Friday, December 12, 2014

NBA 2014-15 after Six Weeks: From the Brim to the Dregs



The first full season of the National Basketball Association’s Adam Silver Era completed its first “Quarter” of play Monday, Dec . 8.

This 2014-15 round of play marks the 36th season during which the league has utilized the 3-point field goal. Initially viewed as an oddity or mere desperation tactic, this piece of hoops strategy has grown into an efficient, indeed even essential component to effective play. Consider this little factoid – there are currently six teams that rank in the Top Ten in both shooting and defending the “three.” Combined, these six squads are 90-32. The teams? The Hawks, Suns, Warriors, ‘Blazers, Clippers and defending-champion Spurs.

Portland, LA and San Antone are also among the elite in preventing opponent Offensive Rebounds.

Let’s see how the league “adds up” at the quarter-pole. (The Criteria is explained below.)

No. 1 Golden State Warriors (9)
[6-week ESPN rating: 1
3-week Abacus rating: 5
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 7
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 12]

18-2, .900; 1st in Pacific Division / 1st seed / 1st overall
KK:  +10; (11 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 1 overall
CQ:  +42; (.504 [12th] - .462 [1st]) / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  +48; (560 [14th] – 512 [3rd]) / No. 4 overall

No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies (13)
[6-week ESPN rating: 3
3-week Abacus rating: 1
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 2
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 1]

16-4, .800; 1st in Southwest Division / 2nd seed / 2nd overall (tied)*
KK:  +6; (7 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 3 overall
CQ:  +45; (.522 [3rd] - .477 [5th]) / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  +46; (591 [4th] – 545 [9th]) / No. 5 overall

No. 3 Dallas Mavericks (16)
[6-week ESPN rating: 7
3-week Abacus rating: 2
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 13
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 8]

16-6, .727; 4th in Southwest Division / 7th seed / 8th overall
KK:  +5; (8 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +49; (.540 [1st] - .491 [9th]) / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  +64; (628 [1st] – 564 [18th]) / No. 2 overall

No. 4 San Antonio Spurs (16.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 2
3-week Abacus rating: 10
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 1
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 17]

15-5, .750; 3rd in Southwest Division / 5th seed / 6th overall (tied)
KK:  +7; (8 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 2 overall
CQ:  +26; (.497 [17th] - .471 [2nd]) / No. 5 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  +49; (544 [18th] – 495 [1st]) / No. 3 overall

No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers (27.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 5
3-week Abacus rating: 9
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 15
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 19]

16-4, .800; 1st in Northwest Division / 2nd seed / 2nd overall (tied)*
KK:  +4; (6 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall (tied)
CQ:  +11; (.499 [15th] - .488 [7th]) / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  +38; (577 [8th] – 539 [7th]) / No. 6 overall

No. 5 Washington Wizards (27.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 11
3-week Abacus rating: 4
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 11
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 9]

14-6, .700; 1st in Southeast Division / 2nd seed / 9th overall (tied)
KK:  +2; (4 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)***
CQ:  +33; (.508 [9th] - .475 [4th]) / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  +69; (573 [10th] – 504 [2nd]) / No. 1 overall

No. 7 Toronto Raptors (29.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 9
3-week Abacus rating: 7
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 12
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 9]

16-5, .762; 1st in Atlantic Division / 1st seed / 5th overall
KK:  +3; (6 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  +25; (.530 [2nd] - .505 [22nd]) / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  +27; (601 [2nd] – 574 [24th]) / No. 8 overall

No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers (32)
[6-week ESPN rating: 6
3-week Abacus rating: 19
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 3
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 5]

15-5, .750; 2nd in Pacific Division / 5th seed / 6th overall (tied)
KK:  +4; (7 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall (tied)
CQ:  +24; (.520 [4th] - .496 [13th]) / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  +21; (542 [19th] – 521 [4th]) / No.  10 overall

No. 9 Houston Rockets (34)
[6-week ESPN rating: 4
3-week Abacus rating: 3
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 8
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 2]

16-4, .800; 1st in Southwest Division / 2nd seed / 2nd overall (tied)*
KK:  +5; (8 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +3; (.476 [26th] - .473 [3rd]) / No. 13 overall
SPOR-t:  +14; (540 [20th] – 526 [5th]) / No. 13 overall

No. 10 Cleveland Cavaliers (38)
[6-week ESPN rating: 8
3-week Abacus rating: 12
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 14
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 15]

12-7, .632; 1st in Central Division / 4th seed / 11th overall
KK:  +2; (6 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)***
CQ:  +26; (.518 [6th] - .492 [10th]) / No. 5 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  +22; (589 [5th] – 567 [21st]) / No. 9 overall

No. 11 Chicago Bulls (47)
[6-week ESPN rating: 10
3-week Abacus rating: 8
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 9
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 7]

12-8, .600; 2nd in Central Division / 5th seed / 12th overall
KK:  +5; (10 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +9; (.507 [11th] - .498 [16th]) / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  -14; (555 [15th] – 569 [23rd]) / No. 18 overall

No.12 Sacramento Kings (47.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 18
3-week Abacus rating: 6
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 16
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 21]

