Articles by Kenn Ruby

A listing of all the articles written by Kenn Ruby for the RotoWire Blog.

A pennant race in the NBA! [Yawn]

So here we are, the last weekend of the regular season, and we’ve already determined 15 of the 16 teams that will make the playoffs. Only Toronto (sans Chris Bosh) and Chicago (doing everything they can to not make the playoffs) remain in contention for the last spot. Both teams lost Friday, and they remain tied at 38-41. The "winner" of this playoff spot gets the pleasure of being swept by Cleveland in the first round. The loser – unless they get very lucky – will pick around 14th in the draft and do it all again next year.

I don’t know what I expected. I mean, every year it’s like this: A couple of mediocre teams fighting for a spot in April and the elite teams resting all their stars once their playoff spots are secured. It wreaks havoc on fantasy championships that so many teams – good and bad – pack it in. And the few remaining teams that are trying? Boring!

Ok, in the Western Conference, seeds two-through-five are jockeying for playoff positioning, and with the Lakers suddenly looking vulnerable, whoever winds up with the #2 seed could find themselves with homecourt advantage for awhile and may have someone else do the dirty work of unseating the Lakers. However, Denver, Dallas, Utah, and Phoenix are all capable of winning games on the road, and they’ll all face strong teams in the first round. Where they end up seeded isn’t nearly as important as how well they play over the next month – there are no easy matchups in the West.

So what we really have left is Toronto vs. Chicago. The Raptors, thanks to the Bosh injury, has opened the door for the Bulls to snag the eighth spot, but Chicago isn’t doing much to grab it. The Bulls lost in double-OT to the hapless New Jersey Friday night, setting up a "big" game Sunday night north of the border. Will you be watching? I’m a Bulls fan, and I probably won’t.

I just want the offseason to start. With Thursday’s Kentucky exodus, Evan Turner, and plenty more good potential draftees, the draft can be interesting. Of course, that’s just the warm-up to the LeBron James sweepstakes and all of its ancillary prizes. I can’t get excited about the regular season, I’m not even sure I can get excited about the postseason, but I’m definitely excited about the offseason. Oh man is it going to be fun.

I just wish we could fast forward past this part of the year to June and July. Give me a good NBA championship and good draft in June – nice appetizers for the main course in July. It can’t come soon enough.

Living in a Fantasyland

I have a confession to make.

I don’t really watch a lot of sports on t.v.

I’m sure my wife would disagree, especially on Saturdays during football season, but it really is true. I don’t own NFL Sunday Ticket, a baseball game on t.v. is just background noise to me, and the last time I watched an NBA game from start to finish was probably when the Bulls won their last championship back in 1998. I’m well-rounded and actually have time for all kinds of non-sports things.

Not like Jed Latkin, the “star” of the new documentary, Fantasyland. For all those who believe that people who play fantasy sports are just geeks who never picked up a glove or shot a free throw, this movie won’t disappoint. Latkin is portrayed as competitive, delusional, and obnoxious, and at one point he nearly misses his wife giving birth to twins, preferring to stay in the waiting room where he can get cell phone reception, “just in case Sam calls” with a trade offer. He’s painful to watch at times, but I suppose all of the rest of the obsessives look good in comparison. Show this movie to your significant other the next time she thinks you take fantasy sports too seriously. At least, you can say, you’re not that guy. Then wordlessly do the dishes.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I don’t really watch the NBA. I know quite a bit about the NBA because I read the stories, check out the highlights, and comb the boxscores, but I rarely watch the game. What does this make me? Am I really an NBA fan if I don’t actually watch the games? Many people would say I’m not, but I love the NBA. It’s weird.

What is a fan? Is it someone who roots, roots, roots for the home team, or is it someone who knows that Brandon Roy and Joe Johnson are similar players, at least statistically. I care more about those stats than I do about the Blazers or Hawks. The game is reduced to numbers. Is that wrong?

A common complaint people have for sportswriters is that they never played the game, so how could they understand? They were just the dorks in high school that got picked on by the jocks, and now they’re getting their revenge. It’s really the only explanation for Jay Mariotti’s entire career. Fantasy writers might have it even worse, because they’re not writing about the “real” sport (say that to good RotoWire writers like Dalton Del Don, Chris Liss, and Andre Snellings) and they’re really obsessed with numbers. One step above pocket protectors, Star Trek and Dungeons&Dragons? To a lot of people, yes.

