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.

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The Arbitrariness of Leadership

November 24, 2010

The euphoria of Vanderbilt beating #8-ranked North Carolina on Sunday night was short-lived. After several hours of reflecting on how far Vanderbilt basketball has come – this victory would have been unthinkable my freshman year – I stumbled upon a column that quickly snapped me back to my default state of crankiness.

ESPN.com’s Andy Katz posted this, a column titled “Disappointing Tar Heels Lack A Leader.” As you might expect, his thesis is that UNC lost because a leader hasn’t emerged yet, because no players have stepped up and assumed control of the young but talented team. Then, following #2-ranked Michigan State’s loss to unranked Connecticut, Katz penned a column that was essentially the mirror image of the UNC version. In this piece, titled “Walker Now UConn’s Unquestioned Leader,” Katz argues that a big factor in the Huskies’ upset is Walker’s maturation and his willingness to accept a leadership role that he rejected last season. Yes, it would appear that Katz has got it bad for leadership in the early going.

There are, of course, huge problems with forming a causal relationship between leadership and winning. Take Vanderbilt and UNC, for example. Did last year’s Tar Heels not have enough leadership to win? Both Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard were seniors, and I can distinctly remember hearing broadcasters tout their leadership. Since the Tar Heels finished with a 20-17 record, why was their leadership so clearly inadequate? As for Vanderbilt, the Commodores lost senior point guard and universally-recognized team leader Jermaine Beal to graduation. And yet Beal was leading the team when they were ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Murray State, the second year in a row the Commodores lost to a 13-seed. So what happened there? Why wasn’t Beal’s leadership enough to get them over the hump?

Connecticut and Michigan State are open to this kind of questioning too. If leadership is so important, then why did last year’s Huskies finish with an 18-16 record, even though they started seniors Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, and Gavin Edwards? Dyson, in particular, received consistent and effusive praise for keeping the team competitive and assuming the scoring load during such a disappointing season for the powerhouse program. Was his leadership a myth? Furthermore, why did Michigan State lose that game to UConn? After all, the Spartans are led by senior point guard Kalin Lucas, who has consistently been heralded as one of the elite leaders in the country. Aren’t we told that having a senior point guard on the court, an extension of the coach’s will and wishes, is a tremendous advantage? Why didn’t it work this time?

While Katz’s arguments are already absurd, he detracts from them even further by pooh-poohing the narratives he and his peers worked so hard to construct last season. In the UNC column, he writes:

The Tar Heels lost an unthinkable 17 games last season. Williams called the season the most frustrating he has had as a coach. Carolina had leadership — at least some outspoken types like Deon Thompson — but could never mesh.

And in the UConn article:

“It wasn’t my role,” said Walker by phone from Maui late Tuesday. “I was a sophomore. I tried to let Jerome [Dyson], Stanley [Robinson] and Gavin [Edwards] be the ones to make the big plays and lead us to victory. It wasn’t my role.”

Those three seniors clearly weren’t capable. And maybe Walker wasn’t then, either.

This is awfully frustrating to read because it’s so revisionist and arbitrary. Because those teams failed, Katz decides that their leaders “clearly weren’t capable.” So does that mean leadership only exists if the team wins? Is it not possible to have leadership on losing or struggling teams? And if the assignment of leadership is so flimsy and transient – “Thompson and Dyson were leaders last year, now they are not because their teams weren’t so good” – then why are we wasting our breath talking about leadership in the first place?

As usual, my point is that there are so many questions, inconsistencies, and logical pitfalls involved in the idea of leadership that any discussion of the quality is rarely worth the time and energy. It’s an analytical crutch, a way of looking at success or failure when you don’t have much else to say or are too lazy to do some work. North Carolina didn’t lose to Vanderbilt because they lacked a leader. They lost because they had 22 turnovers, shot 27.3% from three, and played bad defense. UConn didn’t beat Michigan State because Kemba Walker is the team’s new leader. They won because Walker scored 30 points on over 50% shooting and because they crashed the offensive glass against a typically dominant rebounding team.

That’s the truth. But if you want arbitrary, revisionist, and lazy mysticism, you can feel free to keep reading Andy Katz.

 


Tough Day To Be Corey Williams’ Kneecap

April 6, 2010

I think this clip is a pretty decent metaphor for Vanderbilt’s relationship with SEC East rival Florida, particularly in football. It’s also an amazing play given that Corey Williams suffered an injury that would have me weaving an unparalleled tapestry of obscenities while bawling my eyes out. Corey Williams, the internet salutes you (you really do need to click that link to see the x-ray).


Half Outraged

February 15, 2010

Yesterday, I posted rather lengthily about why Vanderbilt should be ranked higher than Tennessee when the newest polls are released. My final conclusion:

This brings me to my ultimate point, which is that while Tennessee might have a very small edge over Vanderbilt in one aspect of the analysis, it’s nothing like big enough to overcome the fact that Vanderbilt is 2-0 against Tennessee and by a margin of 28 points. Because of this, Vanderbilt should be ranked higher than Tennessee in tomorrow’s polls. But I’m not confident this will actually happen. What’s more likely is that Tennessee drops to #17 or #18, and Vanderbilt ascends to #21 or #20, and that I will become really irritated. I hope I’m wrong, though.