11-10, .524; 4th in Pacific Division / 9th seed / 14th overall
KK:  0; (5 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 17 overall (tied)
CQ:  +17; (.520 [5th] - .503 [21st]) / No. 9 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  +30; (583 [6th] – 553 [13th]) / No. 7 overall

No. 13 Atlanta Hawks (48.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 12
3-week Abacus rating: 15
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 23
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 26]

14-6, .700; 1st in Southeast Division / 2nd seed / 9th overall (tied)
KK:  +3; (5 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  +17; (.503 [13th] - .486 [6th]) / No. 9 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -20; (535 [23rd] – 555 [15th]) / No. 20 overall

No. 14 New Orleans Pelicans (54)
[6-week ESPN rating: 14
3-week Abacus rating: 11
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 19
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 22]

9-10, .474; 5th in Southwest Division / 10th seed / 16th overall
KK:  +2; (4 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)***
CQ:  0; (.515 [7th] - .515 [27th]) / No. 14 overall
SPOR-t:  +19; (598 [3rd] – 579 [26th]) / No. 11 overall

No. 15 Phoenix Suns (60)
[6-week ESPN rating: 13
3-week Abacus rating: 18
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 10
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 14]

12-10, .545; 3rd in Pacific Division / 8th seed / 13th overall
KK:  +2; (6 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -11; (.490 [20th] - .501 [19th]) / No. 17 overall
SPOR-t:  -13; (540 [20th] – 553 [13th]) / No. 17 overall

No. 16 Milwaukee Bucks (63)
[6-week ESPN rating: 16
3-week Abacus rating: 13
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 25
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 28]

11-11, .500; 3rd in Central Division / 6th seed / 15th overall
KK:  +1; (5 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 16 overall
CQ:  -7; (.489 [21st] - .496 [14th]) / No. 16 overall
SPOR-t:  0; (561 [13th] – 561 [17th]) / No. 16 overall

No. 17 Denver Nuggets (67.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 22
3-week Abacus rating: 24
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 20
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 27]

9-12, .429; 2nd in Northwest Division / 10th seed / 18th overall
KK:  0; (4 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 17 overall (tied)
CQ:  -13; (.498 [16th] - .511 [24th]) / No. 19 overall (tied)*
SPOR-t:  +16; (572 [11th] – 556 [16th]) / No. 12 overall

No. 18 Boston Celtics (77)
[6-week ESPN rating: 21
3-week Abacus rating: 17
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 28
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 24]

7-12, .368; 3rd in Atlantic Division / 10th seed / 21st overall
KK:  -7; (2 Road Wins – 7 Home Losses) / No. 27 overall
CQ:  -4; (.493 [19th] - .497 [15th]) / No. 15 overall
SPOR-t:  +10; (562 [12th] – 552 [12th]) / No. 14 overall

No. 19 Brooklyn Nets (83.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 20
3-week Abacus rating: 15
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 18
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 16]

8-11, .421; 2nd in Atlantic Division / 8th seed / 19th overall
KK:  -2; (4 Road Wins – 6 Home Losses) / No. 20 overall (tied)
CQ:  -12; (.483 [22nd] - .495 [12th]) / No. 18 overall
SPOR-t:  -39; (528 [25th] – 567 [21st]) / No. 26 overall

No. 20 Orlando Magic (85)
[6-week ESPN rating: 19
3-week Abacus rating: 20
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 26
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 20]

9-14, .391; 4th in Southeast Division / 9th seed / 20th overall
KK:  +2; (7 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -25; (.482 [23rd] - .507 [23rd]) / No. 25 overall
SPOR-t:  -47; (517 [28th] – 564 [18th]) / No. 27 overall

No. 21 Miami Heat (87)
[6-week ESPN rating: 17
3-week Abacus rating: 14
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 17
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 3]

9-11, .450; 3rd in Southeast Division / 7th seed / 17th overall
KK:  -1; (5 Road Wins – 6 Home Losses) / No. 19 overall
CQ:  -16; (.499 [14th] - .515 [26th]) / No. 21 overall
SPOR-t:  -69; (507 [29th] – 576 [25th]) / No. 30 overall

No. 22 Oklahoma City Thunder (88.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 15
3-week Abacus rating: 28
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 6
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 4]

7-13, .350; 3rd in Northwest Division / 12th seed / 22nd overall
KK:  -2; (3 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -18; (.471 [27th] - .489 [8th]) / No. 23 overall
SPOR-t:  -18; (529 [24th] – 547 [11th]) / No. 19 overall

No. 23 Indiana Pacers (89)
[6-week ESPN rating: 23
3-week Abacus rating: 23
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 21
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 5]

7-14, .333; 4th in Central Division / 11th seed / 23rd overall
KK:  -3; (3 Road Wins – 6 Home Loss) / No. 22 overall
CQ:  -33; (.470 [29th] - .503 [20th]) / No. 29 overall
SPOR-t:  +5; (536 [22nd] – 531 [6th]) / No. 15 overall

No. 24 Charlotte Hornets (91.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 25
3-week Abacus rating: 21
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 4
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 13]