I’m here to say it’s all baloney. There are many geeks among our ranks, but our understanding of the numbers and nuances of the game enhances our enjoyment. I may not know be able to pick Joe Johnson or Ricky Nolasco out of a lineup, but I know that Johnson should go for 20, 5, and 5 tonight and that Nolasco’s 2009 ERA was bloated by some of the worst luck in the league last year. That’s gotta be worth something.

96 Tears

First off, I want to say that the NCAA tournament is perfect as it is.  I say this even though my favorite teams are Kansas (embarrassed this year) and Northwestern (has never made it).  However, with the possibility of expanding to 96 teams coming closer and closer to reality, why not go whole hog and shake it up a little bit.  My suggestion: limited (or no) seeding.

If the top 32 teams get a day off, how are those 32 teams determined?  How about every regular season conference champ and every conference tournament champ? I don’t care if it’s a BCS conference or not.  You win your conference, you deserve a break.  If that total comes to less than 32, you can fill out the rest with a selection committee.  More than 32 and you just expand the number of teams with byes (it’s easier than you think).

Have 16 six-team "pods" for the first three rounds.  Regional semis and finals can work the same as before.  Seed the top 16 teams overall, if you’d like, to keep them apart until the last remaining moment, but otherwise, throw everyone into a hopper and draw teams randomly to determine matchups.  Each of the 16 seeded teams can "host" a pod (either on own court or nearby), and each pod would also have an unseeded conference champ (i.e. 17-32) in it, but otherwise, the other four teams would be luck of the draw.  We’d be talking about tough pods and easy pods, and so forth, and teams that win in the regular season and/or conference tourneys would earn a real advantage, while matchups could be crazy and fun, with good first-round matchups, two Cinderellas facing off early and/or advancing far (due to matchups).  It could work.

No one watches the play-in game now because it doesn’t seem like part of the tournament.  It’s not on the brackets.  It’s not on Day One.  It’s just there.  However, take the seedings out, and every first-round game becomes important, even one between teams you’ve never heard of.

As it is now, you have to win six games, against presumably increasingly-better competition each round (never works like that).  With the new format, you have to win six or seven games, and you could run through the gauntlet or have a relatively-easy path to the Sweet 16.  Once you get to the Sweet 16, presumably only "good" teams are left, but the Cinderellas still around add to the mystique of the tourney.

I don’t want to see 96 teams, but if it happens, I want to see more craziness.  The best teams would still usually win, but might as well really shake this thing up.

Is David Lee a First-Round Pick?

David Lee put up another ho-hum 17-and-14 tonight. It was actually a bad game for him shooting-wise, and he was a few points below his season average for points. The Knicks lost, as they’re wont to do, but as usual, it wasn’t Lee’s fault.

Every time the Knicks play, it seems, Lee has a great game. He’s a double-double machine, with great shooting and decent steals. It would be nice if he blocked a few more, and he won’t take threes, but I’ll take that if he shoots 55|PERCENT| from the field and 80|PERCENT| from the line.

Wanna guess where he ranks in fantasy points in my 20-team league?

Second.

That’s right. Only LeBron James has scored more fantasy points this season than David Lee. He has more than Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, and all the rest.

David Lee.

So why, if he plays in New York, don’t we ever hear more about this guy? I really don’t understand it. This guy is beating all of the stars in the league (save one) in fantasy points, and nobody is talking about it. If the Knicks get a couple of studs next year, like some (not me) expect, what happens to Lee? Do they take his rebounds? His points? Will the guy who hardly ever misses get even more open looks?

More importantly, where does he go in fantasy drafts next year if he’s playing for the Knicks?

No, I wouldn’t take him second – I’d still rather have Durant, Chris Paul, D-Wade, and others, but at what point do you pull the trigger on this unsexy player as your franchise guy? He’s a center who never misses a game for crying out loud. Would you take him in the top ten? Before Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, or Carmelo Anthony? Would you take him before Kobe? I’d seriously think about it.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of time between now and next October. We’ll see how things shake out – the Knicks are obviously going to be one of the more interesting teams this offseason. Just don’t forget Lee. He’ll get zero votes for league MVP this year, but in fantasy circles, I’ll bet he’s on more winning teams this season than LeBron.

Oscar (and I’m not talking about Robertson)

Back by not-so-popular demand is my meshing of two of my favorite things: The Oscar race and the NBA.   The Oscars have expanded to ten movies in the Best Picture race this year, so I have my work cut out for me to find something about each movie that reminds me of an NBA team.

(For the record, my favorite movie of 2009 is the documentary The Cove, but I’ll admit it was a pretty weak year and that movie didn’t overwhelm me like so many of the great movies of the past decade.  Honorable mention to In the Loop, The Hurt Locker, and Inglorious Basterds.)

