Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You Go, Boy – Oh, and the Ladies, Too


Adam Silver, like me and many others, is both a fan and supporter of women’s basketball, most particularly of the WNBA.

[Pause while a fair segment of the fan base vents its disagreement.]


The need for that pause was created by a public commentary the NBA’s commissioner had recently offered. While praising the exceptional quality of the WNBA’s on-court product, Silver was very direct in his assessment of the business side of things. The growth of the league in popularity and toward self-sufficiency has not met expectations.

That’s not exactly breaking news.

Remember when the Los Angeles Sparks were temporarily and unexpectedly ownerless not so long ago. Dark cloud of doom and doubt hung over the very existence of the league – even in the writings of some of those thanklessly hard-working journalists Mechelle Voepel cited in her ESPN rebuttal to the Commissioner’s thoughts.

What in the ensuing 18 months or so, above and beyond the intervention of Earvin Johnson Enterprises to plug that particular hole in the dike, has made the league any less susceptible to demise at the fall of one significant domino?

A couple of sponsorships? Hardly.

Increased coverage on ESPN? I’m not biting on that until I can count on something like “WNBA Wednesday” every week of the season, even if it’s on ESPNU.

Any other progress?

There was a slight, though optional, increase in roster size with the adoption of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Anything else I’m overlooking?

If not, then why is Silver getting harpooned and lampooned for speaking the truth? The best player in the league had been no less critical back in May.

He’s been chastised for “stealing the thunder” of the launch of Post-Season 2015 – was he supposed to wait until no one was listening?

Some are suggesting that he exposed his inexperience by just saying too much – or that he misread how his word choice would play in the media.

To all these or similar notions I cry, “Poppycock!”

We’re talking about a dude who was long mentored and hand-picked by a pretty smooth operator, the Dean of Sports Commissioners, if you will.

Adam Silver knew exactly what he was saying, where and when he was saying it, and how it would be received.

And you know what – given the steady support his league has given the WNBA since its inception, he had every right to say it.

The Silver-Voepel “debate” has shined some light on a good many dedicated folk who so diligently cover the league and the sport; it continues to induce productive discussion.

Good on Adam … Good for the League.

The irony of this whole pissin’ contest – Easy, there, easy; Kate Fagan legitimized that term for both genders on ATH this summer, so keep yer comments to yerself – might be that Silver’s clearest message was being delivered “between the lines.”

Little ol’ me can’t be the only one who heard the Boss put his WNBA counterpart on notice, can me?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Human Nature, Sports Books and Myths

Which came first – no, not the chicken or the egg – vice, or the human nature that seems so prone to it?

Did the apple convey to Adam the desire he was feeling towards it, or was the emotion already inside him seeking an object for its affection?

The Greek myths offer us the tale of Pandora’s Box. The nefarious Zeus essentially had enclosed within this exquisite package the Seven Deadly Sins. The crafty king of the gods then delivered this time-bomb to Pandora and the slow-witted Epimetheus as a wedding gift. The inevitable raising of the lid would and did foist its contents upon mortal man.

But hold up a second there, Syllogism-breath!

Did not the wily Zeus greatly enhance the odds of this little scheme’s success by making Pandora the most attractive and alluring creature ever, the better to entice the interest of an eligible bachelor?

Was not the Box itself elaborately bejeweled and bedazzled?

And have not chauvinists ever after made poor Pandora the archetype of an overly curious gender?

Seems as if there was some capacity for sinnin’ prior to the Grande Opening, wouldn’t you say?


I’ve been prompted to these esoterically ethical musings, perhaps ironically, by the relish with which media entities like Fox Sports and ESPN are incorporating fantasy line-ups, point spreads, et al into the content of their programming nowadays.

Let’s not be na├»ve, sports betting is nothing new – indeed more likely just another “Which Came First?” enigma. But that ol’ Black Sox Scandal in baseball a century ago kinda gave it a bad name and sent it underground.

As sports radio (perfected if not invented by Eddie Andelman and the Sports Huddle gang in Boston 40+ years ago) grew wide-spread, the lingo of gambling began to work its way back into the discussion – enveloped in a smoke screen of comparative analysis, in order not to cross some rather fuzzy lines.

And now … OverUnder.com sponsors Outside the Lines.

Fate was kind to me when it comes to this particular human vice – well-grounded, Depression-era parents not the least of those kindnesses … also learned a lesson or two in Wonderland, the old greyhound track in Revere.

A moral dilemma always seems less confounding in hindsight. In the moment, everything is “situational,” i.e. subject to the circumstances and involving some unknowns. Hindsight’s advantage has always been less about clarity/20-20 vision and more about a fuller awareness of the situation and its ramifications.

On the level of instinct, we are designed to seek gratification, whether it be a hungry toddler hollering to be fed or an old body succumbing to an afternoon snooze.

On the intellectual level, we come to understand and appreciate such notions as delayed gratification and a greater good.

Out of this oxymoron, society evolved.

The interplay of these contrasting impulses that steer decision-making creates the panorama that is the full range of human behavior, replete with both virtue and vice.