5-15, .250; 5th in Southeast Division / 12th seed / 24th overall
KK:  -6; (1 Road Win – 7 Home Losses) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -17; (.482 [24th] - .499 [17th]) / No. 22 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -21; (525 [27th] – 546 [10th]) / No. 21 overall (tied)

No. 25 Utah Jazz (93)
[6-week ESPN rating: 26
3-week Abacus rating: 22
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 27
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 25]

5-16, .238; 4th in Northwest Division / 13th seed / 25th overall (tied)
KK:  -6; (2 Road Wins – 8 Home Losses) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -15; (.507 [10th] - .522 [28th]) / No. 20 overall
SPOR-t:  -31; (574 [9th] – 605 [29th]) / No. 23 overall

No. 26 Los Angeles Lakers (96)
[6-week ESPN rating: 24
3-week Abacus rating: 29
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 29
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 29]

5-16, .238; 5th in Pacific Division / 13th seed / 25th overall (tied)
KK:  -6; (3 Road Wins – 9 Home Losses) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -21; (.512 [8th] - .533 [30th]) / No. 24 overall
SPOR-t:  -27; (578 [7th] – 605 [29th]) / No. 22 overall

No. 27 Minnesota Timberwolves (106.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 28
3-week Abacus rating: 26
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 21
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 11]

4-16, .200; 5th in Northwest Division / 15th seed / 27th overall
KK:  -6; (2 Road Wins – 8 Home Losses) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -29; (.494 [18th] - .523 [29th]) / No. 27 overall
SPOR-t:  -48; (554 [17th] – 602 [28th]) / No. 28 overall

No. 28 New York Knicks (108)
[6-week ESPN rating: 27
3-week Abacus rating: 25
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 5
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 23]

4-18, .182; 4th in Atlantic Division / 13th seed / 28th overall
KK:  -8; (1 Road Win – 9 Home Losses) / No. 28 overall (tied)
CQ:  -32; (.480 [25th] - .512 [25th]) / No. 28 overall
SPOR-t:  -35; (555 [15th] – 590 [27th]) / No. 24 overall (tied)

No. 29 Detroit Pistons (109.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 30
3-week Abacus rating: 27
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 24
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 18]

3-18, .143; 5th in Central Division / 14th seed / 29th overall
KK:  -9; (1 Road Win – 10 Home Losses) / No. 29 overall (tied)
CQ:  -28; (.471 [28th] - .499 [18th]) / No. 26 overall
SPOR-t:  -38; (526 [26th] – 564 [18th]) / No. 25 overall

No. 30 Philadelphia 76ers (118.5)
[6-week ESPN rating: 29
3-week Abacus rating: 30
'13-'14 4th "Quarter" Abacus rating: 30
'13-'14 3rd "Quarter" Abacus rating: 30]

2-18, .100; 5th in Atlantic Division / 15th seed / 30th overall
KK:  -9; (2 Road Wins – 11 Home Losses) / No. 29 overall (tied)
CQ:  -40; (.455 [30th] - .495 [11th]) / No. 30 overall
SPOR-t:  -65; (477 [30th] – 542 [8th]) / No. 29 overall

Power Ratings --The Measurement Instrument

Our team-ranking tool utilizes four elements. Two scales are based solely on team wins and losses; the others are measures of the efficiency of team performance in comparison with the competition. First, we’ll simply use win-loss record irrespective of conference.

The second criterion will be the difference between a team’s road wins and its home losses. Since this cute little metric is said to be a personal favorite of veteran NBA coach George Karl, let’s call this the Karl Kount (KK).

Criterion No. 3, Conversion Quotient (CQ), involves the rate at which a team converts its possessions into a successful field goals or free throw attempts. Like the KK, the computation is simple subtraction—a team’s rate of offensive efficiency minus that of the opponent.

Lastly, please allow Abacus to introduce the “SPOR-t” score. SPOR-t stands for “Shooting Plus Offensive Rebounds minus turnovers.” Add a team’s FG percentage and its offensive rebounding percentage (o. boards divided by the sum of those o. boards and the opposition's d. boards). Then subtract the percentage of a team’s possessions lost to turnovers. For example, a team shoots field goals at a .488 clip, offensive rebounds at a rate of .199, and commits a turnover on .143 of its possessions. So its SPOR-t is (488+199-143) or 544. Once again, our measurement will be the difference between the SPOR-t scores of a team and its opposition.

We’ll rank the teams from 1 to 30 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NBA 2014: 3-week Power Ratings

If we look at the NBA’s regular season as if it were a 48-minute game, then we’ve reached the six-minute mark – the first media time-out, if you will.

It’s hardly news that the league’s power lies in the West, and the initial set of power ratings seems to affirm this notion – five of the Top Six and seven of the Top Ten.

These rankings reflect the first 21 days of the season (through Monday Nov. 17).

Power Ratings --The Measurement Instrument

Our team-ranking tool utilizes four elements. Two scales are based solely on team wins and losses; the others are measures of the efficiency of team performance in comparison with the competition. First, we’ll simply use win-loss record irrespective of conference.

The second criterion will be the difference between a team’s road wins and its home losses. Since this cute little metric is said to be a personal favorite of veteran NBA coach George Karl, let’s call this the Karl Kount (KK).

