Seeds

Here I am sitting with my NBA bracket. All empty & waiting to be filled out. I’m more curious about the thought process that goes into such an endeavor. What would make someone choose one team over another? If logic is in play, shouldn’t I always pick the higher seed, since they have home field advantage and are usually the team with the better record? Or do I use my gut feeling? What information am I using to base my picks on? Do I go with the hot/cold teams (SAS, MIN, IND, DET, and MIA are hot; NJ, MEM, HOU, and SAC are cold)? Do I take the teams with more playoff experience (LAL, SAS, NJ, & DET) over the ones that aren’t playoff tested (NY, DEN, MIA, & MEM)? Where can I find solace in my decisions?

A good place to start is to look at recent history. I don’t have a team of experts at my call (this is a one man blog, not ESPN). So I’ll quickly use the last two years as a starting point, to find out what kind of team is most likely to pull off an upset. Here are all the underdog winners over the last two years:

Year	Rnd	TEAM	Seed	OPP	Seed
2002	2	BOS	3	DET	2
2002	2	LAL	3	SAS	2
2002	3	LAL	3	SAC	1
2003	3	NJ	2	DET	1
2003	2	DAL	3	SAC	2
2003	1	LAL	5	MIN	4

Out of the 16 first round games, there has only been one upset. The 5th seed Lakers played without Shaq for 15 games, and only missed the 4th seed by one game. However with their center (and franchise player) healthy, they took the Wolves in 6. They were as easily dismissed by the Spurs in the second round 4 games to 2. Of the latter rounds, it seems that the #3 seed has the best chance of survival. Subtracting the well documentated Lakers 2002 championship, 2 of the remaining #3 teams have won their second round game. Both teams were offensive orientated teams that just got hot at the right times. Boston behind the shooting of Walker & Pierce, and Dallas with their myriad of scorers. Twice the #1 seeds have been upset one series before the finals.

So with my extremely small sample size, what kind of data am I armed with? First round upsets are rare, but the further you go in the playoffs, the more perilous it gets. This should be obvious because the disparity between the teams gets smaller (instead of a #1 playing a #8, it’s a #1 playing a #4 or #2). In my small sample size, no team lower than a #5 seed is likely to pull of an upset. In history there have been lower seeded teams to move on past the first round (Knicks & Nuggets). However the odds seem too slim when given even odds (as a picking out a bracket is).

Leaving open the option that a #6 could slip by, I’ll take a quick gander at those two matchups. #6 Memphis isn’t likely to upset the Spurs. San Antonio still has the best defensive team in the league, and I think that makes it a little tough for an underdog to unseat them at home. Similarly with other #6 team, the Bucks. They are facing the #2 defensive team in the league, and I don’t see the Pistons losing with home court advantage.

The 5th seeds have a little better chance at unseating their opponents. According to me, a few days ago Miami only had a 17% chance of taking the 4th seed. Their opponent the Hornets were in the 6th seed. Thanks to the Bucks who mailed it in the last few games (why does that sound familiar?) those two get to play each other. Miami seems to have every edge, home court advantage, hot team going into the playoffs, and the better record. The Hornets only have their playoff experience, but I don’t think that’ll be enough to unseat the Heat.

Dallas-Sacramento is the matchup that could go either way. Both teams are great on offense. However the Kings have an average defense, while Dallas ranks among the bottom 5 teams. It’s not without the realm of possibility for the Mavs to take this series, especially if their offense explodes. However I can’t get over their defense being that bad, especially while facing the league’s best offense.

So in the first round, I’ll be a wimp and take all the favorites:
East: IND, NJ, DET, MIA
West: MIN, LAL, SAS, SAC

To keep my street cred, I’ll have to go out on a ledge in round two. So here we go. I’ll predict both 3rd seed to win their series. Detroit and the Spurs are ranked #1 & #2 in defense, and both teams finished with better records than their 2nd seeded counterpart. Not many people are taking the Nets over the Pistons, but enough people are not only picking the Lakers to win in the second round, but to go all the way. I can’t find a good reason to pick either of these teams to knock off the top teams, so I have an Indiana-Minnesota finals.

Second & Third Round:
East: IND def MIA, then DET
West: MIN def SAC, then SAS

For the finals, I’ll take Indy over Minnesota. Despite my hatred for the Pacers due to their rivalry with the Knicks, the East needs a to win a championship to gain any type of respect from the media. While the talent disparity is still there, an East team winning it all will let free agents feel they can win a championship in the East. Recently I’ve felt that players are going to or staying out West because they think it’s their best chance at winning a championship. Logic dictates that while it may be easier to reach the finals in the weaker East, the West is pumping out the rings faster than Sauron. In any scenario, I will be rooting for whoever represents the East in the Finals

Finals:
IND over MIN score of the final game: 91-84

Veeck, Blog Maverick, and Ideas To Improve the NBA

In case you didn’t know Mark Cuban runs a weblog just like this one. Well maybe it’s not like this one, because when I sell ice cream I don’t get thousands of fans showing up to meet me. (Also when I insult the common workers of Diary Queen, there aren’t teams of reports waiting to print what I say in the papers.)

