Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Why I Loved "I, Tonya."

Last year, for the first time, I saw the musical "Wicked."  "Wicked" is basically the tale of "The Wizard of Oz" told from the wicked witch's perspective, with the facts re-done or re-imagined so that the story portrays the witch favorably.  It is a very entertaining story, and it asks you to assume that the facts of The Wizard of Oz are incorrect and/or distorted.

"I, Tonya," similarly, tells the story of one of history's villains - Tonya Harding - based upon interviews with the people on her side of the equation.  The movie does NOT ask you to agree that the facts are as stated by the Tonya-side folks, but, instead, acknowledges that those facts may be biased and that they are even (obviously) internally inconsistent.  Yet, dear audience member, imagine if these were the facts and then ask yourself whether you believe that these people deserve what they get/got (and whether, even if you condemn them all still, whether you can understand why they acted as they did).

"I, Tonya" works on a variety of levels:

1) It works as a historical re-enactment.    Having lived through the whole thing (I was physically at Tonya's 1991 championship performance in Minneapolis), I was amazed at the tremendous detail in the recollection of what occurred.  Tonya's ugly outfits, awful makeup, crimped-looking hair, her workout clothes, her snarky reactions and facial expressions.  I have seen hours and hours of that actual footage.  The duplication is fantastic.

There are certain scenes where I was transported to the world of lower-middle-class things in the 1970s-80s-90s.  The one phone in the house with the long cord; the fake saloon doors, the wood paneling, the crappy microwave where Tonya heats her food toward the end, it is all there, and it is all something I actually experienced in my own home growing up.  (It is worth noting here one similarity of "I, Tonya" to "Napoleon Dynamite" - if you grew up lower-middle-class outside the city and you lived in an old house, the stuff you had was generally 10-20 years behind what the rich folks had.  So, when you say "Well, geez, in 1994 there were touch-tone or pulse phones" you are missing the point.  There were also old rotary phones, and the phone company would charge you $300 a year to put in a separate phone jack.  So "my people" always kept the old rotary phone and had the super long cord.)

One IMDb commenter gave "I, Tonya" a 5/10 because he viewed the plot to injure Nancy Kerrigan as over the top and ridiculous.  Dude, it actually happened.  These morons registered at hotels in their own name and used their own credit cards.  Shawn Eckhardt told people he ran a company called something like the "Universal Bodyguarding Agency" despite the fact that he never had such a business and he had no paying clients.  This weird shit happened.  These things actually occurred.

2) It Works In the Manner of "Whiplash" or Andre Agassi's Autobiography

Both the movie "Whiplash" and Andre Agassi's "Open:  An Autobigraphy" look into the issue of what sort of person creates a champion in others.  In "Whiplash" we see the cruel, foul-mouthed teacher who (it is implied at least) causes at least one student to commit suicide and is ultimately fired.  At the end he is, again, remarkably cruel, but, it seems, (possibly?) redeemed by the fact that his pupil perhaps has found greatness to some degree....maybe?  Agassi was raised by an obsessed father who demanded he hit thousands of tennis balls a day, who used to throw his second place trophies in the trash and who used to hustle tennis games between his pre-pubescent son and people like an aged Jim Brown.  Agassi constantly states his hatred for the game of tennis.  Yet Agassi became once of the 20 best tennis players of all-time.  Would that have been possible with a normal upbringing?

Tonya Harding, it is said here, loved skating from before she was age 3.  Her mother was a cruel, foul-mouthed drunk who emotionally and physically abused Tonya, virtually every day.  She attends her daughter's first ever date and asks her date if he and Tonya have fucked yet.  She drives her daughter forward with the statement that her daughter is a nothing - a piece of crap trailer trash girl whom everyone looks down upon.  (Side note - there is a parallel here to "The Last Jedi" where Kylo Ren taunts Rey with the information that Rey is a nothing, her parents were nothing, and she has no part to play in such a grand story.  Rey, it is implied, already knows this to be true, and, as a result, it is the cruelest of taunts.).