Criterion No. 3, Conversion Quotient (CQ), involves the rate at which a team converts its possessions into a successful field goals or free throw attempts. Like the KK, the computation is simple subtraction—a team’s rate of offensive efficiency minus that of the opponent.

Lastly, please allow Abacus to introduce the “SPOR-t” score. SPOR-t stands for “Shooting Plus Offensive Rebounds minus turnovers.” Add a team’s FG percentage and its offensive rebounding percentage (o. boards divided by missed FG’s). Then subtract the percentage of a team’s possessions lost to turnovers. For example, a team shoots field goals at a .488 clip, its offensive rebounds account for .199 of its missed field goals, and .143 of its possessions result in a turnover. So its SPOR-t is (488+199-143) or 544. Once again, our measurement will be the difference between the SPOR-t scores of a team and its opposition.

We’ll rank the teams from 1 to 30 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally.

No. 1 Memphis Grizzlies (11) 
[3-week ESPN rating: 2]

10-1, .909; 1st in Southwest Division / 1st seed / 1st overall
KK:  +4; (4 Road Wins – 0 Home Losses) / No. 2 overall
CQ:  +47; (.513 [10th] - .466 [2nd]) / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  +43; (578 [8th] – 535 [9th]) / No. 6 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Grizzlies are 91-30 (regular season) on their home floor since the 2011 work stoppage.

No. 2 Dallas Mavericks (16)
[3-week ESPN rating: 10]

8-3, .727; 3rd in Southwest Division / 5th seed / 6th overall (tied)*
KK:  +2; (3 Road Wins – 1 Home Losses) / No. 6 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +62; (.543 [1st] - .481 [7th]) / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  +85; (634 [1st] – 549 [13th]) / No. 1 overall
Abacus Revelation: The highest scoring team in the league, the Mavs are No. 1 in forcing turnovers and No. 7 in opponent’s rate of conversion.

No. 3 Houston Rockets (19.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 1]

9-2, .818; 2nd in Southwest Division / 2nd seed / 2nd overall
KK:  +5; (6 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 1 overall
CQ:  +20; (.480 [23rd] - .460 [1st]) / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  +21; (535 [19th] – 514 [5th]) / No. 9 overall (tied)
Abacus Revelation: The explosive Rockets sport the best defensive efficiency (.460) in the league at this juncture.

No. 4 Washington Wizards (22)
[3-week ESPN rating: 9]

7-2, .778; 1st in Southeast Division / 2nd seed / 5th overall
KK:  +3; (3 Road Wins – 0 Home Losses) / No. 3 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +41; (.513 [9th] - .472 [6th]) / No. 9 overall
SPOR-t:  +46; (554 [15th] – 508 [2nd]) / No. 4 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Wizards 25% accuracy from the three-point line is down from 38% last year.

No. 5 Golden State Warriors (22.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 3]

8-2, .800; 1st in Pacific Division / 3rd seed / 3rd overall (tied)
KK:  +3; (4 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 3 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +31; (.497 [17th] - .466 [3rd]) / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  +17; (527 [21st] – 510 [4th]) / No. 11 overall  
Abacus Revelation: The Warriors (for two straight weeks) are No. 1 in FG offense (.499) and FG defense (.414).

No.6 Sacramento Kings (24.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 12]

6-4, .600; 2nd in Pacific Division / 6th seed / 9th overall (tied)
KK:  +2; (3 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 6 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +26; (.514 [8th] - .488 [9th]) / No. 5 overall
SPOR-t:  +53; (569 [10th] – 516 [6th]) / No. 3 overall
Abacus Revelation: Sacramento ranks No. 3 in both securing and preventing Offensive Rebounds.

No. 7 Toronto Raptors (25.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 8]

8-2, .800; 1st in Atlantic Division / 1st seed / 3rd overall (tied)
KK:  +1; (2 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 9 overall (tied)***
CQ:  +34; (.528 [2nd] - .494 [14th]) / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  +35; (580 [7th] – 545 [12th]) / No. 8 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Raptors’ offense is clicking at a 53% rate of conversion, second best in the league.

No. 8 Chicago Bulls (36)
[3-week ESPN rating: 7]

8-3, .727; 2nd in Central Division / 3rd seed / 6th overall (tied)*
KK:  +3; (6 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 3 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +23; (.516 [5th] - .493 [12th]) / No. 6 overall
SPOR-t:  -19; (560 [13th] – 579 [26th]) / No. 19 overall
Abacus Revelation: Last season’s worst shooting team (.432) currently ranks fifth (.469).

No. 9 Portland Trail Blazers (37.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 5]

8-3, .727; 1st in Northwest Division / 4th seed / 6th overall (tied)*
KK:  0; (1 Road Win – 1 Home Loss) / No. 14 overall (tied)**
CQ:  +15; (.504 [12th] - .489 [10th]) / No. 10 overall
SPOR-t:  +44; (593 [4th] – 549 [13th]) / No. 5 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Blazers recognize the importance of the three-point field goal—they’re No. four in both shooting and defending them.


