A Critical Review of ESPN’s Virtual Three-Point Line

Just before January 30th’s Cavs-Spurs game, Heather Cox, an ESPN sideline reporter, had an exciting announcement: ESPN would now be using a “new technology”, a virtual three-point line.

Cox later mentioned that the supposedly “new technology” was based off of the 1st and 10 technology in football, a blatant contradiction.

Anyways, Cox explained that the virtual-three point line would light up after every three-point attempt and remain lit up until the next possession if the shot was made.

To further explain this innovative technology, here’s a GIF so you can see it in action:

ESPN Virtual-Three Point Line GIF

This “cool technology” (as Cox put it) is such low-hanging fruit that I almost feel guilty for making fun of it. Almost.

I’ve gotta wonder whose brainchild this one was. Perhaps some random executive’s seven-year old kid pressed a few random buttons during “take-your-child-to-work day”; after all, what other explanation could there be?

Perhaps I’m judging a little hastily. Maybe I’m wrong about this technology. Let’s talk about why it’s useful.

One of the best things about it is that it caters directly to one specific subset of the population: the people who can’t see a player taking a jump shot but who can see a red line lighting up right next to the shooter. That demographic is obviously a huge part of the sports-watching population and ESPN did well to creatively cater to its needs.

Another demographic that this technology helps is the one consisting of people who can’t see the basketball going through the net or hear the announcers telling the audience what just occurred but who somehow are able to see the three-point line up. Yet another wise business decision by ESPN.

For those of us who don’t belong to either of those groups, this technology is still useful. After a three-pointer, the line lights up for a few seconds. In the meantime, many teams try to get fast-break points against opponents who have fallen asleep. They’ll quickly inbound the ball and push up the floor as fast as possible. For much of the time the three-point line is lit up, the viewer can’t see it as action occurs on the other side of the court. I, for one, still think that the technology is useful because, somehow, I find it reassuring to know that the three-point line is lit up, even though I can’t see it.

I know that this technology is based off of the 1st-and-10 technology, but I wonder how ESPN implements it during the game. My best guess: Some poor intern at a computer has to press control-b every time a three-pointer is attempted.

Cox added at the end of her explanation: “I certainly hope you enjoy this new toy as much as we do.” Yeah, Heather, I’m definitely enjoying this “new toy”, but probably not for the reasons you intended.

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Is Thompson the Best Catch-and-Shooter in the NBA?

Just over a week ago, on NBA Countdown, Jalen Rose was discussing the upcoming game between the Warriors and Bulls. While doing so, he asserted that Klay Thompson is the best catch-and-shooter in the NBA. Is he right?

Before we can answer that question, first we need to determine exactly what a catch-and-shooter is.

The NBA defines a catch-and-shoot attempt as “any jump shot outside of ten feet where a player possessed the ball for two seconds or less and took no dribbles”. That’s a reasonable definition. To ensure that only real catch-and-shooters showed up in the rankings, I tweaked the requirements; this list is limited to players who play at least twenty-four minutes a game while attempting at least three threes per game. This leaves us with fifty-eight players in the NBA who qualify as true catch-and-shooters.

How does Thompson rank under those parameters?

The answer? Very well, but not the best.

He’s eleventh in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) with 61.4%. He’s behind superstars such as Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, and Kawhi Leonard, well-known three-point specialists including J.J. Redick, Khris Middleton, and J.R. Smith, and guys who you wouldn’t expect to be there like Jerryd Bayless and Patrick Beverley.

Thompson is tenth in catch-and-shoot three point percentage, again behind Curry, Leonard, and others. Again, he’s in the top fifth of the league, but he’s not quite the best.

However, Thompson is able to maintain his efficiency over far more three-point attempts than others. He leads the league with 6.3 catch-and-shoot attempts per game, 0.9 more than his closest competitor, Wesley Matthews. Matthews is closer to ninth place Curry than he is to first, showing how efficient Thompson is.