But again, imagine Tonya Harding's parents are nice and kind and they don't care whether she skates or not.  She takes her immense talent then and what?  Skates on weekends with her kids?  She was the #1 figure skater in the world for parts of 1991-93.  When her mom says "I gave you a gift," the audience laughs.  But did she? 

3) The movie works as a story of Being Poor and Being Lower Middle Class

When Allison Janney won the Best Supporting Actress award at the Golden Globes, this theme was the primary thrust of her speech.  "I, Tonya" is a story about growing up poor and/or lower middle class and making the best of what you had while people who were your "betters" look down upon you.

My family had 5 kids, and my dad worked making about $30,000 a year.  My mom stayed home.  We were not poor, but we were not wealthy.  We had hand-me-down clothes, and we wore the $5 cheap jeans from the cheapest store.  (The scene where Jeff buys Eskimo Pies and Tonya wants Dove Bars hits awfully close to home.)  We had the same red snowsuits until we absolutely did not fit into them.  Coats and warm clothes were purchased a couple sizes too big.  Again, we were not poor.  But when my sister had boyfriends come over for the first time, they'd often remark that "Well, when I heard you lived in a farm house I assumed that it was like a big 4,000 square foot house.  This.....isn't."  Yeah, fuck you asshole.  It is our house.

Now imagine that you are Tonya Harding - even poorer than I, your mom has had 4 husbands, your dad left her and you begged him to take you (he wouldn't).  You now are in a world where the typical competitor is from a VERY wealthy family, as are most of the judges who control your fate.  Wealthy people from the city and the suburbs look down horribly on people of this sort.  We know nothing, we aren't good at anything, we are a frigging joke.  And we often deserve these taunts due to our behavior.  But man, I can tell you that when it is happening directly TO YOU, you don't engage in much self-reflection.  You generally engage in a lot of pain.

There is a lot of pain in Tonya Harding's life.  A LOT of physical and emotional pain.  And, at least it appears in the movie, NO ONE attempts to help her very much.  She must have met numerous people better off than she was over the years.  It appears that they enjoyed preventing her success and laughing at her station in life.  But no one shines as a bright light who simply sits down and says "I've got $5,000 for a costume - here, have it." or even "Let's sit down and work on your makeup together." 

4) The Movie Is an Excellent Character Study of Various People

From the crazy mom to Jeff Gillooly to Shawn Eckhardt to Tonya Harding, we see scenes which give us insight into that person's way of living.  Gillooly's physical abuse increases as Tonya's success grows.  This is not atypical if you have ever heard the classic line from a violent person of, "You think you're better than me?"  Eckhardt is everyone's lower-class, hanger-on friend who eats potato chips in the back of his car with his shirt off while regaling you with stories of great things that happened only in his mind.  Again - I have experienced that scene personally in my life.  The mom is really not all that different from my mom.  There are degrees of craziness and abuse, of course, but I can hear my mom's voice in a couple lines VERY loud and clear:  1) "You throw yourself into the air like you are the lightest thing ever, which I can tell you Tonya never was..." and 2) "I like your hair pulled back like that.  It makes you look young."  (Reply - "Mom, I am 23!").

Tonya's repeated interview mantra of "Like I am to blame for that..." and "I SUPPOSE that is MY fault" are the words of someone who is NEVER to blame for anything that occurs.  If you review her actual real-life interviews, a few things about her self-perception come across 1) she is blameless; 2) she is horribly misunderstood (and unfairly so); and 3) anything that happened to her is always inflated to a crisis - so if a skate blade has to be refigured, it cost her a title; if a skate lace breaks, she is in danger of never walking again.  This leads one, of course, to question anything she says.  Her delivery is so poor, and her words so self-serving, that you struggle to believe a word she says.  This, again, is why the filmmakers decided to start the film with the understanding that everything might be biased and internally inconsistent, but there is a story to be told here, and if that story is true, or some of it, maybe we shouldn't have so easily believed the other tale that we were told for 23 years.

Great movie.  I hope it wins an Oscar.


