Author Archives: Sushi Kaplan

Trade Grades: Cousins to New Orleans

Holy moly: DeMarcus Cousins (along with Omri Casspi) was just traded to the Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, a 2017 first round pick and a 2017 second round pick. Let’s break it down.

New Orleans Pelicans

A frontline consisting of Cousins and Anthony Davis, two top-fifteen players is insane. Is it possible to defend against two dominant offensive big men whose offensive arsenal seems unstoppable? Only a few teams have even a single player capable of defending one of these two superstars–none have enough to guard both. This pairing has the potential to be a big man version of Golden State’s Splash Brothers. All they need is a catchy nickname and they’ll be set.

There is a risk that Davis and Cousins can’t coexist on the court. Each is a ball-dominant player and average over twenty field goal attempts per game. Each is best destroying worlds near the basket, but there isn’t enough space for two behemoths down there. The Pelicans will need to spread the floor to allow them to play together. Cousins is shooting 35.4% from 3 this season, but Davis is barely over 30%, constricting New Orleans’ spacing. Still, with two elite talents on the floor, Alvin Gentry can and will find a way to make it work, likely through staggering their minutes somewhat, and using Cousins as more of a stretch-4 when playing with Davis. Of course, this runs the risk of robbing Boogie of a lot of his value, but superstar-level players tend to excel despite adverse situations, as Cousins can attest to based on his years in Sacramento.

We’ll delve more into the other players in the trade in the Sacramento section, but suffice it to say, the cost of acquiring Cousins was less than daunting for New Orleans. Plus, trading Evans frees the Pelicans up from feeling obligated to overpay him when he becomes a free agent after this season.

If the Pellies fail to resign Cousins, whose contract is up at the end of next season, then even without giving up much in the way of elite talent, their grade would be a D. However, if they manage to resign Boogie (or agree to a long-term extension with him this summer), New Orleans has hit a home run. Chances are the Pelicans will resign Cousins (they wouldn’t have traded for him if they weren’t confident that they will) so, while factoring in the slight risk that Cousins and Davis don’t mesh on the court, this heist is still an easy A.

Grade: A

Sacramento Kings

Hoo boy, this looks awful from the Kings’ side. Not only did they sell Cousins for thirty cents on the dollar, Vlade Divac and others have spent the last few weeks telling anyone who’d listen that they were planning on keeping Cousins around for the long-haul. This accentuates the abysmal reputation of the Sacramento front office, which will only make it more difficult for the team to land quality players.

Speaking of those quality players, trading Cousins was supposed to bring in a few of them to usher in the next era of Kings basketball. It didn’t exactly work out that way.

Evans and Galloway are both solid, if unspectacular players. Both are free agents at the end of the season (Galloway has a player option), and both will likely bolt Sacramento as fast as possible. That leaves Hield (the sixth overall pick in last season’s draft), and a first round pick as the main return for one of the best players in the NBA.

A 2016 first round pick (Hield) and a 2017 first round pick is already an underwhelming return for Cousins. However, after this trade, the Pelicans should exit the lottery, or at least head to the bottom of it, worsening the pick the Kings will receive. Hield isn’t particularly valuable either. He’s twenty-three, the same age as Anthony Davis, limiting his upside. While Davis leads the team, Hield averages 8.6 points over twenty minutes per game. Hield offers value as a sharpshooter, nailing 36.9% of his three point attempts, but you don’t trade DeMarcus Cousins for a package “headlined” by a three-point specialist.

Sacramento practically gave away a superstar, and gained little in the way of elite talent or valuable draft picks in return. Other teams, especially the Celtics, almost certainly offered more than the scraps that the Pelicans sent to the Kings. Unless there’s some behind-the-scenes stuff that hasn’t been leaked, this trade is indefensible.

Grade: F

Which Comeback Was Most Unlikely?

Last night was ridiculous. Only Brady and Belichick can go down twenty-five points in the Super Bowl without their fans losing hope. And to score thirty-one straight points to do it? And to win the first ever overtime Super Bowl? And to do it while setting records left and right? Holy crap.