Similarly, Thompson leads the league in catch-and-shoot three-pointers made per game, with 2.8. This time, second place Curry is closer to eleventh place than he is to first.

Although we can’t say that Thompson is the most efficient catch-and-shooter in the NBA, his ability to maintain a relatively high level of efficiency over so many attempts speaks to his immense proficiency at catch-and-shooting.

In the end, while it’s not cut-and-dried, it’s a reasonable assertion to make that Klay Thompson is the best catch-and-shooter in the NBA.

How Did the Warriors Beat the Spurs?

I don’t think anyone was expecting the utter devastation the Warriors wrought upon the Spurs. I don’t think anyone was expecting Stephen Curry to explode for thirty-seven points in only twenty-eight minutes. I don’t think anyone was expecting San Antonio’s point differential to go down a full point. I don’t think anyone was expecting any of this.

The important question is: How did this happen?

The answer, simply, is that rather than running their usual motion offense, the Spurs decided to try their hands at running a bakery. The problem is that the only pastries they knew how to cook were turnovers (mostly apple ones). All (bad) jokes aside, the Spurs continually hemorrhaged possessions last night, giving the ball to the Warriors in a variety of ways.

Naturally, the multitudinous turnovers were a problem for San Antonio, but the fact that it’s bad to turn the ball over isn’t enough to explain the blowout. After all, it’s not like Golden State took particularly good care of the ball; it had twenty-one turnovers to San Antonio’s twenty-six (which is eighth-most out of 1348 team games played so far this season!).

In fact, just turning the ball over alone doesn’t matter all that much. Take a look at a graph:

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 6.22.05 PM

In this scatter plot, the x-axis is turnovers per game while the y-axis is winning percentage. As you can tell from the relatively even scatter of the graph, there’s only a very weak negative correlation (the r is -.36) between turnovers and winning percentage.

If turnovers don’t inherently affect winning, then why did they hurt the Spurs so significantly against the Warriors?

When a team turns the ball over, that often leads directly to a fast break, a facet of the game in which the Warriors excel. In fact, Golden State leads the league in fast break points with 20.7 per game, an impressive 2.76 standard deviations above the mean. To illustrate that number, take a look at a scatter plot of NBA teams and how many fast break points they have per game:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 7.56.57 PM

Look how far the Warriors (the star in the upper right corner) are away from everyone else. In fact, they gap between them and sixth place is larger than the gap between sixth place and thirtieth!

Golden State is so aberrant in this regard, that, as shown by the following box plot, it qualifies as an outlier:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.03.08 PM

As we can tell, Golden State’s offense relies a lot on fast breaks, and we’ve already covered how turnovers often lead to fast breaks. Now let’s take a look at San Antonio’s defense.

The Spurs allow 11.2 fast break points per game, ranking sixth in that category.  As seems to be customary between these teams, two strengths are in direct conflict.

In this case, the Warriors’ strength won out. They scored nineteen fast break points, about two points under their average, but roughly eight points more than the Spurs’ average.

Now, one important aspect of a fast-break is the “fast” part. The Warriors rank first in the NBA in pace, while the Spurs are the eighth slowest team in the league. Since Golden State was able to take control of the pace of the game, San Antonio was out of its element. It didn’t help matters that the Spurs’ average age is 30.5, the oldest in the league by over a year. In fact, that’s likely a significant part of why they play so slowly.

Anyways, to sum it up, the main reason the Warriors were able to dismantle the Spurs on Monday night was because they were able to take control of the pace of the game through forcing turnovers. Those turnovers allowed them to score plenty of fast break points, erasing one of San Antonio’s biggest strengths.

Here’s a bonus question: Did this game provide a blueprint for how to beat the Spurs?

I’ll put it simply: Do many teams have a guy who can do things in transition like this?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

And aside from the otherworldly talents of Curry, the Warriors, as we’ve discussed, have a lot more going for them that other teams simply don’t have.