Thursday, January 04, 2018

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Tyus Jones in 2017-18 is having a Weird and Wonderful Season

If you review this list of player seasons:  http://bkref.com/tiny/o6JKA you will see the seasons by guards/guard-forwards/forward-guards that are the most similar to Tyus Jones' 2017-18 season (so far).  There are not many.

Tyus currently through 555 minutes has the following stats:

Offensive rating - 126
Defensive rating - 109
Net Rating - +17
Usage rate -- only 10.9%
Assist-to-turnover -- 5 to 1
Steal to turnover - 2 to 1
True Shooting Percentage .596

A player who is a pretty normal player who you want to go to offensively is around 20% Usage.  Jones, remarkably, has an Offensive Rating of 126, a good True Shooting Percentage, is shooting 47% from the field, 43% from 3, and 83% from the line and is in the top 10 in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.  Yet he almost NEVER has the ball!!! 

This is the sort of statistical work you would generally see from a big man on a good team who only sees the ball when he is dunking it (of course, that player generally will not have a 5 to 1 assist to turnover ratio).

So, when you sort things out to get rid of big men, who do you generally see?  You see guys who played on really, really good teams and who virtually never made a mistake while on the court.  They contributed a ton in very limited touches.  Some examples:

Steve Kerr with the Jordan Bulls
John Paxson with the Jordan Bulls
James Jones with the LeBron-Wade Heat
Thabo Sefolosha with the Durant/Westbrook Thunder
Fred Hoiberg with the really good Wolves team of 2003-04 (Garnett/Cassell/Sprewell)
Iguodala for the 2016-17 Warriors

(Side note - MY LORD was Fred Hoiberg a good player for the 03-05 Wolves teams!  In 3100 minutes of play he had 11.3 WS, that is roughly low all-star level of play).

The only guy on the list who played for a losing team was Pablo Prigioni who played for the 2013-14 Knicks (but they had Carmelo a high usage but low performance player - you cannot have a Jordan Usage Rate and not be very good; it kills your team).

Anyway - Tyus Jones's stats are consistent with all of these good contributors to all of these good teams (and Prigioni, who apparently is the exception that proves the rule), but they don't really match up to anyone in particular.

Example - Hoiberg and Iguodala have some similar stats (assist to turnover, steals to turnover), but certainly no one would compare these 6'5" players to the 6'2" Jones from an overall "game strengths"
standpoint.  TR Dunn was a defensive stopper, Ron Harper was used in the same manner, same with Thabo.  And while Kerr and Paxson kind of remind you of how the Wolves currently use Tyus (small guy forced to go stand around and not do much unless the ball falls to him under 6 seconds on the shot clock) and they were high percentage shooters with great assist to turnover ratios, Tyus is on a pace to have 100 steals in far fewer minutes than Kerr had 67 steals and Paxson had 49.  (Prigioni had around a 1-1 steals to turnover ration).

Final side note - how about T.R. Dunn!!!  101 steals to 26 turnovers in 82 games!  How rare is that?  Pretty freaking rare -- http://bkref.com/tiny/ImaNb and http://bkref.com/tiny/hFZ51  It just does not happen.  Guys do not have seasons like that.  How rare is it to play a guard with a shockingly low Usage Rate because he gets steals?  Very, very rare -- http://bkref.com/tiny/NcTDc

So, my point?  Tyus Jones has been great.  He is having a very weird and wonderful season, and since Thibs seems intent on never letting him play 20 mpg (and since Jeff Teague's defensive indifference will almost never put him in foul trouble) it is likely that Tyus will put up a huge bench season that will make him another person on the list of great limited-minutes contributors to great teams.  (Or he could be Pablo Prigioni, but God let's not go there).


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Larry Bird Is Overrated as a Playoff Performer.

Look, first of all, I want to state what no one on Twitter seems to understand - saying someone is "overrated" is not the same as saying someone "sucks."  It is also not the same as saying (for an active player) any of the following:  "I'd cut him" "I am giving up on him" "Trade him for nothing."

"Overrated" means exactly what the word says - people "rate" (value) this person "over" what his actual value is in some category.