Then again, the Patriots are really just continuing a trend that’s been going on since June. This past year has been filled with tremendous comebacks and upsets. Like the Pats, the Cubs, Clemson, Trump, and the Cavs have all accrued huge deficits and overcome them. But which comeback of these five was the most improbable of all? Let’s figure it out.

5. Donald Trump (28.2% chance of winning)

This was a difficult probability to determine. While we can rely on Vegas and ESPN’s win expectancy for sports, there are a number of conflicting predictions out there. Accordingly, I went with Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight’s empirical prediction model, rather than predictions from places such as the New York Times (15%) and the Princeton Election Consortium (1%) that were less based on statistics.

Although the Trump’s victory seemed unbelievable and shocking at the time, statistically, it wasn’t all that unlikely. Accordingly, all four sports comebacks were more miraculous than the election results.

4. Chicago Cubs (21.7%)

The Cubs’ comeback seems unlikely, and it was, but they were favored in each of the fateful final three games, by significant margins. Vegas expected Chicago to win each of the individual final three games, so the fact that it did isn’t too surprising.

Based on the money line, Chicago was expected to win 67.7% of the time in Game 5, about 59% in Game 6, and 54.5% in Game 7. Combined, they had barely better than a one in five chance of winning three straight games and emerging victorious at their nadir, which, while improbable, isn’t quite the act of God that it appeared to be.

3. Clemson Tigers (9.6%)

Clemson’s low point came after a Calvin Ridley reception gave Alabama a first down. At that point, in the middle of the second quarter, Clemson was down two touchdowns against a dominant defense. Despite this, the Tigers came roaring back to draw within three.

Later on, O.J. Howard’s 68 yard touchdown catch pushed their odds of winning back down to 14%. Once more, Clemson fought hard and eventually took the lead for the first time, gave it up, and finally regained it with one second remaining.

This was an impressive victory against the Evil Empire of college football, and the situation for Clemson was dire for large chunks of the game. However, the deficit was only fourteen points at its largest, so it doesn’t seem like the Tigers had a major comeback, even though their win expectancy reveals they did.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5.9%)

Both the Cavs and Cubs had to win three straight games, including two on the road, to break a mammoth championship drought. So why was Chicago nearly four times as likely as Cleveland to end its season with champagne?

The main reason is that the Cubs were superior to the Indians, while the Cavaliers were inferior to the record-setting Warriors. Furthermore, basketball is much less reliant on luck than baseball, so Cleveland needed to legitimately beat a dominant, otherworldly Golden State squad three straight times–a lucky, fluky win wasn’t possible.

Because of this, the Cavs’ championship comeback was the most unlikely of all until…

1. New England Patriots (0.03%)

The Pats had a huge comeback over the Falcons last night: after going down 28-3, New England roared back to score thirty-one points unanswered. The Falcons had a win probability of over 92% for thirty straight minutes, including a twelve minute streak when it never dipped below 98%.

The situation was bleakest after an incomplete pass from Julian Edelman left the Pats facing a 3rd and 3 from their own 46 with just over six minutes left in the third quarter while down 28-3. ESPN gave the Patriots a 0.03% chance of coming back to win the game at that point.

Even if you want to use the least optimistic Trump prediction, which gave him a 1% chance of winning the election, last night’s Patriots victory was three times as unlikely as Trump’s triumph.

Any way you slice it, this Super Bowl comeback was nearly impossible, and was the most improbable of the last year’s five unlikely moments. Of course, that’s just from a quantitative standpoint, which can’t capture the in-the-moment insanity that accompanies any spectacular event, along with all the other qualitative factors that go into making a memorable moment. Which one do you think was the craziest comeback of all? Let us know in the poll and in the comments!

Sources: FiveThirtyEight for Trump, ESPN for Clemson and New England, and oddsshark.com for Chicago and Cleveland. 

The Ravens Are Off to the Least Inspiring 3-0 Start This Century

The Baltimore Ravens are off to a good start. They currently sit in first place in the AFC North with a pristine 3-0 record. Although its season has gone perfectly so far, Baltimore can’t exactly be ecstatic about how it has earned an undefeated start. Is there any reason for Baltimore to feel good about the future based off its 3-0 start?

