Friday, June 28, 2013

NBA Finals Review

It's been a week since the Heat won the title, and I'm stilled pretty bummed.  Not because of the team that won, but because the series ended.  Going into the Finals, I was excited about Duncan-LeBron and the two best teams in the league squaring off.  All three delivered.  It was great to see the Tim Duncan of 10 years ago.  He started out a little slow, but he picked it up the last four games; especially the last two, where he averaged 27 points and 14.5 rebounds.  As we're nearing the end of Duncan's career, it was great to see the Tim Duncan of old, instead of just old Tim Duncan.

Similar to Duncan, LeBron also started out slow and picked it up in the last four games (where he averaged 31.8 points, 6.8 assists, and 9.8 rebounds).  The end of game six and game seven were especially impressive, when LeBron made it perfectly clear that he's the best player in the world and it's not even close.  But while he's clearly the best player, he can still not be the most consistently dominant.  His start to the series resembled his 2011 Finals performance and he ended the series resembling his 2012 Finals performance.  It was quite bizarre.  People can say that the chatter about LeBron's mentality can stop now, but if the Spurs had made FTs in game 6 and the Heat lose the title, wouldn't everyone be talking about LeBron not showing up?  Luckily for the Heat, the best player in the world did show up, but he almost showed up too late.

Finally, the thing I was most looking forward to was the high level of basketball that would be played.  And this series did not come up short.  It started out exciting, with a great game one.  And while the next four games were blowouts, the alternating displays of dominance showed how evenly matched these teams were;  which perfectly set the stage for the final two games.  The first five games were all entertaining for their own reasons, but the last two games were basketball at its best.  Game six was one of the craziest, most exciting games I've ever seen.  Game seven was predicted to be sloppy, and while it started out that way, it turned out to be good.  These teams were just too good to play bad basketball for 48 minutes in an all-or-nothing game.  It was a great end to a great series.

The only negatives to the series were that someone had to lose and that the series had to end.  It sucked to see Duncan come up short, but it sucked more that this series is over.  Every year, there's talk about the format of the Finals being 2-3-2.  This year, that wasn't the problem.  The problem was that it wasn't 2-2-2-2-1-1-1.  There have been other NBA Finals that were more satisfying from a rooting interests standpoint, but from a quality of basketball standpoint, this one was the most satisfying.  Too bad it had to end.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

NBA Finals Preview

The NBA Finals kick off tonight and I'm not as excited as I should be.  The reason for this is because I've been rooting against this matchup happening.  Not directly, but indirectly.  As I've mentioned before, the Warriors were the most fun team to follow this year.  So naturally, I rooted for them against the Spurs.  Once the they were eliminated, I invested my rooting interests in the Grizzlies.  I've been a fan of them ever since their amazing 2011 playoff run, and I love Z-Bo and Gasol.  I really wanted to see a Miami-Memphis Finals.  It would've been a great clash of styles; the Grizzlies using the old school lineup, featuring two bigs, against Miami's new school small-ball lineup.  Which style won out would've been extremely fascinating to watch.  But the Spurs squashed that possibility too.

Then a new interesting team materialized in the form of the Pacers.  The emergence of Hibbert, Stephenson and especially George was fun to watch.  I was actually interested in the possibility of a Spurs-Pacers Finals.  I think it could've been fun to have two small-market, non-star driven teams in the Finals.  Last year when I previewed the Finals possibilities, I said that Thunder-Pacers would've been the greatest college basketball ever played (similar style and atmosphere, but way better execution).  But I actually think that would've been more the case this year, had the Spurs and Pacers squared off (yet something tells me the pro-college, anti-NBA basketball fans wouldn't have tuned in, even though it would've delivered everything they claim to love).

So my tempered excitement is more the result of Golden State, Memphis and Indiana being eliminated than it is the actual matchup of Miami and San Antonio.  But instead of focusing on what teams aren't playing, I need to focus on the teams that are playing; because the actual matchup of Miami and San Antonio is worth getting excited about.