I was half wrong, and therefore I am half outraged. The polls have been released, and the coaches – in their infinite wisdom – have ranked Tennessee 18th and Vanderbilt 19th. This despite the fact that Vanderbilt has a superior overall record, a superior conference record, an equivalent non-conference performance, and a 2-0 record against Tennessee by a total margin of 28 points. Perhaps we should just ask the coaches to stick to what they’re (theoretically) good at: coaching.

The AP Poll is far more heartening. The writers have ranked Vanderbilt 17th and Tennessee 20th, which I think is awfully fair to both teams and exactly where they should be. Well done, AP voters.

Now can someone tell me what exactly Virginia Tech (20-4 overall, 7-3 ACC) has to do to get ranked?


Why Vanderbilt Should Be Ranked Higher Than Tennessee In Tomorrow’s Polls

February 14, 2010

Shortly after Vanderbilt’s resounding 19-point beatdown of rival Tennessee on Tuesday, my friend and I began a discussion about whether or not the Commodores should be ranked ahead of the Volunteers in tomorrow’s polls. After some debate and moderate research, we decided that if Vanderbilt beats LSU (they did) and if Tennessee loses to Kentucky (they did), then the rest of Tennessee’s resume has to be convincingly superior to Vanderbilt’s in order for the Volunteers to keep their higher ranking on February 15th. And after careful review of the facts, I’m here to confidently say the following: the rest of Tennessee’s performance is not good enough to warrant being ranked ahead of Vanderbilt tomorrow afternoon, especially given that Vanderbilt has beaten them twice by a total of 28 points this season.

Let’s look at what Tennessee’s performance must clearly surpass. Vanderbilt is currently ranked #22 in the AP Poll and #24 in the Coaches Poll. They went 2-0 this week in improving their record to 19-5 overall (8-2 in the SEC). Their RPI is 16, their strength of schedule (as measured traditionally) is ranked 23rd, and their Pomeroy strength of schedule is 24th. Vanderbilt’s best five wins were against Tennessee twice (by 9 on the road and by 19 at home), against Missouri by 6, at St. Mary’s by 2, and against Florida by 8. Their losses came versus Cincinnati by 9, at Illinois by 11, versus Western Kentucky (woof) by 7, at Kentucky by 13, and at Georgia by 14. For a broader look at Vanderbilt’s schedule, click here.

Ignoring their wins against Tennessee, the net effect produced after examining Vanderbilt’s profile is pretty neutral. Their defeats of Missouri and St. Mary’s are good, solid non-conference wins, and while beating Florida this year isn’t something to write home about, it’s fine as the team’s fifth-best win. Of course, Vanderbilt’s losses against Illinois, Cincinnati and Western Kentucky counterbalance those good wins. Georgia was an in-conference stinker, which virtually every team has, so I’m not getting too worked up about that. And since there’s no shame in losing at Kentucky by 13, the Commodores’ resume ultimately settles at about average. This is what Tennessee’s performance must surpass in order to overcome their two resounding losses to Vanderbilt and justify a superior ranking tomorrow afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »


How Jimmy Dykes Is Insulting Your Intelligence

February 10, 2010

UPDATE AT THE END

As I’ve mentioned with some frequency, I’ve been trying very hard over the last year or so to change the tone of my blogging. Initially, the content was snarky and malicious. It wasn’t above name-calling and other sorts of juvenile attempts to demean and persuade. I stand by what I wrote, and I believe that there were legitimate points to be made in every case, but I’m now fully aware that the tone was an impediment to being taken seriously. By writing more open-mindedly and with greater care, I really do feel like the quality of the blog has dramatically increased. I’m very proud of many of the things I’ve written (whether they’ve gotten four hits or 400) because I believe that these discussions are truly intelligent, perspicacious, and interesting. I’m enjoying this new and mellow approach to writing, and I think the quality reflects that.

Sometimes, however, I have to remind myself of why this blog emerged from the depths of my cranky imagination. Fan Interference began because a friend and I were really tired of the stupid things that sportswriters and analysts would write or say. They would write or say things that were disingenuous, narrow-minded, or factually incorrect, and it was annoying. And while I’ve tried to get away from posts that are no more than incredulous mockeries of ridiculous statements, it’s still the rock upon which the blog was built. So, right now I’m going to return very briefly to the basic purpose of this blog: pointing out and correcting the stupid things someone who is paid to analyze sports has said.

There is no more deserving recipient of the old treatment than ESPN’s college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes. Dykes is an incredible and unique case because every time I watch a basketball game to which he’s been assigned, I know with absolute certainty that he is going to say something so outrageously and insultingly stupid that it’s going to make me legitimately angry at his continued employment. Not even Joe Morgan has this effect on me. Dykes is so blatantly incompetent, so aggressively dumb, so obviously misguided that I’m confident that he is the worst analyst I’ve ever had the misfortune of encountering. The fact that he is paid to educate us about basketball is a prolonged joke at best, and a devious insult at worst. I thought all of these things as far back as last March, but in compliance with the self-imposed moratorium on crude behavior, I simply kept them to myself. His commentary during last night’s Tennessee-Vanderbilt game (go ‘Dores!), however, combined with some of his recent and more stupid than usual analysis to push me over the edge. Read the rest of this entry »