Let’s first examine this question from a qualitative standpoint. Over the course of the 21st century, there have been 79 teams to begin the season 3-0. After examining every single instance, I’ve identified three of the least inspiring 3-0 starts since 2000.

The 2004 Jaguars got off to a 3-0 start with a point differential of 7. That’s not 7 per game; that’s 7 total. At least the teams it beat were fairly good. The Jags defeated a solid Bills team that finished 9-7 in Buffalo by 3, the Broncos who earned a wild card with a record of 10-6 by 1, and a lousy Tennessee team that finished 5-11 by 3.

Last year’s Falcons beat the 7-9 Eagles at home by 2, a 6-10 Giants team that couldn’t finish games by 4, and a 4-12 Cowboys team by 11. Sure, the eleven point victory looks good, but that game took place in Week 3 and Dallas had already lost its best two players: Dez Bryant in Week 1 and Tony Romo in Week 2.

Baltimore has managed to beat three bad teams–the Bills, Browns, and Jaguars–like the 2015 Falcons while also barely scraping out victories, with edges of 6, 5, and 2, like the 2004 Jaguars. That’s not exactly the combination that the Ravens are looking for.        

Now let’s take a look at this problem from a quantitative perspective. Per FiveThirtyEightteams that get off to a 3-0 start on average finish with 10.7 wins. However, based off their point differential, the Ravens’ Pythagorean expectation for wins is 1.9. If Baltimore was slightly lucky rather than incredibly fortunate, it would be 2-1. According to FiveThirtyEight, teams that start off 2-1 finish with, on average, 9 victories.

Now, take into account that the Ravens are on pace for nine victories without strength of schedule taken into account. The first three teams Baltimore faced this year are three of the worst teams in the NFL. If the Ravens can only capable of earning a meager edge in point differential against some of the worst teams in the league, imagine what will happen once they start playing teams that are actually good.

Sure, the Ravens already have three wins in the bank and they can’t be taken away. However, no matter how you slice it, Baltimore’s start to the season has been inordinately uninspiring and provides little hope for how the rest of the year will progress.

Are the Mets Really This Bad With Runners in Scoring Position?

During today’s matinee matchup against the Rockies, the Mets muddled their way to a 2-1 loss while going 1-9 with runners in scoring position, causing announcers Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen to marvel at the team’s inability to hit with RISP.

Over the three game series with St. Louis that concluded yesterday, New York hitters went 4-33 with RISP, good for a .121 average. Those three games are part of a dismal stretch of fifteen games during which the team has hit  .155 with RISP. Unfortunately, this slump isn’t really much of a slump at all—the Mets’ yearlong average with RISP is an abysmal .206.

Cohen remarked that the Mets’ futility with RISP couldn’t be a fluke nearly four months into the season. Is this the case, or can fans hope for an improvement as the team nears the stretch run?

The mean batting average with runners in scoring position in MLB is .257, with a standard deviation of .0204. The Mets’ .206 average is 2.5 standard deviations below the mean, so given a normal distribution, there’s a 0.6% chance that their average with RISP could be .206 or lower.

If it’s so improbable that the Mets are this bad, then it appears that the team is bound to improve. However, it isn’t as simple as it seems. Although the Mets are tremendously unlucky when compared to the rest of the league’s stats, it’s a limited comparison. New York is starting off from a much lower baseline than the rest of the league because its average in all situations is a mere .238, worst in MLB, while league average is .255, with a standard deviation of .12. Since New York starts off 1.4 standard deviations below the mean, let’s subtract that from the original 2.5, leaving us with 1.1. Now, instead of a minuscule probability of .006 that the Mets are this bad, there’s a comparatively huge .136. In fact, in a thirty team league, it’s overwhelmingly likely that a team does as poorly with runners in scoring position as the Mets.

Those last two paragraphs were more based on intuition rather than hard statistics. Let’s take a look at it through a more official lens.