But even the Warriors haven’t figured out the formula to beating the Spurs.  San Antonio had nearly double its usual turnovers and Tim Duncan was sitting out. There were plenty of other factors that contributed to the blowout that are unlikely to recur all at once.

Although this clearly is not a death knell for the Spurs, it could be a chink in their formerly unbroken armor, and perhaps particularly skilled teams will now be able to exploit it.

 

Warriors vs. Spurs: Who’s Better?

Tonight, the Spurs and Warriors will meet for the first time this season, in Oracle Arena. Not only are these teams the two best in the NBA this season, they’re also two of the best in NBA history. In fact, here’s a list of every single team that has ever posted a point differential above plus-12 like the Spurs and Warriors have so far this season:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 3.18.12 PM

So yeah, that’s ridiculous. Even better, the three other teams on that list all went on to win the championship. The problem is that the Spurs and Warriors can’t both win the championship. In fact, as both teams play in the Western Conference, only one team can even make it to the Finals. Accordingly, the Western Conference Finals (assuming both the Spurs and Warriors make it) will be the de facto NBA Finals, as the winner of that series will go on to the real NBA Finals to demolish whichever flawed team emerges from the East.

Tonight’s game is truly a clash of titans, one that is quite possibly the greatest regular season matchup in the history of the NBA.

In honor of tonight’s game, it’s time to figure out which team is better and should be considered the favorite to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.

Offense

The Warriors lead the NBA significantly in points per game. They score 114.7 points per game, 6.2 more than the second place Thunder. The gap between the Warriors and the Thunder is the same as the gap between the Thunder and the ninth place Pelicans. To illustrate this point, here’s a graph of the points per game totals among NBA teams:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.38.14 PM

That star in the upper right hand corner is the Warriors. Look at how far they are away from everyone else. In fact, they’re 3.27 standard deviations above the mean, meaning that, assuming a normal distribution, one would expect an offense to score as many points per game as them .05% of the time. That’s about once every sixty-seven seasons. Wow.

However, that point total is skewed somewhat by Golden State’s pace. They play at the second fastest pace in the league, averaging 101.75 possessions per game, behind only Sacramento. Meanwhile, the Spurs play far slower, at the sixth slowest pace in the league, averaging 95.91 possessions per game. That’s a difference of nearly six possessions per game, allowing the Warriors to average more points than the Spurs.

If, instead of points per game, we use points per hundred possessions, the gap between the Warriors and the rest of the league shrinks significantly:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.37.41 PM

Here, the Warriors still lead the pack at 112.7 points per hundred possessions, but the Thunder (second at 109.2) and the Spurs (third at 108.8) follow close behind them.

Although Golden State’s offense is clearly the best in the game, the San Antonio’s isn’t all that far behind.

Edge: Warriors

Defense

The Spurs, similarly to the Warriors on offense, lead the NBA in points allowed per game by a significant margin, allowing a stingy 89.8 points per game. In fact, San Antonio’s defense (the star in the lower left corner) is nearly as far away from the rest of the league as Golden State’s offense:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.38.03 PM

Golden State, on the other hand, ranks a mere eighteenth in points allowed per game, giving up 102.6 points per contest.

However, in addition to offensive numbers being skewed by pace, defensive numbers are skewed too. After all, it’s a lot easier to give up fewer points when you don’t have to face as many shot attempts.

To combat this, like we did with offense, let’s use points per hundred possessions:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.37.24 PM

This change actually doesn’t affect the Spurs at all; in fact, it might even increase the gap between them and the rest of the league. However, the Warriors vault from eighteenth all the way up to third, a sizable jump.

Similarly to offense, while San Antonio’s defense is clearly the best in the NBA, Golden State’s isn’t too far behind.