For example, my instincts are telling me that it's time to wrap up this diatribe, that a bell – more like a buzzer, actually (we live across the street from a high school; I can’t seem to escape that “sound”) – is supposed to ring about now.

Another waste of valuable instructional time. Tsk, tsk.

I guess we’ll just have to defer that ever-so-vital BenchMark Assessment for Objective 14.63, huh?

Friday, September 18, 2015

WNBA 2015: Second Half Ratings


Commissioner Laurel Ritchie launched her 2015 Championship Tournament last night, and things went pretty much according to form – home teams defended successfully, the reigning champs quite convincingly.

Full-season ratings would make New York and Minnesota prohibitive favorites to advance to the Finals, Chicago and their MVP enjoying a puncher’s chance. But it’s been a season replete with a lot more comings-and-goings than most, and team identity (much less chemistry) has been a transient commodity in a good many locales.

Let’s use our normal measurements, but look only at play since the All-Star Break (ASB).

Power Rankings --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 current Sacramento Kings 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 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally.
No. 1 New York Liberty (7.5)
[ASB Abacus rating: 2
Full season Abacus rating: 1]

11-6, .647; 2nd seed East / 2nd overall
KK:  +2; (5 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 3 overall (tied)
CQ:  +36; (.478 [7th] - .442 [1st]) / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  +79; (521 [5th] – 442 [1st]) / No. 1 overall

No. 2 Indiana Fever (8)
[ASB Abacus rating: 8
Full season Abacus rating: 4]

12-6, .667; 1st seed East / 1st overall
KK:  +4; (6 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 1 overall
CQ:  +22; (.479 [5th] - .457 [4th]) / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  +73 (529 [2nd] – 456 [2nd]) / No. 2 overall     
           
No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks (12)
[ASB Abacus rating: 12
Full season Abacus rating: 10]

11-7, .611; 1st seed West / 3rd overall (tied)
KK:  +3; (5 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 2 overall
CQ:  +35; (.499 [1st] - .464 [6th]) / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  +20; (526 [3rd] – 506 [7th]) / No. 4 overall (tied)

No. 4 Phoenix Mercury (16)
[ASB Abacus rating: 6
Full season Abacus rating: 4]

11-7, .611; 1st seed West / 3rd overall (tied)
KK:  +2; (4 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 3 overall (tied)
CQ:  +31; (.478 [6th] - .447 [2nd]) / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  +16; (494 [8th] – 478 [3rd]) / No. 6 overall

No. 5 Chicago Sky (18.5)
[ASB Abacus rating: 3
Full season Abacus rating: 3]

10-7, .588; 3rd seed East / 5th overall
KK:  +1; (4 Road Wins – 3 Home Loss) / No. 5 overall (tied)
CQ:  +12; (.490 [2nd] - .478 [8th]) / No. 5 overall
SPOR-t:  +55; (551 [1st] – 496 [6th]) / No. 3 overall

No. 6 Minnesota Lynx (22)
[ASB Abacus rating: 1
Full season Abacus rating: [2]

10-8, .556; 3rd seed West / 6th overall                                           
KK:  +1; (3 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 5 overall (tied)
CQ:  +8; (.469 [8th] - .461 [5th]) / No. 6 overall
SPOR-t:  +20; (511 [7th] – 491 [5th]) / No. 4 overall (tied)

No. 7 Washington Mystics (30.5)
[ASB Abacus rating: 5
Full season Abacus rating: 7]

9-10, .474; 4th seed East / 8th overall
KK:  -1; (3 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 8 overall (tied)
CQ:  +6; (.461 [10th] - .455 [3rd]) / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  +1; (482 [10th] – 481 [4th]) / No. 7 overall

No. 8 Atlanta Dream (32)
[ASB Abacus rating: 9
Full season Abacus rating: 8]

8-9, .471; 5th seed East / 9th overall
KK:  0; (4 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall
CQ:  -7; (.480 [4th] - .487 [10th]) / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  -11; (513 [6th] – 524 [9th]) / No. 8 overall

No. 9 Tulsa Shock (33.5)
[ASB Abacus rating: 4
Full season Abacus rating: 6]

8-8, .500; 4th seed West / 7th overall
KK:  -1; (2 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 8 overall (tied)
CQ:  -9; (.487 [3rd] - .496 [12th]) / No. 9 overall
SPOR-t:  -22; (522 [4th] – 544 [12th]) / No. 9 overall

No. 10 Connecticut Sun (40.5)
[ASB Abacus rating: 7
Full season Abacus rating: 9]

7-12, .368; 6th seed East / 10th overall
KK:  -3; (2 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 10 overall (tied)
CQ:  -28; (.462 [9th] - .490 [11th]) / No. 10 overall
SPOR-t:  -37; (494 [8th] – 531 [11th]) / No. 10 overall

No. 11 Seattle Storm (43.5)
[ASB Abacus rating: 11
Full season Abacus rating: 11]

5-11, .313; 5th seed West / 11th overall
KK:  -3; (1 Road Win – 4 Home Losses) / No. 10 overall (tied)
CQ:  -30; (.445 [11th] - .475 [7th]) / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  -90; (422 [11th] – 512 [8th]) / No. 11 overall

No. 12 San Antonio Stars (48)
[ASB Abacus rating: 10
Full season Abacus rating: 12]

3-14, .176; 6th seed West / 12th overall
KK:  -6; (1 Road Win – 7 Home Losses) / No. 12 overall
CQ:  -79; (.407 [12th] - .486 [9th]) / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  -128; (397 [12th] – 525 [10th]) / No. 12 overall

Three-ficiency
A funny thing was happening as WNBA 2015 wound its way from ASB to the playoff’s opening bell.
All the best three-point shooting was occurring in the East … literally. For the second half of the season, East accuracies spread from .360 to .328 while Western snipers ranged from .316 to .286.