Without further ado, our ten nominees:

Avatar – Los Angeles Lakers.  Although I like Phil Jackson much more than I like James Cameron, there’s no doubting Cameron’s career – two Terminator movies, Aliens, Titanic, and the underrated True Lies are kind of like all of Jackson’s titles.  This is the most expensive Hollywood-ish movie on the list, and the one that made the most money.  Sounds like the Lakers to me.

The Blind Side – Oklahoma City Thunder.  No one expected them to be this good right now, but by the sheer force of the lead performance, they’re going to the playoffs.  By the same token, Sandra Bullock (who was good, but not that good) managed to take a predictable movie that should’ve been forgotten a couple of weeks after it came out and turned it into a huge success and an Oscar nominee.  By the way, Bullock is going to win Sunday night.  Who would’ve ever thought after Speed 2 that she’d eventually have an Oscar on her mantle?

District 9 – Golden State Warriors.  They’re lots of fun, and seeing them is a wild and enjoyable experience (especially if you have a fantasy player going against them).  They have absolutely no shot to win.

An Education – It’s what the Knicks are going to get in this offseason.  Someone called me pessimistic a few weeks ago when I thought the Knicks might not get enough (or any) good players this summer.  While that commenter was right to call me pessimistic, as a Knicks hater, I’d say that was an optimistic opinion.  I’m holding onto that one.  Joe Johnson isn’t going to get them to the playoffs guys.

The Hurt Locker – Washington Wizards.  This one was easy. 

Inglourious Basterds – New Orleans Hornets.  You’ve got one of the biggest stars in the world, Chris Paul/Brad Pitt, yet he disappears for large sections of the season/movie and some newcomer (Darren Collison/Christoph Waltz) comes in and walks away with the season/movie.  If this season ends with the Hornets on top, it’ll be an even bigger shock than the end of the movie.

Precious – Portland Trail Blazers.  The injuries to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy should’ve been enough to make anyone give up, but the Blazers are ten games over .500 and are heading to the playoffs.  Actually I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I’m just assuming she overcomes all adversity and succeeds in the end. 

A Serious Man – San Antonio Spurs.  Tim Duncan is of course the titular character.  I still don’t know if I liked this movie or not, but it’s worth seeing for the Bar Mitzvah scene alone.

Up – New Jersey Nets.  They’ve got nowhere to go but Up.

Up in the Air – Cleveland Cavaliers.  Actually, a lot of teams are up in the air right now waiting to see what LeBron James is going to do, but after seeing that ridiculous alley-oop to Bron the other day, this one has a nice double meaning.

Thabeet Gets Sent Down

I believe it was Red Auerbach who once said “you can’t teach height.” Considering he was one of the most-successful persons ever associated with the NBA, it’s not a surprise that many people have been following that axiom for decades.

It’s thoughts like those that lead to draft picks of Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and Yao Ming. It’s also why high draft picks are wasted on Hasheem Thabeet, Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, and Darko Milicic.

The news yesterday was that Thabeet – the second pick in the 2009 draft – became the highest-drafted player to ever be sent down to the D-League. I’ve written about him before, and I really thought he was going to make it, but it’s not looking good. Yes, he’s young and has a long way to go, and Memphis knew he was going to be a project, but he couldn’t even beat out Hamed Haddadi for a spot at the end of the bench.

(Devil’s advocate for a minute, but what’s wrong with sending him down? He needs a shot of confidence, and he really needs playing time. He should get both if he plays well.)

Anyway, the recent lottery is littered with players 6’11” or taller who never make it or look like they won’t make it. Some of the better players have been injury prone (like Greg Oden and Yao). Some of those draft picks that were taken for their height aren’t playing big (like Andrea Bargnani and Channing Frye). And a good half of them aren’t really contributing at all.