Edge: Spurs

Chemistry

Golden State leads the NBA in assist percentage, as 68.5% of its field goals are assisted. San Antonio isn’t far behind, sitting in sixth place with an assist percentage of 61.7%. In addition, the Warriors are the proud owners of six of the eleven games this season in which a team accumulated thirty-five or more assists.

There are plenty of stats that I can use to show how great the Warriors’ chemistry is, but they can’t compete with the Spurs. No one can. A couple of years ago, San Antonio had this video made about them:

Sure, plenty of other teams pass, but have any of them had videos like this one made about them? I actually looked; there are none.

If you want something more recent, here are the Spurs earlier this season, destroying the Timberwolves:

I mean, just look at how disconsolate the Timberwolves are after the Spurs finally decided to score:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 6.11.00 PM

That’s what the Spurs’ passing can do to a team.

Last of all, and best of all, who can forget the famous Spursgasm from a couple of years ago?

Good lord.

Big Edge: Spurs

Coaching

This might be the tightest category yet. Steve Kerr took over a Warriors team and, with largely the same roster, turned a 51-31 sixth seed into a 67-15 juggernaut. This season, with Kerr sidelined, Luke Walton has led the Warriors to a 39-4 start.

The Spurs have Gregg Popovich, the best coach in the league hands-down, and one of the best coaches of all-time.

No matter how good Kerr and Walton have been while helming Golden State, no one can equal Pop, but at least they’ve been able to come close.

Slight Edge: Spurs

Star Power

You’d think that this category would be an easy Warriors victory, but it’s a lot closer than you’d think. Each team has a superduperstar, Stephen Curry for the Warriors and Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs. Each team has a superstar, Draymond Green for the Warriors and LaMarcus Aldridge for the Spurs. The intrigue comes in the various supporting players.

San Antonio has so many good, solid players, from Tony Parker to Manu Ginobili to Tim Duncan to Boris Diaw to Danny Green. Even players buried a little deeper on the bench are still capable, like David West and Patty Mills.

On the other hand, Golden State has a far top-heavier rotation. Andrew Bogut is a solid center, Shaun Livingston is a good back-up point guard, and Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala are very good small forwards. Deeper on the bench are players such as Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, and Marreese Speights, three players who are all decent, if unspectacular.

In the end, the Spurs’ superior depth doesn’t matter as the Warriors have a third star in Klay Thompson, giving Golden State the advantage in the final category.

Edge: Warriors

Verdict

No matter which team is better, the Warriors should be expected to win tonight due to their immense home court advantage, but, in the end, by the tiniest of margins, the Spurs are the superior team.

Final Edge: Spurs 

Cespedes Returns: A Mets Fan’s Perspective

When I found out earlier today that Yoenis Cespedes would be returning to the New York Mets, I was ecstatic. I was dumbfounded. I called my dad and just screamed happily at the phone until he hung up. That’s what happens when your team does what you’ve been asking for, pleading for, praying for all along.

For weeks, now, I’ve been advocating for Cespedes to return to the Mets. Not on a five-year deal, mind you—that’s far too long—but on a shorter contract. I was in favor of a one year contract or a longer one with an early opt-out clause. Unfortunately, that seemed out of the question as Cespedes was reportedly searching for upwards of one hundred million dollars over at least five years.

Free agency wore on, and Cespedes remained unsigned. I started to hope, just a little, that maybe, just maybe, the Mets might be able to snag him on a short contract. Again, I was happy to pay him as much money as he wanted, just not for five years, and as the days rolled by, the chances of that happening slowly increased.

I got worried, really worried, when rumors started rolling in that the Nationals had jumped into the fray. A Washington team with Cespedes and Bryce Harper is a force to be reckoned with, one that might have been able to push the Mets in the divisional race.

But then, late Thursday night, Ken Rosenthal reported that a pair of sources believed that Cespedes would prefer to return to New York. And on Friday morning, Buster Olney reported that the Mets and Cespedes were discussing a three-year contract with an opt-out after the first year, the same exact contract I’d been advocating for all along. By then, I was extraordinarily excited.