For the NBA’s 2014-15 season, seven teams finished in the Top Ten in both shooting and defending the three-point shot – all qualified for the playoffs, including three of the four conference finalists.

The 12-team WNBA’s proportional equivalent (upper third) is a Top Four finish. The Fever finished the season tops on both scales. The Mystics (2nd & 3rd) and Cheryl Reeve’s seasoned vets up north (4th bothwise) closed business residing in this neighborhood.

Here’s how they stack up for second-half play in this little component of the competition.

We’ll rank the teams by the difference between their own three-point shooting and that of the opposition. (Attempts and makes are presented “per-game” for ease of comparison.)



                                                                                            
No. 1 Indiana Fever   [+59]
[ASB rating: 1
Full season rating: 1]

.345 [2nd] – 5.06 [5th] out of 14.67 [5th]
.286 [1st] – 4.22 [3rd] out of 14.78 [7th]

No. 2 Washington Mystics   [+34]
[ASB rating: 2
Full season rating: 2]

.360 [1st] – 6.11 [1st] out of 16.95 [3rd]
.326 [8th] – 4 [2nd] out of 12.26 [1st]

No. 3 Chicago Sky   [+29]
[ASB rating: 12
Full season rating: 9]

.338 [3th] – 4.18 [7th] out of 12.35 [12th]
.309 [5th] – 4.41 [4th] out of 14.29 [4th]

No. 4 San Antonio Stars   [+22]
[ASB rating: 10           
Full season rating: 8]

.314 [8th] – 4.06 [9th] out of 12.94 [8th]
.292 [2nd] – 3.88 [1st] out of 13.29 [3rd]

No. 5 Minnesota Lynx   [+13]
[ASB rating: 2
Full season rating: 3]

.316 [7th] – 4.06 [9th] out of 12.83 [9th]
.303 [4th] – 4.5 [5th] out of 14.83 [8th]

No. 6 Seattle Storm   [+2]
[ASB rating: 6
Full season rating: 9]

.313 [9th] – 3.88 [12th] out of 12.38 [11th]
.311 [6th] – 4.94 [9th] out of 15.88 [11th]

No. 7 Atlanta Dream   [+1]
[ASB rating: 8
Full season rating: 6]

.331 [5th] – 5.12 [4th] out of 15.47 [4th]
.330 [9th] – 5.71 [12th] out of 17.29 [12th]

No. 8 Phoenix Mercury   [-2]
[ASB rating: 5
Full season rating: 5]

.294 [11th] – 4.17 [8th] out of 14.17 [6th]
.296 [3rd] – 4.61 [6th] out of 13.56 [10th]

No. 9 New York Liberty   [-22]
[ASB rating: 11           
Full season rating: 12]

.336 [4th] – 4.24 [6th] out of 12.59 [10th]
.358 [10th] – 5.47 [11th] out of 15.29 [10th]

No. 10 Los Angeles Sparks   [-40]
[ASB rating: 9
Full season rating: 11]

.286 [12th] – 3.94 [11th] out of 13.78 [7th]
.326 [7th] – 4.78 [8th] out of 14.67 [6th]
                                                                                                                                                    
No. 11 Connecticut Sun   [-47]
[ASB rating: 7
Full season rating: 10]

.328 [6th] – 6.05 [2nd] out of 18.47 [1st]
.375 [12th] – 4.74 [7th] out of 12.63 [2nd]

No. 12 Tulsa Shock   [-66]
[ASB rating: 4
Full season rating: 7]

.295 [10th] – 5.19 [3rd] out of 17.56 [2nd]
.361 [11th] – 5.19 [10th] out of 14.38 [5th]


Shooting and Scoring: The Grading Scale

It’s said that defense wins championships – it’s also said that good defense begins by making the other team retrieve the ball from the net.

To rank the teams, we’ll consider Points per game, Points per shot (i.e. field goal attempt), Points per possession and S(H)UM. (That last category is simply the sum of a team’s FG%, 3FG% and FT%.)

Again, we’ll rank the teams from 1 to 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings.