First we need to find a normalized statistic that prevents uneven baselines from affecting the numbers. I’ll use this simple formula: RISP Avg.  – Normal Avg. RISP Avg. refers to a team’s average with runners in scoring position while Normal Avg. refers to a team’s overall seasonal average (which includes its at bats with RISP). This formula excises other variables and hones in on exactly what we’re looking for.

Here are the teams with the biggest positive difference between their normal average and their average with RISP.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 4.16.53 PM

And here are the teams with with the biggest negative difference between their normal average and their average with RISP.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 4.22.33 PM

There are a couple of takeaways. First, there must be something in the New York water that causes its baseball teams to wilt with runners in scoring position, as the Mets and Yankees have the two largest negative differentials in MLB. Second, although the Mets have the worst difference in the league, the Yankees and Diamondbacks are both in the same neighborhood , while on the positive side, the Cardinals have an even bigger differential than the Mets. Accordingly, it’s safe to conclude that while the Mets have been unlucky this year, they haven’t been exceptionally unfortunate.

This only proves that the Mets haven’t been especially unlucky so far, meaning that there’s no guarantee that things get better because they can’t get any worse. However, we haven’t identified if these statistics have any predictive value. After over an hour of frenzied googling and trying to manipulate various baseball stats websites to give me half season splits along with RISP numbers, I was unable to find any statistics that would allow us to determine the predictive value of what we’ve seen so far. However, I’ll continue to look, and if I manage to find the stats, another article will soon be on the way.

All statistics accurate through July 27. 

Lessons Learned From the West’s Round One Losers

Only eight teams remain in the NBA playoffs, and the teams that lost in the first round are left searching for answers, and wondering what might have been. Let’s take a look through the lessons we learned from their losses in Round 1.

Houston Rockets: Chemistry, You the Real MVP

This dysfunctional Rockets team had a promising season derailed by infighting, laziness, and a bad attitude overall. Last season, they were a top-ten team in DRtg, but this season their ranking has fallen all the way down to 21st.

During these playoffs, for the first time ever, the NBA is tracking hustle stats. In other words, it’s capturing the little things that players and teams do that don’t show up in the box score but are still valuable nonetheless.

Over their five playoff games (a sample that can’t be trusted due to its small size and the Rockets’ opponent being solely Golden State), the Rockets’ hustle stats were abysmal, showing up in the bottom quartile of playoff teams for over half of the statistics tracked.

Combining that overall lack of enthusiasm with the toxic locker room (rumors surfaced that Harden and Howard each tried to get the other traded away a couple of years ago), it’s no wonder that the Curry-less Warriors were able to dispatch these Rockets with ease.

Memphis Grizzlies: Don’t Start Jordan Farmar in the Playoffs (Or Ever)

Jordan Farmar was Memphis’ starting point guard during their four-game sweep at the hands of the Spurs. With Marc Gasol and Mike Conley injured, Jeff Green traded, and other absences, there’s nothing that the Grizz could have done to avoid their defeat against a historically great team. Let’s move on.

Dallas Mavericks: Get a Few Decent Teammates For Dirk 

Two of the guys who suited up alongside Dirk for the Mavs’ Game 5 loss to the Thunder were Justin Anderson and Raymond Felton. That’s not good.

Yeah, Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams were both out with injuries, but neither of them is likely to be back next season as each has a player option. Even worse, Dallas doesn’t have a first round pick this season thanks to last season’s disastrous trade for Rajon Rondo.

At this point, Mark Cuban has very few avenues through which to acquire talent to pair with Nowitzki. No wonder Dirk opted out of his contract next season. He says he doesn’t plan to leave, and it’d be a major surprise if he did, but he’s making a point to his franchise. Unfortunately for Nowitzki, Cuban won’t be able to learn this lesson from this season’s playoff defeat, even if he wanted to.

Los Angeles Clippers: Sacrifice More Cattle to the Injury Gods

Everyone thinks that injuries are part of the game, and that they’re often unavoidable. But really, it’s clear that the Clippers could have easily prevented the injuries their two stars sustained. They just didn’t sacrifice enough cattle to the Injury Gods.