Finally, on Saturday morning, news broke that the Mets and Cespedes had agreed to a three-year contract with an opt-out clause. That’s when I called my dad and screamed at the phone. That player! In that lineup! With that pitching staff! On that contract!

And, oh boy, that contract. I mean, this could not have possibly gone any better for the Mets. Cespedes, barring a serious injury, is a cinch to opt out after one season, but that’s fine. We’ll get him for a season of his prime, and although it’ll be extraordinarily expensive, it’s still great. And here’s the kicker: If Cespedes leaves the Mets after next season, the team will recoup a first round draft pick for their troubles. That’s awesome: Cespedes will contribute to both the current great Mets team and the next great Mets team.

To sum it all up, the Mets now have a great player for one of his last valuable seasons and, on top of that, they’ll score an extra first round pick if he leaves in free agency. Kudos to Sandy Alderson and kudos to the Mets’ front office for this spectacular deal.

And to all my fellow Mets fans out there: It’s gonna be a helluva season.

I can’t wait until Opening Day.

Notes From Bulls-Warriors

Last night, in addition to the Knicks-Jazz game, I watched the Warriors and Bulls square off in Chicago. Here are a few observations from the game.

Derrick Rose looked spectacular. His performance hearkened back to his MVP season in 2011, not only in what he did, but in how he did it. His first four baskets came on a twisting layup, a wild bank shot, a floater, and another banker.

Rose finished with twenty-nine points, many coming on those same sorts of ridiculous shots that barely anyone else in the NBA would even bother attempting.

The Warriors have become a spectacle. Throngs of fans show up early to games when the Warriors come to town, hoping to see magic happen. Stephen Curry is at the center of it all, but even so, it was surprising when the Bulls fans filling the United Center let out a mildly disappointed “Oh” when he missed his first three-point attempt.

The Bulls did one particularly strange thing early in the game. Many teams like to trap Curry on pick-and-rolls, knowing that to let him free is an invitation for a swished three-pointer. That trapping leads to four-on-threes for Golden State, but those are preferable to giving up an open shot to Curry.

While it makes sense to trap Curry, the Bulls strangely decided to trap Klay Thompson off a pick-and-roll, leading to a four-on-three led by Curry. Why in the world would they choose to do that? One has to assume that it was a gaffe of some sort, perhaps a miscommunication between the two defenders.

Shaun Livingston had a very nice game. He shot six-for-eight, scoring twelve points with five assists over sixteen minutes. Livingston, despite being a point guard, is 6’7″, and he used that size to his advantage last night, posting up smaller guards with ease.

Adding to his value, unlike most 6’7″ players, Livingston can defend point guards. Even better, he fits in well with Golden State’s whirring machine of defensive perfection as he’s able to switch seamlessly with all the other similarly sized players the warriors have (click here for a breakdown of Golden State’s switching capabilities on defense).

Midway through the second quarter, Rose dove at Curry’s knees on a closeout, leading to three free throws. I don’t know about you, but I never realized that Steph Curry was actually Rob Gronkowski.

The Warriors ended up destroying the Bulls 125-94. This win is a big boost for Golden State; after smashing the Cavs apart in Cleveland on Monday by thirty-four points, beating another top contender in the East by thirty-one is a something to be proud of. Even better, it comes on the heels of a poor three-game stretch consisting of a pair of road losses to the Nuggets and Pistons sandwiching a home win against the Lakers.

This victory sends the Warriors home for a three-game stay at the Oracle Arena against three playoff teams, including Monday night’s matchup against the Spurs, which promises to be one of the best games in the NBA this season.

Notes From Knicks-Jazz

Last night was chock full of basketball, with local channels carrying both the Knicks-Jazz and Nets-Cavs games.

Luckily, I was able to avoid most of the ugly Nets game in favor of the Knicks, but the one significant play I saw was a classic LeBron transition dunk met with cheers from the Barclays Center crowd. The TV only showed the seats close to the court, but those seats were filled with Cavs fans. I guess Nets fans have officially given up on the most boring team in the league. Good for them.