No. 1 Indiana Fever [11]
[ASB rating: 4
Full season rating: 2]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
78.8 [3rd] – 1.187 [5th] –0.996 [2nd] – 1620 [1st]

No. 2 Atlanta Dream [12]
[ASB rating: 12
Full season rating: 7]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
80.8 [1st] – 1.196 [3rd] –0.985 [4th] – 1571 [4th]

No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks [14]
[ASB rating: 7
Full season rating: 6]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
76.7 [5th] – 1.228 [1st] –1.015 [1st] – 1558 [7th]

No. 4 Tulsa Shock [21]
[ASB rating: 5
Full season rating: 5]
           
PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
77.3 [4th] – 1.193 [4th] –0.993 [3rd] – 1500 [10th]

No. 5 New York Liberty [23]
[ASB rating: 10
Full season rating: 10]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
75.8 [6th] – 1.159 [7th] –0.974 [5th] – 1567 [5th]

No. 6 Phoenix Mercury [23.5]
[ASB rating: 3
Full season rating: 4]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
73.9 [7th] – 1.206 [2nd] –0.973 [6th] – 1538 [8th*]


No. 7 Chicago Sky [26]
[ASB rating: 1
Full season rating: 1]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
80.0 [2nd] – 1.126 [10th] –0.966 [8th] – 1563 [6th]

No. 7 Washington Mystics [26]
[ASB rating: 6
Full season rating: 9]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
73.8 [9th] – 1.1 [8th] –0.973 [7th] – 1594 [2nd]

No. 9 Seattle Storm [31]
[ASB rating: 9
Full season rating: 8]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
71.3 [11th] – 1.160 [6th] –0.915 [11th] – 1579 [3rd]

No. 10 Connecticut Sun [38]
[ASB rating: 8
Full season rating: 11]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
73.8 [8th] – 1.128 [9th] –0.958 [10th] – 1411 [11th]

No. 11 Minnesota Lynx [38.5]
[ASB rating: 2 
Full season rating: 3]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
73.5 [10th] – 1.118 [11th] –0.958 [9th] – 1538 [8th*]

No. 12 San Antonio Stars [48]
[ASB rating: 11
Full season rating: 12]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
65.1 [12th] – 0.980 [12th] –0.827 [12th] – 1442 [12th]


Prior Ratings and Data are available through Week 2, Week 4, Week 6, ASB, Week 10 and Week 12.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Musical Fads for $800, Alex


Not too long ago, I ran across a piece of terminology with which I was unfamiliar whilst indulging a craving for amusement on YouTube, not exactly a routine occurrence (neither the YouTubing nor the linguistic stumper). Noticing that a band I kinda like had done a video for a catchy, ole tune that I rather enjoy – well, who could resist?

Befitting a “throw-back” band, the black-and-white video is like the early days of MTV when the band itself would be depicted performing the tune in some abnormal setting – in the middle of a busy street or hang-gliding through the Rockies. In this case, the setting is a residence and the “star” resembles the late Jonathan Winters or maybe Tyler Perry, a heavy-set dude portraying an older woman. I also notice that one of the band members is wearing and playing an old-fashioned washboard – yes, I said a washboard.

As I was satiating my bemusement with the tune and its tale, my wider range of vision took note of a certain arrangement of letters that didn’t seem to be matching up with anything in my mental dictionary. A quick check of my for-real dictionary provided no assistance. Yet, there were those seven letters, in that very same order, included in the titles of a couple of the other video treats being teased in the sidebar. In all this usage, the word is capitalized and is positioned between the band’s name and the word “Combo.” Wazzup?

The video seemed to show maybe a handful or so of players manipulating a variety of strings (upright bass, fiddle, ukulele) and offering other rhythmic support like the afore-mentioned laundry device.

Well, since the tune is catchy and often features some audience sing-a-long, why not partake of an in-concert version of the tune “Mama Don’t Allow”? So that I do, and am not only rehearsed on the “Oh, No, She Don’t!” audience participation required during a live rendition, but schooled about a British craze back in the ‘50’s that had been spurred on by my prosaic puzzlement that actually sounds much like a type of fruity candy. The performance video reveals a six-man combo, drummer and keyboardist accenting the strings and washboard; in another, this line-up is joined by a older dude sitting (literally) in playing the spoons – yes, I said the spoons.

Somewhere along the way here in my quest for linguistic enlightenment, my hopelessly out-of-date self stumbles to the realization that I am sitting at a device that can likely clear up my misunderstanding in fewer clicks than it took to create it.

Sure enough, by the fourth letter, the musical mystery is recognized and identified as an actual genre of music dating back to the 1920’s. It had arisen out of the ragtime tradition, is typified by the use of non-traditional, even improvised instruments, and did indeed enjoy a comeback of sorts in the ‘50’s. 

What hopped to my mind was an old Warner Bros. cartoon in which Bugs Bunny calls the square dance at the hoe-down for his two hillbilly antagonists. (“I’ll pull your beard, you pull mine!”) 



Unlike the tattered hillbillies scufflin’ to the directives of a cwazy wabbit, England’s Jive Aces project a spiffier image – “Oh, how they adore us when we wear our blue fedoras, our zoot suits are the envy of the town,” as one of their clever original compositions puts it.

But they get down and dirty, in the best kind of way, when it's “Skiffle” time.  


Friday, September 4, 2015

Is Candace Parker Staking a Claim to Mt. Rushmore?


Mea Culpa … mea maxima culpa.

I have long been dismissive of the talents of a renowned but ringless WNBA superstar.