Six years ago, LeBron met the Spurs in the Finals.  A Finals that would turn out to be the lowest rated one of all-time.  Looking back, it makes perfect sense.  Because it wasn't a culmination; it was an impetus.  The impetus of the Spurs transitioning from Tim Duncan to Tony Parker and of LeBron becoming LeBron.  Parker would win the Finals MVP and eventually take control of the team and LeBron (after the first in a series of failures) would fully realize his potential as the best player in the world and finally be surrounded by a great supporting cast.  The 2007 series wasn't a culmination.  This series is the culmination.

And even though Tony Parker may be the key cog for the Spurs now, that doesn't mean Tim Duncan is merely a supporting member.  Which means it's still exciting that we're getting to see the best player of the last generation (Duncan) square off against the best player of the current generation (LeBron).  Something that hasn't happened in over 20 years, when Jordan squared off with Magic.  Jordan vs. Magic was also the last time that two top 10 players of all-time met in the Finals, prior to Duncan-LeBron.

We're not just getting two top 10, generational players squaring off, we're also getting arguably the two best teams in the league doing battle.  Teams with outstanding ball movement, defense and shooting.  The Heat have been the best team in the league all year, but the Spurs will provide a very interesting challenge for them; as they're a team that can go big or small, without compromising the strength of their team.

Regardless of the outcome, we're going to see something historic (Duncan and Pop winning titles 14 years apart or LeBron taking another step toward becoming a top 5 player of all-time).  But most of all, we should see some really great basketball.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Offensive Baseball

Back in April, Jayson Stark wrote about how the DH will eventually spread to the NL.  If it does, it won't be for some of the reasons he said.

"Now, though, let's look ahead. To late September, when the two teams traveling to National League cities in the last week of the season happen to be the Red Sox (to Denver) and Tigers (to Miami). Now let's say those are must-win games. And let's say people notice that Felix Doubront and Rick Porcello are heading for the plate instead of Big Papi and Victor Martinez. Anybody think this will suddenly seem like a much bigger deal? Yeah, thought so."

This is sort of falsely presented.  It's comparing the strength of a team with a DH vs. the strength of that team with no DH.  But it's not the Red Sox with Big Papi vs. the Red Sox with Doubront.  It's the Red Sox with no DH vs. the Rockies with no DH.  You can't complain that the Red Sox aren't using their nine best hitters, when the Rockies aren't using their nine best hitters either.  Besides, this is only looking at the scenario from one way.  What if the Rockies were traveling to Boston?  Are they supposed to get mad that their DH isn't as good as Ortiz?  No, because it comes with the territory.  The home team always has an advantage.  AL teams are at a disadvantage in NL stadiums and NL teams are at a disadvantage in AL stadiums.  But guess what?  That's the case all year; not just in September.  The Red Sox aren't at more of a disadvantage playing in Colorado in September than they would be in July.  You're either going to win those games or you won't.

Oh yeah, let's not pretend that Big Papi and Victor Martinez are prevented from playing.  If they're such a liability defensively that they can't be put into the lineup, how could fans be mad they're not playing?  If their managers thought they would help them win, they would play.  If they don't, that means the manager thinks they'll have a better shot winning without them.  It's as simple as that.

His next point:
"Or what happens if, say, the Mariners get rained out in the final game of their interleague series in St. Louis -- on Sept. 15? Do they have to fly back to St. Louis from Seattle, after a night game, on their only remaining off day (Sept. 26) to make that one up?"

What happens if Seattle's September 19th game against Detroit gets rained out?  Do they have to fly back to Detroit (a longer trip, by the way) from Seattle, after a night game, on their only remaining off day (Sept. 26) to make that one up?  As I see it, the potential problem Seattle faces with St. Louis is the same one it faces with Detroit.  Besides, if there is more potential scheduling conflicts than in years past, that comes from year-round interleague play, that's not a problem solved by having a DH; that would only solved by going back to having an even number of AL and NL teams.

What about the soaring cost of pitching?
This point was made by Brewers GM Doug Melvin: "'Now, when we're starting to pay pitchers $20 million a year, don't we have to start thinking more about whether we want pitchers hitting?'  He adds, 'When you think about the competitiveness of a Zack Greinke or a [Clayton] Kershaw when he's hitting, there's a danger of those guys overdoing it in any at-bat and getting hurt.'"