Anyways, let’s talk about the Knicks-Jazz game.  I was very impressed with how Young Kristaps was able to hang with Trey Lyles, a speedy power forward, on defense. That skill a big part of his appeal: He’s big enough to play center but fast enough to cover stretch-4s. That flexibility gives the Knicks multitudinous lineup options.

Rudy Gobert, the French Rejection, the Stifle Tower, is a gangly 7’2″ center for Utah. He’s not much of a driver—Gobert drives only once every two games—but early in the first quarter, he put the ball on the floor and drove for a layup. If Gobert can combine some offensive skill with his fearsome rim protection he could become even more valuable than he already is.

And, for the record, he is already extremely valuable as a rim protector on defense: Opponents have hit only 40.7% of their shots at the rim against him, one of the best marks in the league. Gobert displayed his rim-protecting prowess last night when he absolutely destroyed a Melo dunk attempt

As always, Walt Frazier’s rhyming commentary was entertaining and enjoyable. After Robin Lopez hit his unblockable hook shot, Frazier noted that he was “looking and hooking”. Following YKP’s lovely turnaround shot from the baseline with the shot clock running out, Frazier exclaimed that the Latvian was “shaking and baking”.

The best one of the night, though, was a triple-rhyme: “bounding and astounding and confounding”.

After yesterday’s game, Carmelo Anthony has now played a combined ninety-one minutes over the past two games. For someone who underwent a season-ending knee surgery last season, it seems a tad reckless to be playing so much. The Knicks certainly don’t need another Amar’e Stoudemire clogging up their cap for years. New York would do well to sit Melo for a game of rest sooner or later.

We need to talk about Gordon Hayward, the Jazz’s starting small forward. He’s a very good player, but his lips are bright red. It’s scary. It looks like he rehydrates on the sideline either with Kool-Aid or blood, I’m not sure which. Someone needs to investigate this.

Anyways, the Knicks ended up winning 118-111 in overtime. Including free throws, New York shot a blistering 11/16 in OT, scoring nineteen points over the five minute period.

The Knicks are back to .500 at 22-22 as they head into a challenging stretch of their schedule. They currently stand a half-game out of a playoff spot in the East, and if they can survive the next few games, they’ll be in prime position to make a run at the playoffs after the All-Star Break.

How Good is Denver’s Defense?

The Broncos’ defense is incredible. It’s otherworldly. It’s unstoppable.

While those three superlatives are perfectly reasonable things to say, they don’t say why the Broncos’ defense is so good. Instead of continuing on with opinion and conjecture, let’s take a look at a few statistics to determine just how good Denver’s defense is.

Simple measures of defensive performance are useful but limited. For instance, the Broncos allowed 18.5 points per game this season, an elite rate. However, that only ranks fourth in the NFL, behind Seattle, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. Clearly, this statistic is unable to show how great Denver’s defense is.

Instead, let’s use DVOA (check out this article for an in-depth explanation of DVOA). The Broncos’ defensive DVOA is an impressive -25.8% (remember that positive numbers represent more points so a negative DVOA is good for defenses). How good is that? First let’s take a look at a graph.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 3.24.23 PM

This graph shows the distribution of defensive DVOA in the NFL in the 2015 season. Thirty of the thirty-two teams in the NFL are in the same cluster in the middle. The square in the upper right corner is the laughably bad Saints defense. The star all the way in the bottom left corner? That’s the Broncos.

Just look at the gap between them and second place. Although it’s not quite as large as the one between New Orleans and 31st-ranked Chicago, it’s still a fairly sizable gap. That’s how much better Denver’s defense is than everyone else’s.

Here’s another way to measure how dominant Denver’s defense has been: z-score. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, z-score measures how many standard deviations a given data point is over or under the average of all the data points in the sample.