Blessed with an array of skills that stand out even among All-Stars and Olympians …

Possessed of a championship-rich prep and collegiate resume …

Groomed by Pat Summitt herself …

The only WNBA player to earn Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year recognition simultaneously …

But Candace Parker’s Los Angeles Sparks have ever encountered an obstacle in their path to a title … a tragic flaw, for the Aristotelians in the crowd.

Earlier this week, ESPN football analyst Trevor Matich spoke quite eloquently to the frustration and uncertainty faced by offensive guys whose quarterback is prone to frequent and pre-mature free-lancing, ala Washington’s Robert Griffin III.

Similarly, Parker’s crowd-pleasing skill and athleticism can too often turn her teammates into spectators through no fault of their own. On so many of her court-length forays, the notion of team ball seems to enter the picture only after Candace has been forced to pick up her dribble – fodder for the cannon of a concerted defensive effort.

Her WNBA numbers have always been solid: 18-20 points, 8-10 rebounds, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 percent shooting – but n’ary a sniff of the Finals.

It’s almost as if CP has too many skills and has been unable to harness that complete package for competitive purposes. Rather than establishing control over the game situation, the player can become indecisive. Size, ability, often simply arriving at the gym, had generally been more than enough to dominate for so long.

But such is not the case at the most competitive levels of play. We recall LeBron James’s sundry “growing pains,” don’t we? We also can recall a fella they called “Tragic” Johnson for a while … if we are of an age.


Those of that age ought to know of the poster boy of limitless potential, Ralph Sampson. A 7’4”, ball-handling, jump-shooting phenom, the Towering Sampson Twinned with Hakeem Olajuwon to play once for an NBA title. A string of injuries soon ensued and forestalled a couple of comeback efforts before the proverbial light bulb ever came on and Ralph could fulfill all that tantalizing potential.

But has the style and level of play that Sampson teased now come to fruition with the mid-season return of the Sparks’ 6’5” stud? Her scoring and rebounding numbers (18 and 10) are on par, her playmaking exceptional (an unprecedented 6+ assists per game).

The team’s impressive turnaround, however, speaks most to CP’s impact and improvement. Essentially, and measurably, the Sparks are 10 points better with her than without her. Let’s look at some numbers for Parker’s first 14 games back – which do not include the 26 and 11 she hung on Mike Thibault’s tough Washington Mystics in a come-from-behind victory Thursday night.

LA lost 13 of its first 16 games by an average score of 76.4 – 70.1. Since then, the average score has been 76.5 – 70.6 in their favor, a reversal of 12.2 points per game. Field goal percentage has flipped from a 42.5 – 43.5 deficit to a 47.7 – 38.9 edge, a differential of 9.8 percentage points … so too in the rate of converting possessions, where a 44.9 – 50.2 disadvantage was nearly “reciprocated” into 49.2 – 45.4 to the good. The LA defense is even forcing two more turnovers per game while their own miscues have dropped slightly (even with Candace’s typical two or three a game).

Even aesthetically, the Sparks’ performance is pleasing, particularly their interior passing. Parker and savvy vet Jantel Lavender had their mojo working well in the latter stages of last summer’s play and seem to have picked up right where they left off.

Certainly there will remain the doubters, anxious to holler “Aha!” – I was long a member of that club. They’ll speak to the team’s continued vulnerability on the backboard despite Parker’s gaudy numbers. They’ll reference the team’s league-worst three-point shooting, which is not at all enhanced by our gal’s sub-20 percent brickin’.

As the regular season dwindles and playoffs launch, gut-check time has arrived in a season that appears to be more wide-open than most.

Can fresh legs and the gentle mentoring of a former foe (Coach Brian Agler, who’ll likely prove to have been a pivotal cog in this evolutionary wheel when all is revealed) lead Candace Parker to the one Promised Land that seems to have eluded her – and perhaps to basketball immortality?

Great Zeus!

(Oops, I started in Latin and ended in Greek – mea culpa.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Have the New York Liberty Taken a Page from the Warriors’ “Scheme”?


‘Twould appear a page from the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship-winning playbook has fallen into the hands of the New York Liberty. The brain trust seems to have broken the Dubs’ code – but in reverse.

For the past couple of seasons and through two head coaches, the 2015 titlists were touted as a barnstorming offensive fireworks display starring the best backcourt ever. In actuality, they graded out in numerous ways as among the top defensive squads in the Association both seasons.

Under the leadership now of not one but two Detroit “Bad Boys,” the Libs hang their hat on a stout, stingy defense and a spit-in-yer-eye attitude. They reside in the W’s penthouse when it comes to opponents’ field goal shooting, rate of conversion and second-chance opportunities.

But did you realize they jumped up to No. 3 in conversion rate on the season. Since the All-Star Break (ASB), a bunch of 40-percent shooters have “splashed” to the tune of 48 percent and been scoring 79 points per game (up from 73).

This quiet offensive eruption has occurred even as the New Yorkers continue to play as if the three-point arc is a blemish on the court rather than a strategic factor in the outcome of the game – again a polar opposite to the approach of the Boys from the Bay.

It remains to be seen if Bill Laimbeer’s shell game will pay off as handsomely as Steve Kerr’s version. For the moment, his ladies stand No. 1 in each of our four ranking criteria.