You’d think that this kind of cheapness would have disappeared after notorious cheapskate Donald Sterling was removed as owner of the team. Steve Ballmer is the richest owner in the NBA–he shouldn’t have any problems with buying enough animals to give over the Injury Gods, but somehow, he did. It’s surprising that the obscenely wealthy Ballmer keeps on sustaining major injuries in the playoffs, while Sterling rarely had any playoff runs adversely affected by injures. Admittedly, the Clippers under Sterling almost never got to the playoffs, but still.

All jokes aside, just like Memphis, there’s little Los Angeles could have done. It’s not like Derrick Rose’s torn ACL, where Tom Thibodeau left him in the game, as the first seed in the playoffs, up by twelve points with ninety seconds left in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs. These injuries seem to keep on happening to the Clippers, but without any problem they can solve (past encasing Griffin and Paul in bubble wrap), they’ll just have to wait until next year and hope that no one gets injured.

My NBA Awards Ballot

Last Wednesday night was absolutely ridiculous. Two record-setting performances occurring side-by-side on national television at the close of the regular season—that’s what we hope for when we watch basketball.

Anyways, after an exciting end to the regular season, as the playoffs begin, it’s time to dole out awards, most real and some made up. Let’s get started!

MVP: Stephen Curry

This was the easiest decision of all. Curry had a season for the ages, set records left and right, and led the best regular season team in the history of the NBA. There’s nothing more to say.

Best of the Rest: (2. Kawhi Leonard 3. LeBron James 4. Russell Westbrook 5. James Harden 6. Draymond Green 7. Kevin Durant 8. Chris Paul)

ROY: Karl-Anthony Towns

This was an easy trophy to award. Nikola Jokic was solid and Kristaps Porzingis was exciting, but the #1 overall pick had an exceptional all-around season for the up-and-coming Timberwolves.

Best of the Rest (2. Kristaps Porzingis 3. Nikola Jokic

LVP: Kobe Bryant 

It’s challenging to become the least valuable player in the NBA. It’s not enough to simply be bad; to win, a player needs to derail his team’s season due to his sheer awfulness.

Bryant doesn’t quite fit that mold; the Lakers weren’t expected to compete this season, so Bryant’s poor performances didn’t really affect anything. However, the pomp and fanfare surrounding his departure from the NBA hindered his team in accomplishing its goal for the season.

Kobe shot 35.8% this season on 16.9 attempts per game. Those seventeen inefficient shots each game could have gone to one of the Lakers’ many young players who need to gain NBA experience to reach their full potential.

Sure, Ty Lawson’s arrival threw a Rockets team that was expected to contend for a title completely off-kilter, and Derrick Rose’s high-volume, low-efficiency approach hurt the Bulls, but those two only affected this season. Bryant’s hideous campaign could hurt his team for years to come.

Best of the Rest: (2. Ty Lawson 3. Derrick Rose)

COY: Steve Kerr

This was the toughest category to choose. There are so many worthy candidates that picking just one feels like I’m doing a disservice to the others. At least six coaches deserve recognition for their performances this season.

Brad Stevens led a group of overachievers to forty-eight wins, carefully crafting effective lineups out of a variety of players.

Charlotte’s coach, Steve Clifford, turned the Hornets into a top-10 team by efficiency on both ends of the floor, one of only five teams to accomplish that. The other four? Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. Not too shabby.

Rick Carlisle took a Dallas team devastated by DeAndre Jordan’s betrayal to the playoffs, with superstars like 37-year old Dirk, Wesley Matthews coming off tearing his Achilles, and Chandler Parsons leading the way.

All Gregg Popovich did is turn in one of the best regular seasons in the history of the NBA while resting key players often in preparation for the playoffs.

Terry Stotts managed to get the Trailblazers the fifth seed in the West after losing eighty percent of the previous year’s starting lineup.

Meanwhile, Steve Kerr, after missing the first half of the season due to a back injury, helped the Warriors reach a record seventy-three wins.