No. 10 San Antonio Spurs (38)
[3-week ESPN rating: 4]

6-4, .600; 4th in Southwest Division / 7th seed / 9th overall (tied)
KK:  +2; (3 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 6 overall (tied)*
CQ:  +2; (.471 [26th] - .469 [5th]) / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  +21; (501 [28th] – 480 [1st]) / No. 9 overall (tied)

Abacus Revelation: The Spurs are yielding fewer than eight offensive rebounds per game, tops in the Association.

No. 11 New Orleans Pelicans (38.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 13]

5-4, .556; 5th in Southwest Division / 9th seed / 12th overall (tied)*
KK:  0; (1 Road Win – 1 Home Loss) / No. 14 overall (tied)**
CQ:  +18; (.525 [3rd] - .507 [24th]) / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  +57; (618 [2nd] – 561 [20th]) / No. 2 overall
Abacus Revelation: Solid ball-handling and aggressive board-work have made the Pelicans the third most efficient offensive team in the league.

No. 12 Cleveland Cavaliers (50)
[3-week ESPN rating: 6]

5-4, .556; 2nd in Central Division / 4th seed / 12th overall (tied)*
KK:  +1; (3 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)***
CQ:  +6; (.515 [7th] - .509 [25th]) / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  +5; (588 [6th] – 583 [27th]) / No. 15 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Cavs have been lighting up the scoreboard (fourth in PPG, second in points per possession), Clevelan’ (as in, No D) is No. 28 in opponent FG% and No. 25 in opponent Conversion Rate.

No. 13 Milwaukee Bucks (59)
[3-week ESPN rating: 17]

5-5, .500; 3rd in Central Division / 7th seed / 17th overall
KK:  +1; (2 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 9 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -5; (.463 [28th] - .468 [4th]) / No. 17 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  +11; (519 [23rd] – 508 [2nd]) / No. 13 overall (tied)
Abacus Revelation: Milwaukee’s defense is top-tier (fourth-best in opponent’s rate of conversion), but they rank 28th in points per game, shot and possession.

No. 14 Miami Heat (66)
[3-week ESPN rating: 14]

6-5, .545; 3rd in Southeast Division / 6th seed / 15th overall (tied)
KK:  0; (3 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 14 overall (tied)**
CQ:  0; (.502 [14th] - .502 [19th]) / No. 14 overall
SPOR-t:  -27; (522 [22nd] – 549 [13th]) / No. 21 overall
Abacus Revelation: Last season Miami’s opposition shot .457 from the field. Miami’s opposition currently shoots .457 from the field.

No. 15 Brooklyn Nets (71)
[3-week ESPN rating: 21]

4-6, .400; 2nd in Atlantic Division / 9th seed / 19th overall
KK:  -1; (1 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 18 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -1; (.502 [15th] - .503 [20th]) / No. 15 overall
SPOR-t:  -10; (558 [14th] – 568 [23rd]) / No. 17 overall
Abacus Revelation: Last season’s second-best team at forcing turnovers has dipped to No. 16.

No. 15 Atlanta Hawks (71)
[3-week ESPN rating: 16]

5-4, .556; 2nd in Southeast Division / 5th seed / 12th overall (tied)*
KK:  +1; (1 Road Win – 0 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -9; (.488 [19th] - .497 [16th]) / No. 19 overall
SPOR-t:  -54; (515 [25th] – 569 [24th]) / No. 28 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Hawks offensive efficiency has improved by four points (.488 - .484) since last season – and their ranking (19th) is six positions higher. Weird, huh?

No. 17 Boston Celtics (73)
[3-week ESPN rating: 22]

3-6, .333; 3rd in Atlantic Division / 11th seed / 23rd overall
KK:  -3; (1 Road Win – 4 Home Losses) / No. 27 overall
CQ:  -4; (.515 [6th] - .519 [27th]) / No. 16 overall
SPOR-t:  +40; (615 [3rd] – 575 [25th]) / No. 7 overall
Abacus Revelation: The C’s shooting is rather impressive, third best in FG%. Alas, the Stevens crew lets the other guys shoot just as well, third from the bottom.

No. 18 Phoenix Suns (73.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 14]

6-5, .545; 4th in Pacific Division / 10th seed / 15th overall (tied)
KK:  -1; (2 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 18 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -17; (.487 [20th] - .504 [22nd]) / No. 22 overall
SPOR-t:  -4; (530 [20th] – 534 [8th]) / No. 16 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Suns are Top Ten in preventing second shots so far, up from No. 21 last year.

No. 19 Los Angeles Clippers (74.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 11]

5-4, .556; 3rd in Pacific Division / 8th seed / 11th overall
KK:  -2; (1 Road Win – 3 Home Losses) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  +1; (.502 [13th] - .501 [18th]) / No. 13 overall 
SPOR-t:  -31; (508 [27th] – 539 [10th]) / No.  26 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Clippers are the poorest Offensive Rebounding team in the Association.

No. 20 Orlando Magic (75)
[3-week ESPN rating: 25]

5-7, .417; 4th in Southeast Division / 8th seed / 18th overall
KK:  +1; (3 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -15; (.485 [21st] - .500 [17th]) / No. 21 overall
SPOR-t:  -30; (519 [23rd] – 549 [13th]) / No. 25 overall
Abacus Revelation: After allowing opponents a 55% conversion rate in a win-less Week One, they’ve been under 50 in the subsequent nine games.