With Larry Bird, the overrating comes in the fact that he is evaluated as an all-time great clutch player in the playoffs when, in fact, the players he is believed to be the equal of (Jordan, LeBron, Magic, Kareem, Shaq) were far superior to Bird as playoff performers.

Larry Bird's career WS/48 in the regular season is .203.  This is excellent, top 20 all-time. 

His regular season VORP is 10th best all-time (9th if you exclude Dr. J's ABA years).  Again, remarkably good. 

Now, Bird has to be marked down some on the all-time list for his lack of longevity.  For example, he has 145.83 career Win Shares, 27th best all-time.  The two guys below him are Ray Allen and Gary Payton.  The two guys above him are Robert Parish and Paul Pierce.  This, of course, can be explained by the fact that Bird was almost 23 when he debuted in the NBA and he suffered a bad back that hampered him after April 1988.  Bird really only had 9 great seasons.  Again, those who rank him as a top 10 player apparently fully discount this fact and just use his best years.  OK, but where is George Mikan then?  Mikan had 6 great seasons and 5 titles.

Anyway, I digress.  Let's examine Bird's playoff performances, starting with the great.  In 1984 and 1986, Bird was the Finals MVP and he had the following great seasons:

1984 - 26 PER, 4.7WS, .236 WS/48, 2.9 VORP

1986 - 24, 4.2, .263, 2.4 VORP.

In 1981, the Celtics won it all, but Cornbread Maxwell was the Finals MVP and Bird went 22/3.1/.198/2.0

Bird has no other playoff season above .155 WS/48.  He has only one season (1987) over 3  playoff Win Shares.  His career WS/48 in the playoffs is .173 - well below his regular season marks.

If you look at Bird's THREE BEST playoff seasons, and search for similar seasons - Chauncey Billups has as many as Bird (3) and Kevin Durant has more (4).  The guys with whom Bird is always compared - LeBron, Michael, Magic, Shaq, Duncan, Kareem, Hakeem all have better stats.

Guys who aren't exactly known for playoff performance (Karl Malone, Chris Paul) appear on the list just below Bird.

In fact, if you consider basic math, Bird's .173 WS/48 in the playoffs actually gives him too much credit.  Bird had 3 seasons where he was very good and NINE where he was not particularly good.  Averaging out his three really good seasons wasn't that helpful to his teammates who suffered through his 9 subpar efforts.

If you review Bird's overall performance in the playoffs against the 20 other guys who have at least 20 playoff Win Shares, http://bkref.com/tiny/Tj0my Bird does not rank at or near the top in ANY statistic other than Free Throw Percentage.

WS - 11th
WS/48 - 14th
Points - 9th
FG% - 13th
3 point % - 10th
Eff FG% - 16th
TS% - 13th

What you see when you analyze Bird's career playoff performance, is that his playoff career was FAR from a top 1 or 2 career, certainly nowhere near a top 5 career.  Rather than comp-ing to LeBron or Jordan or Magic, Bird's nearest comp is Dwyane Wade or Dirk Nowitski.  Certainly these guys are both great playoff performers, but no one would ever assert that they are in the top 5 players of all-time. 

So - why is Bird so overrated:  1) great name, 2) the Boston PR machine for basketball is completely unmatched - it placed both Walton and McHale in the top 50 all-time of NBA players when neither deserved a mention based upon their resume; 3) for a stretch of 1984-87 it was "Bird versus Magic" so everyone links the two men and assumes their resumes are the same; they are not.  Any fair review of the two players' playoff careers shows that Magic was the better player.

So, when I revise my Top 36 list in April of 2018, you will see that Larry Bird is still not in the Top 10.  The actual numbers just do not justify that level of placement.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

What We Can Learn by Using the Stat "Game Score" to Evaluate Players

There is a stat called "Game Score" that is designed to evaluate the overall production and efficiency of a player on a game-by-game basis, using their stats.  https://captaincalculator.com/sports/basketball/game-score-calculator/

While the commentary to the above link indicates that 10 is a good "Game Score", my review of various games (and a review of the top 5 Game Scores posted every day on www.basketball-reference.com is that a starter who has a good (i.e. just above average) game generally has a Game Score of around 15.  In addition, my review of LeBron James' Finals history (posted elsewhere on this blog) indicates that a very good Game Score for a game is 22.5.  If you have a 22.5 Game Score, you are generally a top 5 performer in the NBA on a given night.  If you have a 30+ Game Score, you have had a great night.