Here are the ratings with two weeks remaining (through games of Sunday, Aug. 30). 

Power Rankings --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 current Sacramento Kings 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 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally.


No. 1 New York Liberty (4)
[10-week Abacus rating: 1
ASB Abacus rating: 2
6-week Abacus rating: 4
4-week Abacus rating: 4
2-week Abacus rating: 6]

20-8, .714; 1st seed East / 1st overall
KK:  +7; (10 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 1 overall
CQ:  +55; (.480 [3rd] - .425 [1st]) / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  +122; (522 [3rd] – 400 [1st]) / No. 1 overall

Abacus Revelation: The Liberty have converted over half (429 out of 857) their post-ASB possessions.

No. 2 Minnesota Lynx (8)
[10-week Abacus rating: 1
ASB Abacus rating: 1
6-week Abacus rating: 1
4-week Abacus rating: 1
2-week Abacus rating: 2]

20-10, .667; 1st seed West / 2nd overall                                        
KK:  +6; (9 Road Wins – 3 Home Losses) / No. 2 overall
CQ:  +36; (.477 [4th] - .441 [2nd]) / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  +62; (520 [4th] – 458 [2nd]) / No. 2 overall

Abacus Revelation: Little things mean a lot. The Lynx miss the fewest three-point shots per game in the league.

No. 3 Chicago Sky (12)
[10-week Abacus rating: 3
ASB Abacus rating: 3 
6-week Abacus rating: 2
4-week Abacus rating: 5
2-week Abacus rating: 3]

18-12, .600; 2nd seed East / 3rd overall
KK:  +3; (7 Road Wins – 4 Home Loss) / No. 3 overall
CQ:  +20; (.497 [1st] - .477 [6th]) / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  +47; (552 [1st] – 505 [8th]) / No. 3 overall 

Abacus Revelation: The opportunistic Sky managed to win three of their last four games despite outscoring their opponents by only two points.

No. 4 Indiana Fever (19.5)
[10-week Abacus rating: 5
ASB Abacus rating: 8
6-week Abacus rating: 7
4-week Abacus rating: 8
2-week Abacus rating: 10]

17-12, .586; 3rd seed East / 4th overall
KK:  +2; (8 Road Win – 6 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  -1; (.480 [2nd] - .481 [10th]) / No. 6 overall
SPOR-t:  +13 (513 [5th] – 500 [5th]) / No. 5 overall
                
Abacus Revelation: The Fever rank No.1 in both shooting (.370) and defending (.309) the three-ball, a killer combination in 21st Century hoops.

No. 5 Phoenix Mercury (23)
[10-week Abacus rating: 4
ASB Abacus rating: 6 
6-week Abacus rating: 5
4-week Abacus rating: 7
2-week Abacus rating: 7]

17-13, .567; 2nd seed West / 6th overall
KK:  +2; (6 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  +19; (.467 [7th] - .448 [3rd]) / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  -18; (467 [10th] – 485 [3rd]) / No. 8 overall (tied)

Abacus Revelation: The Merc’s recent 2-4 stretch saw their efficiency rate drop from 47% to 44% as they wasted 15 possessions a game on turnovers.

No. 6 Tulsa Shock (25)
[10-week Abacus rating: 7
ASB Abacus rating: 4
6-week Abacus rating: 3
4-week Abacus rating: 2
2-week Abacus rating 1]

15-14, .517; 3rd seed West / 7th overall
KK:  0; (5 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall
CQ:  -5; (.474 [5th] - .479 [8th]) / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  +23; (525 [2nd] – 502 [6th]) / No. 4 overall

Abacus Revelation: The Shock miss 12.5 three-pointers a game, most in the league. They are also the top offensive rebounding squad (.284).

No. 7 Washington Mystics (26)
[10-week Abacus rating: 6
ASB Abacus rating: 5
6-week Abacus rating: 8
4-week Abacus rating: 6
2-week Abacus rating: 5]

16-12, .571; 4th seed East / 5th overall 
KK:  +1; (6 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 6 overall
CQ:  +14; (.464 [7th] - .450 [4th]) / No. 5 overall
SPOR-t:  -24; (480 [9th] – 504 [7th]) / No. 10 overall

Abacus Revelation: Would Coach Mike Thibault love a shot at Cheryl Reeve in the Finals? His Mystics have swept her Lynx two of the past three years (including during their 2013 championship run).

No. 8 Atlanta Dream (33)
[10-week Abacus rating: 9
ASB Abacus rating: 9
6-week Abacus rating: 9
4-week Abacus rating: 9
2-week Abacus rating: 8]

12-17, .414; 6th seed East / 9th overall
KK:  -2; (5 Road Wins – 7 Home Losses) / No. 8 overall
CQ:  -20; (.465 [8th] - .485 [11th]) / No. 10 overall
SPOR-t:  +5; (503 [6th] – 498 [4th]) / No. 6 overall

Abacus Revelation: The Dream produce the league’s second best per-game scoring with the league’s third worst field goal shooting.