How did the last ten drafts shake out for those bigs? Consider:

2009: Hasheem Thabeet (2). So far, so bad.
2008: Brook Lopez (10). Ok, I like this one. Lopez looks like he has a bright future.
2007: Greg Oden (1), Yi Jianlian (6), Joakim Noah (9), Spencer Hawes (10). This has the potential to have three hits out of four (Hawes looks like a future journeyman), but it could also be 0-for-4 if Oden and Yi keep getting hurt and if Noah decides to go live in an igloo or something. I wouldn’t put it past him.
2006: Andrea Bargnani (1), LaMarcus Aldridge (2), Patrick O’Bryant (9), Saer Sene (10), Hilton Armstrong (12). As I said before, Bargnani doesn’t play big, so why use a top draft pick on him. At least he’s been decent, as has Aldridge, but the other three? I don’t think so.
2005: Andrew Bogut (1), Channing Frye (8), Andrew Bynum (10). Much better here, as Bogut and Bynum are showing signs of becoming stars, and Frye is a good contributor.
2004: Rafael Araujo (8), Andris Biedrins (11), Robert Swift (12). Biedrins has had a few good years, but his free throw shooting is so bad it’s affecting his whole game. Then again, at least he has game. What are Araujo and Swift doing these days?
2003: Darko Milicic (2), Chris Bosh (4), Chris Kaman (6). Bosh and Kaman have been excellent (especially Bosh), but the Darko pick is one of the most-infamous picks in history. Again, in case you didn’t know, Darko actually got drafted while Carmelo, Bosh, and D-Wade were all on the board. Really.
2002: Yao Ming (1), Nik Tskitishvili (5), Jared Jeffries (11). Ming was a no-brainer, but he just can’t stay healthy. That pick at #5 is pretty hard to defend, especially with Nene Hilario and Amare Stoudemire still on the board.
2001: Kwame Brown (1), Tyson Chandler (2), Pau Gasol (3), Eddy Curry (4), DeSagana Diop (8), Troy Murphy (14). There it is. The worst draft pick ever. A lot of other bigs in this draft, but only Gasol, and to a lesser extent, Chandler and Murphy, become a star.
2000: Chris Mihm (7), Joel Przybilla (9). Przybilla has carved out a long career, but his numbers have been pedestrian.

So there you have it. In ten years, there have been 31 lottery picks at 6’11” or greater, and only three (Yao, Gasol, and Bosh) are stars. Another 10 are above average and could have good long careers (Lopez, Noah, Bargnani, Aldridge, Bogut, Bynum, Biedrins, Kaman, Chandler, Murphy). Three can go either way (Oden, Yi, Frye), and the rest are busts.

Not a great batting average, but it’s something to keep in mind when your team is thinking of going big in the 2010 draft. They don’t have to do it. They can always pick up a big man off the scrap heap.

I hear Kwame Brown might be available.

What if they had a party at Madison Square Garden and no one came?

In my day-to-day life, I work in software quality assurance. I once asked a co-worker what the ramifications would be if a certain change were made. His response: “it could have little or no – or dire – effect.” That line reminds me of what the Knicks have been doing the last couple of years in general and the last couple of weeks in particular.

It’s been assumed for as long as I can remember that the Knicks were going to make a run at LeBron James in the summer of 2010, and because it’s New York and not, well, Cleveland, LeBron will surely want to go. And if they don’t get LeBron (or even if they do), they’ll make a run at the other hot free agents, namely Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and others. After Thursday’s trade for Tracy McGrady, they’re now in the position to offer two max contracts.

There’s only one problem.

The Knicks are really really bad.

Now, I realize the Celtics were pretty bad right before they picked up Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in one offseason – and they immediately won the title, but there has been a stink on the Knicks for years that can’t be removed with anything less than LeBron and one of the other big free agents. LeBron by himself is amazing, but he’s not going to win if his best teammate is David Lee. The Knicks are gambling that they can beat all comers because they’re in the Big Apple, but what happens if they don’t?

Will the Knicks ever get better?

My gut feeling is that LeBron and Wade stay put, which means the Knicks go after the lesser lights, and with LeBron not in the picture, those other guys might be feeling that Chicago is a better destination, or that the Nets or Clippers (don’t laugh) are in better shape. What if the Knicks get shut out?

I know, I know…it’s not going to happen. The Knicks are the Knicks and they’ll make it work somehow, but that one first domino – LeBron James – is going to set plenty into motion that could ultimately result in a 60-loss season for New York next year.

Of course, if they get LeBron and then New York suddenly becomes a trendy place to sacrifice a paycheck (T-Mac has already said he’ll play for next to nothing next year if the Knicks stock up), they could easily win 60. One really cool scenario in my head that is probably illegal is that LeBron, Wade, and all the other biggies get together and say “let’s sign cheap one-year contracts and all go play for one team and try to go 82-0. Then we’ll freak out the league again next offseason and sign our big contracts then. Come on…we’re all still young!” Are you saying you wouldn’t tune in every time those guys played together?

Anyway, some team with a zillion dollars in cap space is going to get stuck with nothing this offseason. It probably won’t be the Knicks, but if it is, well the Rockets are going to love those draft picks they got from New York yesterday.