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The Give and Go: The Give and Go-Week 6

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Charlie Zegers

Charlie has covered the NBA, NFL and MLB for RotoWire for the better part of 15 years. His work has also appeared on,, the New York Times, ESPN, Fox Sports and Yahoo. He embraces his East Coast bias and is Smush Parker's last remaining fan.

The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers

Subject: Give and Go
Date: December 1, 2008 3:10 PM PDT

I'm still digging out from the long weekend... and I'm trying to avoid all sports media because I can't bear the thought of seeing any more Denver/Jets highlights... but there's a lot to discuss. Without further ado...

The biggest story in the NBA this week seems to be the backlash against LeBron and the free agent class of 2010 in general. In the discussion over on the RotoSynthesis blog, you and I were in the "shut up and play, LeBron" camp... but a lot of the other writers seem to think King James hasn't done anything wrong.

Now, don't get me wrong - I love nothing more than conjecture about free agents, trades, draft selections and whatnot. But unless he happens to be one of those free agents, the player shouldn't contribute to the speculation. I'd like to see LeBron take a page from the Bull Durham school of media relations - embrace the cliche. Throw out a "My priority is to win a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers" whenever the question of 2010 comes up and leave it at that.

It won't hurt your marketing potential, LBJ - I promise. If you need evidence, look at Derek Jeter. The next time Jeet says something interesting to a reporter will be the first.

A couple quick hits before I reach my limit of New York-centric items:

  • If you're a NBA general manager - do you take a chance on Stephon Marbury?
  • What about as a fantasy owner? Can Starbury help a fantasy team this season?
  • And can we make some sort of arrangement to make the Knicks and Warriors play a few more times this year?

OK, glad I got that out of my system.

Moving on to the actual on-the-court product of the NBA... Henry Abbott at TrueHoop wrote that, according to John Hollinger's power rankings, there's a better than 90 percent chance that this year's champion will be one of four teams. In order of likelihood, those are: the Lakers, the Cavs, the Celtics and the Blazers.

Two questions about that... First, do you buy Hollinger-style mathematical breakdowns where hoops are concerned? I'm of two minds on the subject... I really like Bill Jamesian analysis when it comes to baseball... and I'm sort of convinced about some of the NFL stats - like Yards per Pass Attempt - that other RotoWire writers use to analyze pro football. Personally, I've never seen a similar set of stats for NBA players or teams that came close to being as useful as a statistical shorthand as, say, OPS for baseball. Are there any non-standard stats you use when analyzing hoops teams?

And, perhaps more interestingly - do you buy Hollinger's "final four" as the leading contenders for this year's title? The Lakers, Cavs and Celtics are somewhat obvious choices... I'd put the Blazers in a group of six or seven teams that I could see winning it all depending on how things break. (Those would include Utah, Houston, Phoenix, Detroit, New Orleans, San Antonio... maybe even Denver and Orlando.)

That means it's time for our annual bet... would you take Hollinger's top four? Or do you want the field?

Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: December 1, 2008 8:34 PM PDT

Was it a long weekend? During football/hoops season, it's all the same to me, except that I was forced to overeat and get drunk with my extended family on one of the days. And I warned you about the Jets, but apparently you didn't listen.

As for LeBron, I totally agree - I think he's enjoying the attention a little bit too much. Who cares if the local NY media is fawning over you about playing for the Knicks? The Knicks are the enemy, and there's no reason to humor their beat writers. Once you sign with the Knicks, then the Knicks will be your team, and the NY media will be your enemy, so you can have your fun with them then.

But this whole episode of LeBron discussing 2010 is symptomatic of a larger reality - that of average fans becoming more interested in the business of sports. Now people talk about the salary cap, front office politics and the dollar amounts of contacts almost as much as points, rebounds and assists. As a result (or possibly a cause), the media talks more about that stuff and asks it of the players. That's where the "Bull Durham" advice would really come in handy as it's a can of worms all around. The success of the game depends on the passion of the fans, and the passion of the fans requires them to buy into the illusion that their home team is them. "We beat the Raptos last night," is something you'll hear a Knick fan say, the "we" being the key word. You love the team and you watch them because you identify with them. In order to keep that illusion strong, it's best for the players not to step out of their roles and deconstruct it. In other words, handle the business end quietly and don't call attention to how the sausage is made.

Marbury's done, I think, because he seems fundamentally unserious about his career at this point. Think Chad Johnson - not bad guys, but at some point the goofy antics overtake the actual performance.

As for the Knicks-Warriors, I didn't watch it live, but I did have severe pangs of envy when I looked that boxscore and realized I didn't have Chris Duhon, Al Harrington or David Lee on any of my squads. Some lucky bastard in my league just pulled ahead of me - that's for sure.

As for Holllinger, I think he does pretty good work, and while basketball's not as susceptible to statistical breakdown as say, baseball, I think it's far easier than football for which it's almost useless. I think that's because football is the ultimate team game, basketball is a mix between one-on-one and team play and baseball is almost entirely a series of one-on-one matchups between batter and pitcher. The more the team aspect is prevalent, the harder it is to separate individual talent/performance and team cohesion. And so in the NFL, it's very hard to predict the fluctuation in cohesion from week to week. Moreover, basketball is like baseball in that there are more games and therefore a more meaningful sample to evaluate. And the playoffs have more games and are therefore less dependent on luck.

That said, I'd probably take Hollinger's four for even money (he's on crack if he'd really lay 9:1 against the field) because the Celtics and Lakers are so good. (I'd put New Orleans and San Antonio in over Portland and Cleveland probably, but either way. I guess the Trail Blazers are like the Rays in baseball - you know that young nucleus will contend soon, but maybe soon means now.