No. 9 Connecticut Sun (33.5)
[10-week Abacus rating: 8
ASB Abacus rating: 7
6-week Abacus rating: 6
4-week Abacus rating: 3
2-week Abacus rating: 3]

13-17, .433; 5th seed East / 8th overall
KK:  -3; (6 Road Wins – 9 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  -15; (.460 [10th] - .475 [5th]) / No. 9 overall
SPOR-t:  -15; (494 [7th] – 509 [10th]) / No. 7 overall

Abacus Revelation: In the last six games, the Sun have allowed the opposition to shoot 47% from the floor and 41% from behind the arc. Adios, Playoffs.

No. 10 Los Angeles Sparks (36)
[10-week Abacus rating: 10
ASB Abacus rating: 12
6-week Abacus rating: 12
4-week Abacus rating: 11
2-week Abacus rating: 12]

12-18, .400; 4th seed West / 10th overall
KK:  -3; (5 Road Wins – 8 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
CQ:  -11; (.469 [6th] - .480 [9th]) / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  -18; (488 [8th] – 506 [9th]) / No. 8 overall (tied)

Abacus Revelation: In their last 14 games, the Sparks are shooting .477 from the field after going .425 for the first 16 games. Oh, and they now top the ranks (.450).

No. 11 Seattle Storm (44)
[10-week Abacus rating: 11
ASB Abacus rating: 11
6-week Abacus rating: 11
4-week Abacus rating: 10
2-week Abacus rating: 9]

9-20, .310; 5th seed West / 11th overall
KK:  -5; (2 Road Wins – 7 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall
CQ:  -33; (.445 [11th] - .478 [7th]) / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  -97; (412 [12th] – 509 [10th]) / No. 11 overall

Abacus Revelation: Seattle has shown some offensive proficiency, ranking fourth in field goal shooting and third in Points per Shot.

No. 12 San Antonio Stars (48)
[10-week Abacus rating: 12
ASB Abacus rating: 10
6-week Abacus rating: 10
4-week Abacus rating: 11
2-week Abacus rating: 11]

7-23, .233; 6th seed West / 12th overall
KK:  -8; (0 Road Wins – 8 Home Losses) / No. 12 overall
CQ:  -56; (.434 [12th] - .490 [12th]) / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  -117; (427 [11th] – 544 [12th]) / No. 12 overall

Abacus Revelation: Opponents attempt fewer three-pointers against the Stars than any other team in the league – or if you’d prefer, San Antonio surrenders fewer three-point field goal attempts than anyone else in the “W.”


Three-ficiency

For the NBA’s 2014-15 season, seven teams finished in the Top Ten in both shooting and defending the three-point shot – all qualified for the playoffs, including three of the four conference finalists.

The 12-team WNBA’s proportional equivalent (upper third) is a Top Four finish. The Fever (tops on both scales) and Mystics currently reside in this neighborhood.

We’ll rank the teams by the difference between their own three-point shooting and that of the opposition. (Attempts and makes are presented “per-game” for ease of comparison.)
                                                                                            
No. 1 Indiana Fever   [+61]
[10-week rating: 1
ASB rating: 1
6-week rating: 1
4-week rating: 3
2-week rating: 7]

.370 [1st] – 5.59 [4th] out of 15.1 [4th]
.309 [1st] – 4.48 [4th] out of 14.52 [6th]

No. 2 Washington Mystics   [+30]
[10-week rating: 2
ASB rating: 2
6-week rating: 3
4-week rating: 4
2-week rating: 4]

.343 [3rd] – 5.89 [3rd] out of 17.18 [3rd]
.313 [3rd] – 4.04 [2nd] out of 12.89 [2nd]

No. 3 Minnesota Lynx   [+25]
[10-week rating: 4
ASB rating: 2
6-week rating: 4
4-week rating: 5
2-week rating: 5]

.335 [4th] – 4 [9th] out of 11.93 [11th]
.310 [2nd] – 5.2 [9th] out of 16.8 [12th]

No. 4 Seattle Storm   [+1]
[10-week rating: 6
ASB rating: 6
6-week rating: 7
4-week rating: 7
2-week rating: 6]

.325 [7th] – 4.83 [6th] out of 14.86 [6th]
.324 [6th] – 5.17 [8th] out of 15.97 [10th]
                                                                                                                                                    
No. 5 Connecticut Sun   [-2]
[10-week rating: 3
ASB rating: 7
6-week rating: 5
4-week rating: 6
2-week rating: 1]

.346 [2nd] – 6.43 [1st] out of 18.57 [2nd]
.348 [11th] – 4.6 [5th] out of 13.23 [3rd]

No. 6 Phoenix Mercury   [-6]
[10-week rating: 5
ASB rating: 5
6-week rating: 6
4-week rating: 1
2-week rating: 3]

.326 [6th] – 4.73 [7th] out of 14.5 [7th]
.332 [7th] – 5 [7th] out of 15.07 [7th]

No. 7 Tulsa Shock   [-10]
[10-week rating: 9
ASB rating: 4
6-week rating: 2
4-week rating: 2
2-week rating: 2]

.328 [5th] – 6.14 [2nd] out of 18.69 [1st]
.338 [10th] – 4.83 [6th] out of 14.28 [5th]