Denver’s z-score is -2.31. As a comparison, here are eight other notable defenses in recent years and their z-scores based on defensive DVOA. Remember, a negative z-score is good for defenses, as it means that they are successful at preventing points (or producing negative points, if you will).

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 7.11.38 PM

As you can tell, this year’s Broncos defense stacks up very well against some of the best defenses in recent memory. A couple of non-Broncos notes:

  1. The Buccaneers were crazy-good back in 2002. Given a normal distribution, the chances of a defense being better than Tampa Bay’s in 2002 are just over .01%. Wow.
  2. To many, the 2000 Ravens own the title of best defense of the 21st century. However, on this list, they rank last. Why is that? Well, if you look one slot above them, you’ll find the 2000 Titans, who (obviously) played in the same season as them. Standard deviation, and, as a result, z-score, can be affected by the presence of a team of a similar caliber. Accordingly, the Ravens’ z-score is dragged down by the presence of the Titans.

There’s one more way to show how great Denver’s defense is this season. Given a normal distribution, the chances of a defense being better than the Broncos’ defense are 1%. That means that you’d expect a defense as great as the Broncos’ to show up roughly once every 3.125 seasons. So, with these Broncos, you’re seeing something that only occurs about three times a decade.

Although we’ve answered the titular question pretty thoroughly, there remains one, far more important question that has yet to be answered: Will this spectacular defense result in a championship?

Not having a star quarterback is a significant roadblock to winning the Lombardi Trophy, but not an insurmountable one. In recent years, pedestrian quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco, Brad Johnson, and Trent Dilfer have won Super Bowls. Flacco was helped along by an extraordinary hot streak, but both Johnson and Dilfer were accompanied by excellent defenses, both of which appear in the chart above.

Now, since we’ve already established that Denver’s defense is superb, it would stand to reason that they would have a genuine shot at the championship despite their lackluster quarterback situation. That’d be true if it were Brock Osweiler who were starting for the Broncos at quarterback in the playoffs as he’s been competent enough to allow them to win games. However, rather than Osweiler, it’ll be Peyton Manning starting under center for Denver. Manning, unlike Osweiler, has proven himself to be totally incompetent this season, throwing an interception of 5.1% of his attempts, an absurd rate.

While great defenses can carry mediocre signal callers to Super Bowl victories, even the best defenses can’t overcome abysmal quarterbacking. And, even if Manning were playing like he was in 2006, I certainly wouldn’t want to entrust my Super Bowl hopes to a guy who looks like he’s plotting to murder John Elway.

640pey1

DVOA FAQ

What is DVOA?

DVOA is a statistic created by Football Outsiders and stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Translation: DVOA shows how good (or bad) you are compared to an average team. DVOA is a percentage, with a league-average DVOA being 0%.

How is DVOA calculated? 

Put simply, DVOA is calculated by comparing every single play in the season to a league average baseline. It’s then adjusted for strength of opponent, game situation, and field position. Additionally, DVOA values successful plays more than other plays. A successful play is considered to be a play that gains 45% of the yards needed for a first down on first down, 60% of the yards needed on second down, and 100% of the yards needed on third and fourth downs. In other words, if you gain eleven yards on a 3rd-and-16, it matters a lot less than gaining six yards on a 3rd-and-4. DVOA is able to take this difference into account, unlike simpler statistics.

How can I interpret DVOA?

On offense, a positive DVOA means that you’re better than average while on defense, a better than average team has a negative DVOA.

What’s the reason for this discrepancy?

DVOA is a measure of how many more points you create than an average team. On offense, the best teams create more points than an average team, so their DVOA is positive. However, on defense, the best teams prevent more points than an average team, so their DVOA is negative, because they create “negative points”.

Why is DVOA better than simpler statistics like points scored and allowed?

DVOA is better than simple points scored and allowed because of its increased accuracy and predictive value.

How does DVOA gain its accuracy?

