Three Players Who Can’t Shoot Straight… And How Analysts Might Not Be Straight Shooters Either

December 11, 2010

In 2009, a tall and lanky freshman named Gordon Hayward played the highest percentage of the Butler Bulldogs’ minutes. This playing time was well-deserved, since he finished the season with the second-highest offensive rating on his team, thanks largely to his 65.7 True Shooting percentage. Even more specifically, Hayward shot a phenomenal 44.8% percent in 154 attempts from beyond the arc. In 2010, however, Hayward’s offensive performance declined from excellent to very good. Although he hit nearly 60% of his 213 two-point attempts, he shot a measly 29.4% from three-point range – in 160 attempts. Nevertheless, the Utah Jazz took Hayward with the ninth overall pick in the NBA Draft. He went 2-for-6 from long distance in the 2010 Summer League, and has gone 2-for-8 in the NBA regular season so far.

Brad Tinsley is Vanderbilt’s starting point guard. He is more of a combo guard by nature, but due to Jermaine Beal’s graduation, John Jenkins’ off-ball ability, and Kyle Fuller’s youth, Tinsley has been charged with the task of running the Commodores’ offense in the 2010-2011 season. Like Hayward, Tinsley had the second-highest offensive rating on his team during his freshman year because of his proficiency from three-point range; he shot 41.1% in 168 attempts. His sophomore year, Tinsley’s three-point accuracy dipped to 29.5% on 105 attempts. He’s shooting 33.3% in 27 attempts this season.

Mike Marra is a sophomore guard on the Louisville Cardinals. He arrived on campus last season with the reputation of being a great shooter, and as a freshman on a team of veterans like Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles, Jerry Smith, and Reginald Delk, Marra was asked to do little other than fire from beyond the arc whenever he was given a decent look. Unfortunately, he shot 24.4% in 82 attempts, and has continued his poor shooting this season. He sits at 29.8% on 57 attempts after today’s 0-for-5 showing against UNLV.

You might be wondering what these three players have to do with each other, aside from their apparent shooting futility. Ironically, they’re similar because all three have been recipients of the same label – a “knock-down” or great shooter. Yet, as we’ve seen, there is little evidence that they can shoot. Hayward shot 29.4% from three-point range his final year of college and has hit four of his 14 attempts as a professional. Tinsley shot 29.5% last season and isn’t doing much better this time around. Marra has never shot particularly well at any point, and that includes his senior year of high school when he hit just 36% of his threes. Despite their spotty track records, broadcasters and analysts consistently call all three excellent shooters.

Now, if there is one thing that I have learned over the last few years, it is that I am not a scout. I can’t look at a player’s mechanics or movements and predict how he’ll develop or improve in the future. I am the person who thought Marcus Williams would be a star point guard, who thought Matt Ryan would be a bust, who thought Brian Brohm was the best quarterback in his draft class, who killed Donnie Walsh for drafting Landry Fields, who said that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy would be better than Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz because their minor league ERAs were better, who thought Danilo Gallinari was a brutal pick, and who thought Shan Foster would have a long NBA career as a three-point specialist. Given that ignominious history, it is entirely possible that a professional scout sees Hayward, Tinsley, and Marra’s shooting forms and, observing nothing wrong, concludes that all three have been the victims of prolonged bad luck. It is entirely possible that all three will become consistently excellent shooters in the future, and that I am some combination of too dumb, blind, or untrained to see it. None of this would surprise me, because I simply don’t know this kind of stuff.

But I do know that 30% is not a great or even good accuracy rate from long range. And given that all of these guys have been hovering right around that mark recently, I do know that none of these guys can be considered a great shooter. It is annoying to be repeatedly told otherwise when the numbers simply do not bear that out. Hayward in particular somehow earned widespread and very public benefit of the doubt. NBA.com said Hayward “shoots with range and has excellent mechanics” in its draft profile. ESPN’s Chad Ford excused Hayward’s statistically poor shooting with one of the more remarkable sentences I’ve ever read: “He’s also a terrific shooter — despite the fact that his jump shot hasn’t been falling all season.” ESPN’s draft profile even said Hayward was a “sharp shooter with deep range.” All of this is in addition to the countless broadcasters who told me during games that Hayward was a better shooter than his numbers indicated, and who are currently telling me that Tinsley and Marra are victims of the same improbable streak of bad luck.

It’s possible that everyone is smarter and sharper than I am. It’s possible that these professional analysts and talent evaluators see these guys’ strokes and conclude that it’s only a matter of time before the shots start falling for good. But I fear that nothing like that is happening, and that instead, people are seeing three guys that look like this… :

… and are automatically concluding that shooting is their forte.


Terrence Williams Overcomes Off-Court Problems, Is Picked #11 Overall

June 25, 2009

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Looks like those pesky off-court problems didn’t hurt his stock too much. I am also heartened – somewhat selfishly, I must admit – by Basketball Prospectus’ reaction to Williams’ selection:

Kevin Pelton: “So much for those character concerns.”