You can achieve negative Game Scores (see my last blog entry) and you can achieve Game Scores over 60.  So, there is a wide range.

What does Game Score not capture?  Well, as you might expect, it does not capture any positive or negative play that cannot be statistically captured in a box score.  So, if you are a terrible individual or team defender, your Game Score will overrate you. If you are a great positional defender but don't get a lot of steals or blocks, your Game Score will underrate you. For example, if you look at a list with a lot of minutes played but poor Game Scores you'll get guys like Shane Battier, Raja Bell, Bruce Bowen, Charles Oakley, Joe Dumars, Derek Fisher. Defenders who didn't get a lot of steals or blocks. These are the sort of players likely to be underrated.

The guys who will be overrated?  Guys who are excellent offensive players but sieves defensively (particularly if they get a steal and a block a game).  So, Game Score is not a perfect statistic. 

BUT if you look at the list of guys with the most 15+ Game Scores (post 1982) you are going to see guys who rank very high on most all-time lists and who played a long time:  http://bkref.com/tiny/gsRcw

What Game Score will definitely tell you is the guys who played super hard every night and were productive every night. 

For example, the king of the Game Score is Michael Jordan.  if you look at Game Score greater than 22.5, Jordan has 567, LeBron 551, Karl Malone 524. 

But if you go to Game Score efforts of greater than a 30 Game Score, it gets even more heavily unbalanced in Jordan's favor.

10th Place - Magic 85 games
9th Bird 108
8th Kobe 112
7th David Robinson 114
6th Shaq 124
5th Hakeem 130
4th Karl Malone 139
3rd Barkley 142
2nd LeBron 151

#1?  Michael Jordan -- 257  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!  So, if you took LeBron and Bird combined, they'd have 2 more great regular season games than Jordan.

Similarly, in the playoffs, Game Score over 30 is again owned by Jordan

Duncan 14 games
Kobe 15
Wade 17
Bird 18
Barkley 19
Magic 20
Hakeem 22
Shaq 25
LeBron 32
Jordan 48.     So add LeBron with Kobe and you still have one less great game than Michael.

It should be noted, however, that if you set the bar at 22.5 Game Score, LeBron becomes the playoff king

Dirk 51 games
Karl Malone 51
Bird 57
Duncan 59
Kobe  62
Hakeem 68
Magic 72
Shaq 80
Jordan 105
LeBron 113.

One thing we learn from Game Score reviews, LeBron James has played at a high level for a long, long time.  His consistency as a great player will almost certainly place him #1 on the all-time Game Score >15 and Game Score > 22.5 lists for both regular season and playoff and NBA Finals.

Jordan, on the other hand, simply played at a level so high that no one else, even LeBron, challenged him for either great individual games or for most season games with a great Game Score (30+).

Look, for example, at Jordan's dominance here:  http://bkref.com/tiny/pVqQj  and here:  http://bkref.com/tiny/yqLer

Jordan also had a season where he had 80!!! games with a Game Score of at least 15.  if you watched Jordan and wondered whether he was going to have a bad game..........he wasn't.

So, if you take this list and you ask for the top 60 most consistent seasons of very good play every night, what you see out of those 60 seasons, is that Jordan absolutely dominates the list, but dig a little deeper and you see:

of the top 60 seasons, 11 guys have one super season full of consistently great games (Ewing, Dantley, KG, Curry, Davis, TMac, AI, Love, CP3, Wade, Westbrook).

3 guys have 2 such seasons (Magic, Kobe, Durant)

3 guys have 3 of the top 60 seasons (Barkley, Hakeem, Harden)

3 Guys have 4 such seasons (Shaq, Bird, David Robinson)

1 Guy has 5 (Karl Malone)

James has 8
Jordan has 9.