Do we have an even-money bet? (I actually much prefer taking the field with these bets - I think it's more fun and also the savvier move, but the Lakers and Boston strike me as locks to be in the Conference Finals).

Also, what about some individual players tearing it up this year? Where does Danny Granger go if we draft an eight-category league tomorrow? Top five? And what about Devin Harris - is he going to keep up anything close to this place?

Subject: Give and Go
Date: December 2, 2008 6:52 AM PDT

I require no warnings where the Jets are concerned. Jets fans always know the big let-down is coming. It's just a matter of when. Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any easier to take when it happens.

But then, the last several sports winters have been pretty grim around these parts... after all, I'm a Knicks/Jets/St. John's fan.

I think you're right about Hollinger's stats, and about statistical analysis of hoops in general. I use some of his numbers to check on trends - his "pace factor" stat, which essentially boils down to "number of possessions per game" is useful. Last week when I was doing my Strength of Schedule article I noticed that Indiana and Dallas were in the top five for defensive field goal percentage... but giving up close to 100 points per game. The pace stats confirmed my suspicion - that those two teams were among the league leaders in possessions per game, which explained the other number.

In other words, they're good at explaining what's already happened. But to me, success in basketball is so much a matter of "fit" that, as they say in the commercials, "past performance does not guarantee future results."

Case in point... Danny Granger. His success really isn't a big surprise. We had him pegged as a player primed to explode this year... to quote from our own 2008 outlook:

With the trade of Jermaine O’Neal, the transition is complete. The Indiana Pacers are now, officially, Granger’s team. A powerfully-built wing forward that’s equally comfortable facing up or playing with his back to the basket, Granger is well-suited to Jim O’Brien’s system, which places a premium on tough defense and a fast pace on offense – with lots of threes. In his first season playing for O’Brien, Granger posted career-best numbers in nearly every standard roto category, with 19.1 points, 6.1 boards, 2.3 combined blocks/steals and 2.1 made threes per game. This season, we’re anticipating even bigger things from Granger. With O’Neal out of the mix, Granger is the unquestioned number one option… and with the addition of a pure point guard – and one of the quickest players in the league – in T.J. Ford, Indiana should be able to push the pace even more effectively and create higher-percentage shots.

I may have written that - it sounds like me, but honestly, I don't remember. If I didn't, I agree with everything the writer said. To me, Granger is like an evolutionary version of Antoine Walker - and 'Toine, you may remember, was a really excellent player in Jim O'Brien's system. Did I think he'd be a first-round value? No, but I wouldn't have let him get past me in the second. The Yahoo! player rater has Granger ranked 13th this season - actually down two spots from their preseason projection. That seems about right to me.

A good portion of Granger's value comes from O'Brien's system. He's a very good player, sure. But would he be as valuable on a half-court team? Or one that had another primary scorer? Absolutely not.

To use another example, Allen Iverson was more valuable on the Nuggets than he's been on the Pistons... he's dropped all the way to 94th in the Yahoo! rankings, and by his own admission has been struggling to find his rhythm of late. Chauncey Billups on the other hand, has been outstanding in Denver, giving that team a new dimension, and has surged into the top ten in the Yahoo! rankings. Billups fits better in Denver than Iverson fits in Detroit.

But we sort of knew that was going to happen, didn't we?

As for Devin Harris... I challenge anyone to say they knew he'd blow up like this. RotoWire's preseason outlook suggested that Harris might break out this year... but in a more traditional point guard way, improving his assist totals, etc. We certainly didn't predict he'd be the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA.

Can he keep it up? I don't see why not... it's not like he's suddenly shooting at a much-higher percentage than ever before. He's at 48.7 percent from the floor on the year, which is a bit higher than his career average but wouldn't be a career-best. (He shot 49.2 percent in 2006-07.) His success seems to be a product of the Nets' new "dribble drive motion" offense - a variation on the system used by the Celtics and John Calipari's Memphis Tigers - and the fact that he's playing a career-high in minutes (36.2 mpg). The only limiting factor for Harris is health - his and Vince Carter's.

Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: December 2, 2008 10:48 AM PDT

You can't really compare Granger to Antoine Walker because Granger can actually shoot (47% FG, 83% FT). And Granger's blocking 1.8 shots per game while shooting threes and scoring 24 per game. I'd have him as a top-10 player right now, and I think he'll be a first-round pick in most drafts next year, provided he stays healthy. I had forgotten how high we'd ranked him, though - nice job with the projections, Dre'. And I agree with you that his stats are boosted by Jim O'Brien's system, but unless Granger's likely to be traded or O'Brien fired, that's part of the package.

Iverson was pretty obvious, though I'd give him another few weeks to fit in before drawing any firm conclusions about his Pistons production level. Iverson put up monster numbers in Larry Brown's system before, so it's not like he can't handle a slower pace. (He did shoot terrible percentages under Brown, though before getting a massive boost in Denver. And he was about seven years younger).

Harris is noteworthy not just because of the scoring - almost any non-defensive specialist can score 20-plus per game if given the shot attempts - but because of the efficiency (49% FG, 82% FT). Not too many players can score 25 while doing that. Of course, Harris' field-goal percentage is inflated a bit because, like Tony Parker, he doesn't shoot many threes. The really great FG shooters are like Steve Nash, who hits 50-plus percent every year while making 150-plus threes. But Nash's assists and three-point attempts are way down under Terry Porter this year, and it looks like its taken our top pick, Amare Stoudemire with him. Not that Stoudemire's doing badly, but his numbers (particularly points and blocks) are down across the board. It's only 18 games, though, so I'd withhold judgment for another month or so.

Article first appeared on 12/2/08