I like Mark, because he reminds me of a modern day Bill Veeck. He criticizes the establishment of the NBA on a constant basis. Owners like Veeck and Cuban are great for sports, because in general people are afraid of change. Especially when those people are owners with billions of dollars at stake. The NBA has been forced to make changes, because despite having the most popular American athlete since Babe Ruth, they are behind MLB and the NFL in terms of popularity. Granted on any Saturday I can find a game of pickup basketball to play, unlike football or baseball. However the NBA is still America’s third leading sport (neither fake wrestling nor car racing are sports in my book).

I admire Mr. Cuban’s ability to try and change the NBA for the better, but I don’t agree with all of his ideas. Similarly, when I read Bill Veeck’s book, I disagreed with some of his ideas as well. Mr. Veeck said flat out that unless the minor league system would radically change, non-major league salaries would spiral out of control, bankrupting the league. While the money given to draft picks and draft-exempt foreigners has gotten larger and larger, MLB is financially better than it’s ever been, by expanding to more and more franchises. On the other hand Bill Veeck had many good ideas that were “before their time.” Regarding racial equality, he wanted to purchase a franchise and fill the whole team with Negro league players. Mr. Veeck’s Cleveland Indians were the first AL team to have a black player (Larry Doby). He advocated interleague play almost 50 years before MLB would schedule it. Veeck he had a willingness to improve the game.

Mark Cuban seems to be the same way. Take for example this entry called “Is this cheating…” He has some great ideas to improve the game:

While I?m on the topic, here are a couple things that again apply to all levels that I just can?t figure out.

1. Why isn?t the 24 sec clock or a clock on the court used to count down the 5 secs for an inbounds play? Talk about drama as the fans, players etc see the clock. There would be more violations as well with good defense rewarded.
2. Why is it that officials will confer and can and will take as long as they need to correct the 24 sec clock, yet won?t for just about any other play or issue that arises?
3. Why is it that everyone says that Shaq is so hard to officiate? Just because he is big and when guys hammer him they don?t impact his shot, doesn?t make it not a foul. On the flipside, if he lowers his shoulder or powers through someone, its a foul. The big guy should probably go to the foul line and foul out three times as often as he does.

I agree 100% with each of these. There is no logical reason that the 24 second clock shouldn’t be used for 5 second violations. While watching an inbound play the no one else (fans or players) knows how much time is in the ref’s head. It’s worse than the penalty time in soccer. Wouldn’t the ref be better able to watch what’s going on without counting at the same time?

It shouldn’t be that hard to implement a change like this. The ref hands the ball to the inbounding player, blows his whistle, and the 24 second clock changes to 5 seconds and starts to count down. The clock buzzes when the 5 seconds are up. If the ball is inbounded before the 5 seconds are up, the time keeper hits a button & the clock changes from that 5 second timer to whatever was left on the 24. Mark’s two other ideas are just as logical.

Just as I agree with some of them, I disagree with others. For example in another of his entries he states “why in the world do we allow secondary defenders to take charges?” I don’t have any numbers handy, but I would imagine this “secondary defender” charge makes up a large percentage of charges called. Mark tries not to make it sound like this is coming from a Mavs fan perspective by saying his team has “several guys who are good at it: nash, najera among others.” If anyone thinks that Dallas is one of the best teams in the league at taking charges, raise your hand. I can’t help to think Mark has some added incentive to get this type of rule passed because his team would benefit since they are one of the top offensive teams in the league. I wonder if he owned that other Texas team (the one with the #1 defense in the league), would offensive charges still be an issue?

The Mavs owner states among his many reasons: that the dunk is more fun to watch than a charge, the numbers of players flopping would reduce, and there would be an increase in blocked shots. The dunk is more fun to watch, but if people wanted to see dunking, then wouldn’t the slam dunk contests still hold the same interest it did years ago? As for flopping, as soon as Vlade Divac retires, flopping in the league should reduce by about 80%. I don’t see how blocked shots will increase by getting rid of charging. You usually see a player trying to take a charge when he is smaller than the aggressor. Get rid of these types of charges, and you’ll just see more fouls committed by the small guys. Dean Oliver agreed & said:

“I personally thought that this idea was one of the worst I have ever seen. Taking away the ability of help defenders to draw charges would completely kill the concept of help defense. If I’m an offensive guy, as soon as I get by my man, I look for a defender to bang into just so I can draw a foul. Hell, I charge into him madly and throw up a shot because, by rule, that cannot be a foul on me. The game actually gets more dangerous if it isn’t just ludicrous.”

The only charge I would like to see banished is the charge called when a player is passing the ball (not shooting). Sometimes this occurs on fast breaks, when the opposing defender is usually a smaller guard whose only hope is to take a charge. Other times this is called when a player hasn’t even left his feet. Nate Duncan couldn’t have put it any better in his APBR_analysis post:

Another possibility is to give an offensive player immunity from a charge after he’s released the ball for either a shot or a pass. One of the most maddening things i see in basketball is a player coming down the lane on a 3 on 1, dishing to a guy running in on the wing for a dunk, and having the passer called for the charge after he’s already passed the ball.

Maverick fans should be happy that they have an owner that is so accessible. Mark doesn’t have all the ideas to help the league (no one in the world does), but I’m happy that the league has an owner that is willing to improve and adapt the game, instead of just sitting on his big pile of money watching the world go by.