And what all of these Game Score lists tend to show us is that since 1983-84, Jordan has been the best player, then there is a gap to LeBron, then there is a pretty big gap to anyone else (Barkley, Karl Malone, Shaq, Hakeem).

This "Jordan Gap LeBron Gap" becomes less pronounced when you look at the NBA Finals - http://bkref.com/tiny/5OKrE and http://bkref.com/tiny/eZoj4  Jordan and James become virtually tied and Shaq and Magic burst way up and become in the conversation as well.

When you use Game Score to evaluate a player, it is pretty safe to say that the best players generally put up great Game Scores.  The two guys probably hurt the worst by the stat are Duncan and KG and the two guys probably helped the most by the stat are Nique and Iverson. 

Guys definitely on a run in the past few years?  Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Anthony Davis   .http://bkref.com/tiny/a13hJ  and the old man, LeBron James.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The 10 Worst Single-Game Statistical Efforts in the Past 35 NBA Seasons

I was watching Kris Dunn's 1-11 stat line last night and thinking "God, Kris Dunn isn't very good." But then I recalled that Kris Dunn's Game Score of Negative 2.2 was FAR better than a number of Game Scores I have seen when reviewing games. 

So, I asked myself, based upon our database from our friends at www.basketball-reference.com, what are the 10 worst Game Scores achieved since those folks compiled the records (starting in 1983-84).

Well, here you go:


The key cutoff mark is a Game Score of Negative 9.1.  If you are better than that - too good to be on this list.  Some key events here --

1) Only 3 of these 10 guys made a shot from the floor. 

2) No one on the list made (or even attempted) a free throw.

3) In the 10 games at issue, these guys committed 51 turnovers.  The BEST performance on the list for turnovers was D.J. Augustin who managed to commit 4 turnovers but played 32 minutes.

The worst?  Delaney Rudd turned the ball over 6 times in 9 minutes.

4) Foul trouble - a lot.  Hollis Thompson, Delaney Rudd and Darius Miles played 50 combined minutes and fouled 16 times.

5) 3 players (Rudd, Nash Augustin) failed to get a rebound.  Thurl Bailey did get 8 rebounds to lead this group   But that solid work was overcome by his 5 turnovers and 2 for 20 shooting.

6) D.J. Augustin gets the "best" Game Score of Negative 9.1 despite virtually no production in 32 minutes (0 of 8, no FT, 0 rebounds, 1 assist).

7) David Wesley has the all-time worst Game Score due to his 0 for 13, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 4 TO and 4 fouls performance. 

8) There are guys on the list who had all-star appearances -- Steve Nash and Tom Gugliotta,
Nash was 37 years old and Gugs was 22 when their terrible games occurred.  As you will see below, Gugs also had another terrible game that almost made the list.  When Gugs was bad to start a game, he never got better during that game.  You were better off sitting him.

9) The 20 year old Larry Hughes makes an appearance - he goes 0-6 with 6 turnovers in only 12 MP.

10) David Wesley's Negative 11.7 Game Score is the worst in 35 years, but his 0 of 13 shooting effort only reaches a tie for 5th worst in the past 35 years.

0 of 13 - Wesley, Gugs (in a different game!), Maxwell, Leavell, Stanley Johnson, Vince Carter, Gerald Wilkins, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Favors, Metta World Peace

0 for 14 - Dino Radja, Junior Bridgeman - both had some slight amounts of production in other areas to avoid the "10 worst Game Score" list.

0 for 15 - Rodney McCray - (Game Score helped by 8 boards and 8 assists)

0 for 17 -- Tim Hardaway, Sr. (in a win versus the Timberwolves, where he also had 13 assists) -- Game Score only Negative 3.2

Remarkably, in David Wesley's terrible performance, his team held the opponent to 78 points and actually won by 2 points and Wesley's "plus-minus" was a +2!!!  By contrast, in Nash's loss,. he was a negative 22.