As mentioned before, DVOA is adjusted for a number of factors. In addition to the three mentioned above, DVOA is based on plays, rather than points. This is important in a couple of ways.

One, if the offense throws a pick-six, that shows up as points allowed for the defense. However, it was obviously the offense’s fault, not the defense’s. Simple statistics attribute those points to the defense, but more advanced metrics like DVOA correctly assign blame to the offense.

Two, while points allowed only records drives that end in scores, DVOA takes note of every play on every drive. For instance, let’s say that Team A gives up fourteen points and 250 yards per game, while Team B gives up fourteen points and 350 yards per game. By simple measures such as points allowed, Team A and Team B have equal defenses. However, by DVOA, it’s clear that Team’s defense is better than Team B’s on a play-by-play basis.

Are there any other details I should know?

There’s one important factor we’ve only mentioned so far, and that’s DVOA’s adjustment for field position. If your quarterback throws an interception and your opponent starts their position on your one yard-line, then it’s very likely, even if your defense is spectacular, that you’ll give up a touchdown. The opposite is true as well. DVOA gives your offense more credit for long drives than for possessions that begin in your opponent’s red zone.

Simple statistics don’t measure that. To them, a one yard drive for a touchdown is equal to a methodical fourteen play, ninety-two yard drive for a score.

There are various other permutations of DVOA that we won’t discuss in this particular article. One notable one, however, is DYAR, which is DVOA but in a cumulative statistic, rather than a rate one.

In future football articles, we’ll be using DVOA a lot more, and I hope you find this FAQ useful so you’ll be able to be a more discerning football fan. And, even if you still don’t understand it, it’s a fancy sounding statistic with an acronym; just using it in a sentence makes you sound about three times as smart.

Signing Grade: Gordon to the Royals

Earlier today, news broke that the Royals had resigned Alex Gordon to a four year, seventy-two million dollar contract. This pact keeps Gordon, the longest-tenured current Royal, in Kansas City through the 2019 season.

This contract is reasonable and fair to all parties. Although Gordon was originally looking for a contract in the triple-figures, seventy-two million dollars is a far cry from the Royals’ original offer of roughly fifty million. The compromise allows Gordon to remain with the only organization he has ever been with and Kansas City to retain one of its most important players.

On the offensive side, Gordon has been a solid, if unspectacular offensive player, over the past five seasons. He averages nineteen home runs per 162 games played and hits for an average in the high .200s.

Defensively is where Gordon has been a truly above average player. He racked up seven dWAR from 2011 to 2014, according to Baseball-Reference, culminating in a 2.6 dWAR 2014. In addition to more advanced statistics, mainstream opinion also saw him as a superb defensive player as he accumulated four Gold Gloves over that four year stretch.

Gordon sounds great so far, but let’s take a look at why the deal might not end up being a wise decision for the Royals.

Next month, Gordon turns thirty-two. In 2015, his age-31 season, while his offensive production remained solid, his defense took a serious hit. As players age, their defense gets worse, and, for a player who derives much of his value for his defensive skills, that’s a big risk for the Royals to take.

Furthermore, Gordon sustained a groin injury last season, causing him to miss nearly eight weeks. After a clean bill of health over the preceding few years, it’s worrying to see this sort of nagging injury in a veteran player.

In the end, the Royals didn’t have a choice. Gordon was willing to lop off twenty-eight million dollars off his asking price to stay in Kansas City, so denying him wouldn’t have resulted in good press. Besides, Gordon is still a capable player, and, after Jason Heyward was signed, there were no outfielders on the market with the same skill set as him.

Overall, this contract has little upside for the Royals; it is improbable that Gordon outperforms it. However, barring a significant injury, Gordon’s production is unlikely to fall off a cliff. This low-upside, high-floor signing is a reasonable move for the defending champions, and while they don’t deserve to be lauded for this deal, they should not be criticized for it either.

Grade: B+