Pitchers getting injured from hitting?  How often does that even happen?  The injury concern you should have with pitchers should come from pitching; not hitting.  If the injury risk that comes from pitching isn't enough to prevent you from paying a pitcher $20 million, then the risk of injury from hitting shouldn't really bother you either.

"But any time the National League is ready for this, it won't have to worry about convincing these AL managers who find themselves already playing by NL rules -- in April."

Every AL manager should either be embarrassed by this or offended by it.  Do they really have that much trouble assembling a NL lineup?  Something they only have to do 20 times a year (while their NL counterparts do it 142 times a year)?  If so, they should be embarrassed.  On the other hand, if they don't think it's too hard, then they should be offended that Jayson Stark would suggest as much.

Now maybe Jayson wasn't referring to the day-to-day managing as much as he was referring to the challenges of roster construction, something he touched on:

"What's the toughest part of playing interleague games one series at a time from April to September? Putting a roster together that can function by the other league's rules. That's more challenging than ever, now that teams no longer have most of their interleague games scheduled in one block in June.  

'When I was with the Diamondbacks,' said Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, 'we signed Wily Mo Pena as a minor league free agent [in 2011], brought him to spring training as a non-roster player and then sent him to Triple-A, with the express idea that when we reached this nine-game window in June where we were playing in American League parks, he was going to play on our big league team and be our DH. He wound up coming up, hitting a couple of home runs, won us a game in Kansas City and then nine days later he was designated for assignment.'"

Stark mentions that a proposed solution could be expanding the roster to 26 players, for interleague games.  That sounds like a way better solution than expanding the DH, because that quote does more to point out the absurdity of the DH position than it does advocate for its expansion.  A player is not good enough to play in the major leagues, but is good enough to play DH?  What kind of position is that? 

I'm sorry, but none of these seem like sufficient reasons to have a universal DH.  It seems like people are just trying to come up with excuses to expand DH, because they want there to be a universal DH.  Which brings me to the final reason people like the DH: it creates more offense.  But how much offense does it really create?  Here's the average runs per game by AL and NL teams, over the past five years:

AL    4.45
NL    4.22

AL    4.46
NL    4.12

AL    4.45
NL    4.33

AL    4.82
NL    4.43

AL    4.78
NL    4.53

Five-year average
AL    4.59
NL    4.33

The difference is less than one run per game?  You're giving up the strategy of pinch-hitting and double switches for less than one run per game?  Personally, that seems dumb.  I'd rather watch a team have to use more strategy to get four runs per game than less strategy and get five runs per game.  But that's me.  If fans of AL teams like having a DH, good for them.  I'm perfectly ok with them doing whatever they want.  But as a fan of the NL, I don't want to see the DH expand.

While some people like the more offensive baseball that the DH provides, others just find it offensive.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Does LeBron think we're blind?

A couple days ago, there was an article on ESPN where LeBron stated that he sees the value in flopping.  As dumb as that is, it wasn't even the stupidest thing he said.  He went on to say, "I don't need to flop. I play an aggressive game. I don't flop. I've never been one of those guys."  It's true.  He doesn't flop.  That's why there's absolutely no






You know how when you get hit from behind and your body jolts backwards and then, as your falling to the ground, your upper body and arms go backwards again?

Or how when someone steps on your foot and your head whips back?

Or how when someone's arm or hand maybe touches your arm or hand and your head whips back?

Or how the wind from someone's arms passing in front of your face makes your head whip back?  Wait, that looks familiar.  Where have I seen that before?

Oh, that's right.  Another member of the "non-flopping" Heat.  Do they practice this stuff?

Woah!  A Chalmers flop into a LeBron flop!  Incredible!  But no, they don't practice flopping because the Heat (and especially LeBron) don't flop.

Oh yeah, and LeBron was not fined, the day after he said he's not a flopper, because he didn't flop the day before he said he's not a flopper.

Sorry LeBron, but you can't say you don't flop.  We are all witnesses.