These six coaches each are worthy of being the coach of the year, but since there can only be one, the record-setting individual is the best choice.

Best of the Rest (1A. Terry Stotts 1B. Gregg Popovich 1C. Rick Carlisle 1D. Steve Clifford 1E. Brad Stevens)

Best Game: Warriors 121, Thunder 118, OT, Feb. 27

This was another tough category to decide. Kobe’s final game was dramatic, with his push to end his career with sixty points a marvel. The marathon Pistons-Bulls game from December, a contest that went into four overtimes, was riveting. However, neither can compare to the exhilarating game between the Thunder and Warriors in late February.

That game had it all: Big deficits and big comebacks, clutch free throws, and what might be the season’s most thrilling play:

Ridiculous.

Best of the Rest: (2. Pistons 147, Bulls 144, 4OT, December 18 3. Lakers 101, Jazz 96, April 13)

EOY: Danny Ainge

Ange put together a loaded roster overflowing with young talent. His trades have given the Celtics one of the brightest futures in the league.

Bob Myers did little this past year, but his drafting over the preceding few years gave the Warriors their best players. R.C. Buford made his usual solid moves on the periphery, but landed LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, changing the Spurs from one of the best teams in the league into one of the best teams of all time.

Myers and Buford both had customarily excellent years, but Ainge’s overall body of work is overwhelmingly spectacular.

Best of the Rest: (2. R.C. Buford 3. Bob Myers)

Best Hair: Jeremy Lin

This was a hotly contested competition this season, but in the end, there was no other choice.

Sure, Joakim Noah has a serious case for the trophy:

joakim-noah-letting-his-moppy-hair-flow_original_crop_north

And Elfrid Payton does too:

NBA: Orlando Magic at New Orleans Pelicans

But no one can compare to Lin’s magnificent spiked mohawk:

jeremy-lin-hair

Not only is Lin’s hair awesome-looking, it has plenty of practical applications as well. Here’s Lin’s hair stabbing Jerryd Bayless in the eye while driving to the basket:

Lin-Jeremy-spiked-hair-pokes-face-of-Bayless

This pointy, menacing mop of hair sent Bayless reeling, giving Lin a clear path to the rim.

hair3.0.0

That’s a nearly unprecedented combination of wonderfulness and utility, similar to Jacob DeGrom’s flowing mane, giving Lin the prized Dr. J Memorial Trophy.

MIP: C.J. McCollum

Best of the Rest: (2. Isaiah Thomas 3. Kemba Walker 4. Stephen Curry)

SMOY: Jamal Crawford

Best of the Rest (2. Enes Kanter 3. Andre Iguodala)

DPOY: Kawhi Leonard

We finish off this awards ballot with our dear friend, the Sharktopus:

kawhisharktopuscarivanderyacht

Out of players who played in at least forty games, Leonard ranked 8th out of 325 in FG% difference, at -5.7%. That means that players that he defended shot 5.7% worse than they did against the rest of the league.

Draymond Green, Leonard’s main competitor for this award, ranks 6th, at -6.2%. How does Leonard have an edge?

Leonard is a great offensive player, but on defense, he’s able to shut down the best players in the NBA. Green’s defense is most valuable because he plays passable defense against centers, which gives the Warriors a big edge on the offensive end. However, when determining the DPOY, candidates should be judged solely on their defensive merits, not how their defensive flexibility creates an unstoppable offense.

Best of the Rest: (2. Draymond Green 3. Paul Millsap)

NBA Playoff Predictions

Round 1

Cleveland over Detroit (5 games)

Toronto over Indiana (7)

Charlotte over Miami (6)

Boston over Atlanta (6)

Golden State over Houston (4)

San Antonio over Memphis (4)

Oklahoma City over Dallas (4)

Los Angeles over Portland (5)

Round 2

Cleveland over Boston (7)

Charlotte over Toronto (6)

Golden State over Los Angeles (4)

San Antonio over Oklahoma City (7)

Conference Finals

Cleveland over Charlotte (5)

Golden State over San Antonio (7)

NBA Finals

Golden State over Cleveland (5)