No. 21 Charlotte Hornets (81)
[3-week ESPN rating: 19]

4-7, .364; 5th in Southeast Division / 10th seed / 20th overall (tied)*
KK:  -1; (1 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 18 overall (tied)***
CQ:  +6; (.486 [24th] - .480 [11th]) / No. 17 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -28; (514 [26th] – 542 [11th]) / No. 22 overall (tied)
Abacus Revelation: Charlotte’s Top Five FG Defense from last season has slipped to Bottom Ten.

No. 22 Utah Jazz (83.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 20]

4-7, .364; 2nd in Northwest Division / 11th seed / 20th overall (tied)*
KK:  0; (2 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 14 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -14; (.507 [11th] - .521 [28th]) / No. 20 overall
SPOR-t:  -41; (572 [9th] – 613 [29th]) / No. 27 overall
Abacus Revelation: The young Jazz are among the Top Ten in FG%, points per possession, and Offensive Rebounding Percentage.

No. 23 Indiana Pacers (84.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 18]

4-7, .364; 4th in Central Division / 11th seed / 20th overall (tied)*
KK:  -2; (2 Road Wins – 4 Home Loss) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -27; (.466 [27th] - .493 [13th]) / No. 26 overall (tied)*
SPOR-t:  +16; (547 [16th] – 531 [7th]) / No. 12 overall
Abacus Revelation: A ranking of 27th (PPG, Conversion Rate, FG%) seems to sum up the Pacers’ offensive proficiency. Unfortunately, they also rank 27th in forcing turnovers.

No. 24 Denver Nuggets (89)
[3-week ESPN rating: 27]

3-7, .300; 3rd in Northwest Division / 12th seed / 24th overall
KK:  -1; (2 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 18 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -27; (.489 [18th] - .516 [26th]) / No. 26 overall (tied)*
SPOR-t:  -16; (546 [17th] – 562 [21st]) / No. 18 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Nuggets offensive output (points, FG%, efficiency) have been improving week-by-week. 

No. 25 New York Knicks (91)
[3-week ESPN rating: 24]

3-8, .273; 4th in Atlantic Division / 13th seed / 25th overall (tied)*
KK:  -4; (1 Road Win – 5 Home Losses) / No. 28 overall (tied)
CQ:  -23; (.484 [22nd] - .507 [23rd]) / No. 23 overall
SPOR-t:  +11; (567 [11th] – 556 [18th]) / No. 13 overall (tied)
Abacus Revelation: During Week Three, the Knicks took a page from their division-winning 2013 squad, hitting treys at nearly 40% while turning the ball over at a paltry 12% rate.

No. 26 Minnesota Timberwolves (97)
[3-week ESPN rating: 28]

2-7, .222; 5th in Northwest Division / 14th seed / 28th overall
KK:  -1; (1 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 18 overall (tied)***
CQ:  -29; (.499 [16th] - .528 [29th]) / No. 29 overall
SPOR-t:  -25; (566 [12th] – 591 [28th]) / No. 20 overall
Abacus Revelation: Rebounding is the one area in which the T’wolves’ have been excelling – fifth-best in securing offensive boards, sixth-best at preventing them.

No. 27 Detroit Pistons (97.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 26]

3-8, .273; 5th in Central Division / 13th seed / 25th overall (tied)*
KK:  -2; (1 Road Win – 3 Home Losses) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -25; (.478 [25th] - .503 [21st]) / No. 24 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -28; (538 [18th] – 566 [22nd]) / No. 22 overall (tied)
Abacus Revelation: Last season the Pistons ranked second in forcing turnovers (18%); currently they are dead last (12%).

No. 28 Oklahoma City Thunder (104)
[3-week ESPN rating: 23]

3-8, .273; 4th in Northwest Division / 13th seed / 25th overall (tied)*
KK:  -2; (1 Road Win – 3 Home Losses) / No. 23 overall (tied)**
CQ:  -25; (.459 [29th] - .484 [8th]) / No. 24 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -59; (500 [29th] – 559 [19th]) / No. 29 overall
Abacus Revelation: Though the Thunder are one of but two teams posting fewer than 90 points per game, Coach Scott Brooks can take heart in a consistently high (currently No. 6) in defensive efficiency.

No. 29 Los Angeles Lakers (110)
[3-week ESPN rating: 29]

1-9, .100; 5th in Pacific Division / 15th seed / 29th overall
KK:  -5; (0 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 30 overall
CQ:  -27; (.517 [4th] - .544 [30th]) / No. 26 overall (tied)*
SPOR-t:  -29; (589 [5th] – 618 [30th]) / No. 24 overall
Abacus Revelation: While the offense has shown some signs of spark, these Lakers have proven to be the least “pesky” defensive unit in the circuit.