Anthony Macri: “Good for T-Will.”

Bradford Doolittle: “I like how because Williams has a distinctive personality he’s constantly referred to as a ‘head case’.”

Curiously, Chad Ford now characterizes Williams’ personality as “eccentric,” which is notably less ominous than previous descriptions. In any case, congratulations to Mr. Williams, who shall remain a favorite of Fan Interference even though he is now a member of the New Jersey Nets.


Mike Francesa & Chad Ford Again Avoid Accountability

June 2, 2009

One of my most endearing characteristics is my total willingness to latch on to an assessment that I think is erroneous or unfounded and doggedly attempt to disprove it, even if it means jeopardizing my friends’ desire to discuss sports with me. Perhaps you have noticed this trait in perusing this blog. If so, you and my friends will have something to talk about should your paths ever cross. Anyway, since I take a somewhat masochistic pleasure in being insatiably cranky, you can imagine my excitement for the simultaneous events of one o’clock this afternoon: Mike Francesa’s radio show and Chad Ford’s chat. Two of my favorite vignettes – Francesa’s Joba-to-the-bullpen meme and Ford’s curious aspersions against Terrence Williams – were about to develop further.

As of 3:03 PM, Francesa has predictably engaged in nothing but the relentless application of qualifiers to Joba’s recent performance. His caveats vary in type but are uniform in stupidity:

  • Joba pitched “okay,” but not “great” last night. Of course, he said this minutes after proclaiming Jeremy Sowers’ 5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 3 K performance “good.” 
  • This “okay” pitching performance came against the Cleveland Indians, a “last place team” (true) that “can’t hit” (false). 
  • Joba has pitched better as a reliever than as a starting pitcher. Other pitchers that would have lower ERAs as a reliever include: CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, and every other good starting pitcher. 
  • Jorge Posada thinks Joba should be a reliever, and because Posada has won World Series before, he knows what he’s talking about. Unfortunately for Francesa, Posada admitted he was wrong seven months later and – as far as we know – believes Joba should be a starter. 
  • Joba has to have “six or seven straight eight-inning performances” to justify the Yankees’ choice. As far as I can tell, the last pitcher to have done this was Roy Halladay from August 14th-September 10th, 2007. So, the developing, 23-year-old Chamberlain must do something that only arguably the best pitcher in baseball did two years ago for the decision to be a good one. That makes sense.

Ford’s chat was equally disappointing, to whatever extent the realization of a totally expected outcome can be labeled as such. Once again, I asked him to elaborate specifically on Terrence Williams’ off-court problems. This time, however, I asked quite firmly and without the self-deprecating “maybe I missed something” (that’ll show him!) My question was ignored. 

Like a jilted lover, I ran to Basketball Prospectus’ Kevin Pelton, who was holding a chat of his own. Beleaguered and defeated, I asked Pelton a version of the same question I’ve been asking Ford for weeks. I was pleasantly surprised when Pelton chose to respond:

Kevin (New York, NY): I keep seeing certain draft experts citing Terrence Williams’ off-court issues as a major reason for GMs avoiding him on draft day. Do you have any idea what these issues are? I can’t think of a damn thing.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): No clue. He’s both a Seattle guy and apparently following me on Twitter (@kpelton), so I’m totally positive on Williams.

Unless Ford has an incredibly low tolerance for what constitutes off-court problems and believes Twitter usage warrants public consternation, Terrence Williams’ off-court problems remain a mystery even to Ford’s peers. Really, at this point, I can report no change in my feelings towards Ford and his apparent disregard for his journalistic obligations. It’s just a shame that Williams’ name is being dragged through the mud – however subtly – while his accuser exercises complete control over the process by which the public can hold him accountable for his reporting. 



Ambiguous Criticisms Of Terrence Williams Raise Questions About Chad Ford’s Credibility

May 26, 2009

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For a while now, I’ve been following the strange Chad Ford-Terrence Williams saga with great interest. Ford is an NBA Draft analyst for ESPN, as well as a propagator of ambiguously denigrating rumors about Williams, the former Louisville Cardinal. You can catch yourself up on this whole situation here. Right now, I post to confirm that, yes, Chad Ford still has serious concerns about Terrence Williams’ off-court behavior and no, he would not like to share them with you.

From yesterday’s chat:

Smitty (DC): Every year there’s a guy ranked in the teens a month before the draft that ends up going top 8. Is Terrence Williams that guy? 

Chad Ford: Talent wise … yes. He’s the guy. Background check wise … I don’t think so. I think teams are a little scared off. 

My reactions to Ford’s continual refusal to elaborate have progressed as follows: curiosity, distress, outrage. One of Ford’s job requirements is to share with us teams’ preferences as the draft approaches. If he has knowledge of the facts that are governing teams’ behavior, he is obligated to share those too. Ford is fulfilling the first requirement acceptably, but failing the second miserably. His continual failure to flesh out the reasons for teams’ purportedly mounting concerns about Williams not only makes Ford look like a jerk, but also – and more damagingly – makes him look like a liar. 

