Jaguars
Game Winner: Houston Texans

Tennessee Titans (+6) over Indianapolis Colts
Game Winner: Tennessee Titans

Philadelphia Eagles (-5) over Atlanta Falcons
Game Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

Cincinnati Bengals (-13.5) over Detroit Lions
Game Winner: Cincinnati Bengals

San Francisco 49ers (PK) over Seattle Seahawks
Game Winner: San Francisco 49ers

Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) over Arizona Cardinals
Game Winner: Minnesota Vikings

Washington Redksins (+9) over New Orleans Saints
Game Winner: New Orleans Saints

Carolina Panthers (-4) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Game Winner: Carolina Panthers

Saint Louis Rams (+9) over Chicago Bears
Game Winner: Chicago Bears

San Diego Chargers (-13.5) over Cleveland Browns
Game Winner: San Diego Chargers

New York Giants (+1) over Dallas Cowboys
Game Winner: New York Giants

New England Patriots (-5.5) over Miami Dolphins
Game Winner: New England Patriots

Green Bay Packers (-3) over Baltimore Ravens
Game Winner: Green Bay Packers