No. 30 Philadelphia 76ers (118.5)
[3-week ESPN rating: 30]

0-10, .000; 5th in Atlantic Division / 15th seed / 30th overall
KK:  -4; (0 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 28 overall (tied)
CQ:  -59; (.437 [30th] - .496 – [15th]) / No. 30 overall
SPOR-t:  -108; (444 [30th] – 552 [17th]) / No. 30 overall
Abacus Revelation: On average, a game involving the Sixers features nearly 40 turnovers and over 50 free throws.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

MLB's African-American Pitchers -- A Dying Breed?



A Philadelphia middle-school little leaguer has a higher public profile -- what do they call it, Q factor or something? -- than any MLB starting pitcher over the past several seasons or so who happened to be, like Mo'ne Davis, African-American. I'd even speculate that she's more widely recognized than any black big-leaguer since Barry Bonds.

Friday's Straight Line looked back at the season that broke Baseball's "color line" and initiated the "ajarring" of a good many other societal doors.

Today's "take" actually better fits the theme of my blog, as it involves an ironical consequence that seems to have played out over the decades of aftermath to this historic breakthrough. While the initial period of integration -- with more than its share of bush-league resistance, mind you -- enabled the emergence of Mudcat Grant's Black Aces, the flow of African-American athletes (particularly pitchers) to the National Pastime has slowed to a trickle.

Football and basketball teem with Black American athletes, the NHL seems to feature more players of color than ever before -- but the diversity in baseball in these global times stems from south (the Caribbean) and east (Asia).

Consider these numbers -- Since Opening Day of 2011, nearly 500 different pitchers have started a regular-season game, 291 in the 2014 Season of Debilitating Arm Injury alone. A whopping nine of these pitchers are African American, one of them a military kid who was actually born in Germany. That's over 9,700 regular season games, of which 616 were started by these nine men.

Five of the nine have drawn a starting assignment in each of these four seasons. How many do you think you can name? All but one played for multiple teams during that stretch. The easy answers are David Price, now with Detroit, and the Yankees' CC Sabathia (though the slimmed down CC's 2014 was derailed after just eight starts). German-born journeyman Edwin Jackson gave his employer, currently the Cubs, 30 starts for the eight consecutive year. San Diego's Tyson Ross along with Jerome "Rent-Don't-Own" Williams (who threw for three teams in 2014) round out this quintet.

James McDonald (who hasn't worked since April of 2013 and dwells on the Cubbies' DL for now), Chris Archer (a full-time starter for the Rays this year), the Mariners' young Taijuan Walker and old war-horse Dontrelle Willis (thirteen 2011 starts for Cincinnati) complete the list.

African-Americans on the World Series Mound: A Little Quiz

Since Jackie Robinson entered the Major Leagues in 1947, there have been 34 African-American pitchers who have worked in the 68 subsequent Fall Classics. Exactly half of these players have been awarded at least one starting assignment.

Some of the questions alone are likely to "make you go Hmm" -- and the answers may make you look like this. (A mystery-resolving link is provided.)



Here we go ...

Who was the last African-American pitcher to earn a winning decision in a World Series game?

Who was the first African-American ever to pitch in a World Series game?

Which African-American pitcher has appeared in the most World Series (5)?

Name the Hall of Fame manager who started African-American pitchers in Games 6 & 7 of the same World Series.

Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe threw a five-hit complete game in his 1949 World Series debut. What five-time Yankee All-Star out-dueled him in that memorable Game1?

Who was the last African-American starting pitcher to earn a winning World Series decision for a National League team?

True or False? Vida Blue earned a 7-out save in his initial World Series appearance.

Who is the only African-American to pitch in the World Series for a National League team in the 1990’s?

Which African-American pitcher has appeared in three World Series for three different teams?

Which was the first MLB team to utilize two African-American pitchers in the same World Series?

Since Dwight Gooden started Game 5 of the 1986 World Series for the Mets, who is the only African-American pitcher to start a World Series game for a National League team?

Answers available here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Recalling Jackie Robinson "42" Years After His Passing



Not only do Numbers have a well-deserved reputation for truthfulness ... they also have a way of providing perspective.

On the 42nd anniversary of the passing of Sport's most impactful No. 42,
as legendary sportswriter Roger Kahn is publishing an insider's account of this history,
let's revisit "42," Brian Helgeland's 2013 film version of Jackie Robinson's MLB infancy.

The Narrative

“Please take a shower with me.”

So says Brooklyn Dodger right-hander Ralph Branca to his rookie teammate Jackie Robinson in one of the lighter moments in the film “42.” Branca’s awkward attempts to make his effort at camaraderie more palatable get them both to laughing. (And we all thought poor Ralph’s most embarrassing moment came four years later when he surrendered the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to Bobby Thomson.)

This sort of gentle humor arises from time to time in the movie, as when Robinson expresses concern that he’s being cut in spring training from the Dodgers’ Montreal affiliate. In actuality, Pittsburgh Courier reporter Wendell Smith was rescuing him from a lynch mob.

Sadly, such commonplace activities as the usage of locker-room showers and public restrooms were still filtered through the lens of segregation in the 1940’s. Indeed, one of the harder cases on those Dodgers, outfielder Dixie Walker, is shown immediately leaving the shower area upon Jackie’s entry.