Throughout his college career, Williams received nothing but praise for his leadership, affability, and accountability. He has had no run-ins with the fans, coaches, or the law. Nevertheless, Ford has continually called these qualities into question, but only in the most ambiguous of ways. He would do well to explain himself, and soon. Because as far as I’m concerned, his professional reputation is at stake.

If history is any indicator, Ford’s next chat is Tuesday, June 2nd. I know I’ll be asking him to clarify his position – again. I’d love if you joined me.


Chad Ford Scoffs At Your Reasonable Request For Clarification

April 14, 2009

Over the last few weeks, ESPN’s resident NBA draft expert Chad Ford has made some troubling assessments about Louisville’s Terrence Williams. On at least two separate occasions, Ford has alluded to both on and off-court concerns about the former Cardinals player. You can catch yourself up here, if you are so inclined. I’ve taken a strong interest in Ford’s somewhat unflattering characterization of Williams because I cannot, for the life of me, think of a single incident that would warrant such a portrayal. I’m trying not to get too troubled by this, but I do think it’s awfully unfair to continually file reports about a player that call his character into question, but offer no explanation for the events that made the question necessary. 

Anyway, I decided to ask Ford about this directly. Because of either incompetence or unavailability, I could not find Ford’s professional e-mail address, so I submitted my question in his chat. It read roughly like the following:

Mr. Ford, you’ve written several times that Terrence Williams has had both on and off-court issues. I cannot, however, think of a single incident that would support this assessment. Could you please elaborate? Thank you.

Well, if you clicked the chat link, you will notice that my question did not make the cut. Despite this post’s somewhat obnoxious title, I’m temporarily willing to believe that Ford was inundated with questions of superior quality and greater urgency. So, I’m not terribly upset just yet. This is not, however, the end of my small quest. I do plan on asking this question with the same balance of courtesy and curiosity in future chats.

It may seem like needless nitpicking, but I do think this situation raises some potentially serious questions about journalistic responsibility and public scrutiny. If Ford’s e-mail address is unavailable to the public and he gets to choose which questions he answers in his chats, then there is a worrisome lack of accountability that needs examination. Ford’s editor fits in here somewhere, but I don’t know how exactly. In any case, I think this is a worthwhile discussion, because the subject of debate is an individual’s character. It’s not his jump shot, rebounding, or passing ability, all of which can be evaluated subjectively. Ford is raising questions about a person’s behavior, habits, and judgment. The criticism of these qualities necessitates supporting evidence. We’re not there yet, but if such criticism can be made without pressure to elaborate, then we should all be a little troubled.


Terrence Williams Has Mysterious, Possibly Fabricated Behavioral Issues

March 31, 2009

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Recently, I’ve been reading a fairly standard column for this time of year – the “NBA draft stock report.” Just like countless other draft gurus, ESPN’s Chad Ford has been monitoring the successes and failures of numerous college basketball players that are considered NBA prospects. I will guiltily confess to devouring these reports with regularity, even though they are typically formulaic and unenlightening. Such columns serve essentially as gossip, and we know that sells.

I was struck by a sentence in the March 23rd edition of Ford’s column. About Louisville’s senior forward Terrence Williams:

He has all the physical tools to be a lottery pick, but his game has rarely matched his talent. Poor shooting percentages, high turnover rates and some off-putting on-the-court behavior have given many scouts pause.

Because I follow Louisville basketball a bit more than I should, I wondered about the veracity of the italicized section. For some reason, Louisville’s games are constantly broadcast here in New York. One of my closest friends is a Louisvillian, so I find myself much more cognizant of the Cardinals’ inner-workings than most people are on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In my experiences watching and discussing Louisville, I have never heard of any on-the-court behavioral issues on Williams’ part. My friend was just as confused as I was. If anything, broadcasters continually praise Williams as a delightful young man, dedicated leader, and consummate teammate. I considered posting about this assessment, but decided there were bigger fish to fry. 

Today, in another moment of weakness, I found myself reading Ford’s chat on ESPN.com. A reader asked about the draft stocks of Williams and teammate Earl Clark. An excerpt from Ford’s answer:

And both have been maddeningly inconsistent … especially Williams. Combine that with some off the court concerns and you can see why they may not crack the lottery.

I officially have no idea what is going on. First, Williams had problematic on-the-court behavior. Now, he has off-the-court concerns. Those are fairly serious statements, and more than a little disconcerting considering that no one I know can think of a single explanation for these characterizations. It’s probably too much to call this libelous, but it would be awfully nice if Ford would explain the thinking or information behind these assessments instead of remaining unspecific. 

I ask you plainly: do you know what Ford is talking about? Has Williams had any behavioral problems that would warrant regular mention? My current status is curious, but it’s more than capable of escalating to angry if these characterizations remain without illustration or explanation.