No. 8 Atlanta Dream   [-10]
[10-week rating: 10
ASB rating: 8
6-week rating: 8
4-week rating: 12
2-week rating: 9]

.324 [8th] – 4.86 [5th] out of 15 [5th]
.334 [8th] – 5.28 [10th] out of 15.79 [9th]

No. 9 Los Angeles Sparks   [-18]
[10-week rating: 8
ASB rating: 9
6-week rating: 9
4-week rating: 8
2-week rating: 12]

.299 [12th] – 4.3 [8th] out of 14.4 [8th]
.317 [4th] – 4.4 [3rd] out of 13.87 [4th]

No. 10 San Antonio Stars   [-20]
[10-week rating: 7
ASB rating: 10
6-week rating: 12
4-week rating: 10
2-week rating: 8]

.302 [11th] – 3.73 [11th] out of 12.37 [9th]
.322 [5th] – 3.97 [1st] out of 12.3 [1st]

No. 11 New York Liberty   [-28]
[10-week rating: 11
ASB rating: 11
6-week rating: 11
4-week rating: 9
2-week rating: 11]

.310 [10th] – 3.57 [12th] out of 11.54 [12th]
.338 [9th] – 5.54 [12th] out of 16.39 [11th]

No. 12 Chicago Sky   [-40]
[10-week rating: 12
ASB rating: 12
6-week rating: 10
4-week rating: 11
2-week rating: 10]

.311 [9th] – 3.83 [10th] out of 12.33 [10th]
.351 [12th] – 5.37 [11th] out of 15.3 [8th]

Shooting and Scoring: The Grading Scale

To rank the teams, we’ll consider Points per game, Points per shot (i.e. field goal attempt), Points per possession and S(H)UM. (That last category is simply the sum of a team’s FG%, 3FG% and FT%.)

Again, we’ll rank the teams from 1 to 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings.

No. 1 Indiana Fever [7.5]
[10-week rating: 2
ASB rating: 4
6-week rating: 2
4-week rating: 3
2-week rating: 5]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
78.2 [2nd*] – 1.202 [1st] –0.988 [2nd] – 1590 [2nd]


No. 2 Chicago Sky [10]
[10-week rating: 1
ASB rating: 1
6-week rating: 1
4-week rating: 1
2-week rating: 1]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
82.5 [1st] – 1.166 [5th] –1.011 [1st] – 1582 [3rd]

No. 3 Minnesota Lynx [18]
[10-week rating: 2
ASB rating: 2  
6-week rating: 2
4-week rating: 2
2-week rating: 2]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
75.9 [5th] – 1.149 [8th] –0.979 [4th] – 1600 [1st]

No. 4 Phoenix Mercury [23]
[10-week rating: 4
ASB rating: 3
6-week rating: 4
4-week rating: 6
2-week rating: 6]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
74.8 [8th] – 1.177 [2nd] –0.963 [7th] – 1574 [6th]

No. 5 Los Angeles Sparks [25]
[10-week rating: 6
ASB rating: 7
6-week rating: 6
4-week rating: 9
2-week rating: 12]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
73.1 [10th] – 1.165 [6th] –0.972 [5th] – 1851 [4th]

No. 6 Tulsa Shock [27]
[10-week rating: 7
ASB rating: 5
6-week rating: 5
4-week rating: 4
2-week rating: 3]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
77.5 [4th] – 1.134 [10th] –0.980 [3rd] – 1510 [10th]

No. 7 New York Liberty [29]
[10-week rating: 10
ASB rating: 10
6-week rating: 7
4-week rating: 8
2-week rating: 7]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
75.3 [7th] – 1.169 [4th] –0.957 [9th] – 1512 [9th]

No. 7 Washington Mystics [29]
[10-week rating: 5
ASB rating: 6
6-week rating: 9
4-week rating: 5
2-week rating: 8]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
73.6 [9th] – 1.153 [7th] –0.968 [6th] – 1551 [7th]

No. 9 Atlanta Dream [29.5]
[10-week rating: 11
ASB rating: 12
6-week rating: 11
4-week rating: 12
2-week rating: 9]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
78.2 [2nd*] – 1.148 [9th] –0.946 [10th] – 1523 [8th]

No. 10 Seattle Storm [30]
[10-week rating: 9
ASB rating: 9
6-week rating: 10
4-week rating: 10
2-week rating: 10]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
71.0 [11th] – 1.170 [3rd] –0.923 [11th] – 1575 [5th]

No. 11 Connecticut Sun [36]
[10-week rating: 8
ASB rating: 8
6-week rating: 7
4-week rating: 7
2-week rating: 4]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
75.9 [6th] – 1.123 [11th] –0.958 [8th] – 1509 [11th]

No. 12 San Antonio Stars [48]
[10-week rating: 12
ASB rating: 11
6-week rating: 12
4-week rating: 11
2-week rating: 11]

PPG  /  PPS  /  PPP  /  S(H)UM
68.9 [12th] – 1.069 [12th] –0.878 [12th] – 1479 [12th]


Prior Ratings and Data are available through Week 2, Week 4, Week 6, ASB and Week 10.