The tale of Jackie Robinson has been well documented in American folklore, from his exploits at UCLA, through his historic Hall of Fame major league career, to his untimely death in 1972 at the age of 53—and even beyond, thanks to the tireless efforts of his widow Rachel.

This “based on fact” account of Robinson’s entry into “white” baseball imposes upon the details a humanity, in all its glory and all its ugliness. It also provides us a vivid and accurate representation of an era, from fashion to on-field equipment to a marvelous musical score (Cole, Holiday, Ellington, Basie…even some Hank Williams).

The film’s most compelling scene occurs in the corridor between the dugout and clubhouse during an early-season game against Philadelphia at Ebbet’s Field. Robinson had just been the target of some vicious, racially-toned bench-jockeying from Phillies manager Ben Chapman. Jackie temporarily cracked, smashing his bat on the wall before dropping to his knees in sobs. Dodger honcho Branch Rickey arrived to provide the right words to keep Robinson “living the sermon” and playing first base. (“Your enemy will be out in force and you cannot meet him on his low ground.”) In the tradition of a parable, Robinson singled to right in the eight, moved to third on a steal and throwing error, then scored the game’s only run on a single.



The schmaltziest scene involved Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Reese, a native of nearby Louisville, was reluctant to play a series in Cincinnati after receiving an uncomplimentary letter. From a filing cabinet in his office, Rickey pulled three over-stuffed manila folders—Robinson’s mail. In a haunting monotone, Pee Wee read aloud three letters, each more hate-filled and threatening than the last.

As Robinson and his mates took the field for the opening game, the stands erupted with invective—even a pre-teen relative of Reese, who sadly was merely aping his dad. Reese fielded a practice grounder from Robinson and ran the ball across the infield. Standing with his arm over Jackie’s shoulder, Pee Wee said, “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42 so they can’t tell us apart.”

The question “Why” permeates this story. At his initial spring training with the Montreal Royals, a reporter asked, “Is this about politics?” Robinson replied, “It’s about getting paid.”

A more crucial “why” required three askings—Jackie inquiring as to Rickey’s motivation in this endeavor. The response was both social and personal. As Rickey had told him in that narrow ballpark corridor, “You’re medicine, Jack!”

Is “42” a historically accurate accounting of Jackie Robinson’s entry to the major leagues? Not exactly.

But more importantly (as ESPN’s Howard Bryant observed), it is a movie to watch with a young person whom you love.

The History

Wikipedia includes in its entry for “42” a list of the film’s historical inaccuracies. Several minor game and player details are identified; radio voice Red Barber would not have been broadcasting from road venues; and Jackie’s to-his-knees “breakdown” (and Rickey’s subsequent pep talk) in reaction to the bitter racial tauntings of Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman was completely fabricated.

Not fabricated—confirmed in Steve Jacobson’s 2007 Carrying Jackie’s Torch—is the gas-station incident from Robinson’s lone season (1945) with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs. The precocious rookie with the big mouth on the ball field bartered bathroom usage in exchange for a rather profitable business transaction.

In effect (and certainly with a good bit more forethought and social intent) Branch Rickey was exercising the same principle—disregarding precedent and tradition in exchange for a championship team. He tells Jackie as much in his office. Leo Durocher tells the rest of the team in his “He’s Only the First” night-night story in response to a “We Won’t Play With One of ‘Them’” letter of discontent.

Always a forward-thinking man, Branch Rickey was the architect of baseball’s first farm system with the St. Louis Cardinals back in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s. Little wonder, then, that his efforts at integration were aggressive, but strategic. There had been prior attempts, mostly surreptitious. Acclaimed New York Giants manager John McGraw had tried some forty years earlier to pass off a Negro pitcher as Native American, even using the common nickname “Chief.” Alas, the player’s true identity was revealed, and he never pitched for the Giants.

Not to be foiled, Rickey told his inner circle in 1945 they needed the right man for the job. Jack Roosevelt Robinson, though validated by history, was a less than obvious candidate—and a “hard case” as noted by the ever-present Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier. Stubbornly strong-willed enough to have been court-martialed during his military stint, yet “in-the-moment” enough to fear being cut from the squad even as Smith rescues him from a potential lynching. The filmmakers suggest that a shared Methodist background factored into Rickey’s choice.

With the help of his classical education from Ohio Wesleyan, Rickey astutely foresaw how Jackie’s “guts enough not to fight back” in the face of vile invective would generate sympathy and then acceptance, first in his own locker room, finally in baseball overall.

As with Branca’s verbal clumsiness in the “shower” scene, the narrative counters the stark emotion of such a pivotal season in our national pastime in subtle ways: the Robinsons’ white baby-sitter; the presence of a black police officer on the ball field during opening-day ceremonies in 1946 Jersey City; the blue-collar Florida dude’s well-wishes and respectful “Ma’am” to Rachel; even the pregnant pause by the white kid in the Cincinnati stands prior to parroting his pop.

The family’s reaction to the iconic image of Reese and Robinson on the field that day is left to the viewer’s interpretation.

The film wraps up a pennant-winning season (a 7-game World Series loss to the Yanks is omitted) and offers some biographical and historical tidbits of the key figures.

Overall, “42” successfully combines the celebration of a historic occasion with a reminder of our need for such an occasion.