Thursday, March 31, 2005

Guatemala Goes Down: My Night in Birmingham

As an initial matter, I've been composing this post since last night and at this stage, it feels like how Dylan described writing "Blonde on Blonde": I'm just going to have to vomit it out. In other words, it isn't voluntary at this stage. I'm merely channeling. Enjoy.

I went to the game with my brother Dan and a friend of his. We left Atlanta at 4:45 for an 8:05 p.m. (EST) kickoff. Even with a 20-minute break to inhale some wings, we were in downtown B'ham around 7:20. That's when the fun began. The following list will illustrate why Alabama has always joined Ohio and New Jersey on my list of intolerable states:

1. The traffic was backed up for over a mile before the exit for Legion Field. When we got to the exit, we found out why. Instead of creating one way traffic on the way to the Field, the cops at the two intersections on the way were letting traffic go for about a minute, and then were stopping traffic so Billy Ray and the gang wouldn't be inconvenienced on their way back to Leeds or Brompton after a hard day under the hood. (And what's with all the English names, B'ham? You aren't fooling anyone. If you're going to pretend to be British, then where's the friggin' Tube to get me to the game on time?) As a result of the cops acting like traffic lights, ignorant of the fact that there was a massive flow of traffic going in one direction, thousands of cars were sitting, almost idle. If it's possible for the crack Atlanta Police to get 30,000 fans in and out of Turner Field expeditiously 86 times per year, then we're not talking about a task on par with splitting the atom or selling Ashlee Simpson as a pop star.

2. In fairness to the traffic geniuses at BPD, they had a hard time making chicken salad from chicken shit and Legion Field is the very embodiment of chicken shit. The stadium has minimal parking and sits a bit more than a mile from the Interstate. It's in the middle of a neighborhood (and a crappy neighborhood, at that.) Stadia nestled into neighborhoods are cute in West London or the North Side of Chicago where there's plenty of public transportation to move thousands of fans in and out, but they suck in a state where public transportation ranks up there with the metric system and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment on the list of priorities. We ended up having to park in the front yard of some local residents, who didn't have the sense to charge more than $5 for parking, when I wouldn't have blinked at paying $20 since I had no other option. (Gosh, living in a big city has really jaded me.) On the other hand, the residents decided that the game was a good occasion to do some yard work, so my car was covered with grass dust at the end of the game.

3. I like to collect ticket stubs, but the woman working the gate has apparently never pondered the existence of perforation on tickets, because she ripped off almost all of my pass. Thanks. Not that the ticket was useful to me anyway, since we were sitting in Section A and all of the portals at Legion Field are numbered, not lettered. (Naturally.)

4. The bleacher we were standing on moved to and fro every time I shifted my weight. I know I should weigh less than 180 at 5'10, but I don't have THAT much mass. Really confidence inspiring.

5. Like amenities? Legion Field It's a miracle that the SEC ever had its Championship Game here. Let's see: have the game at an ultra-modern stadium in the largest city in the South, complete with tons of hotel rooms, the busiest airport in the world, public transportation (such as that may be in Atlanta,) and nudie bars galore, OR have it at Legion Field, a rusted-out relic with no amenities to speak of in a slum with no modern ingress/egress in a city that left Atlanta's development track because of its love affair with segregation? Maybe I'd feel differently about Legion Field if I was a grizzled Bama fan whose fondest memories are of sitting in the bleachers watching Bear Bryant lean against the goalposts from having had too much to drink.

Other than that, I have nothing bad to say about Legion Field.

On to the game itself.

The crowd was good-sized and quite loud. After going to a bunch of pro sports events over the past year, it was nice to see a game with actual fan passion. The crowd was probably 60% US fans, and they were making most of the noise, as I'll get to in a minute. The Guatemalan fans seemed to be having a great time. Regardless of the result, I assume that they simply enjoyed getting to express their love for their homeland. Nothing wrong with that. We sat with Sam's Army, which was a lot of fun. Plenty of singing and chanting, although the chants really leave a little to be desired. You can tell that soccer in the US is more of an upper middle class phenomenon, since everyone was far too polite to sing anything nasty about the opponent. The fan culture surrounding the US team seems a little forced, but over time, that should change.

The team played extremely well, dominating a fairly decent Guatemalan side from start to finish. Landon Donovan played like the star-in-the-making that he promised to be during the 2002 World Cup. He's far better suited to playing in the hold behind the strikers than he is out on the wing. He needs the game revolving around him. It's not surprising that he never made it with Bayer Leverkusen, since he needs the offense to run through him and no major European club is going to give those reins to a 23-year old American prospect. Donovan set up the first goal with an intelligent back-heel and he scored a beautiful header that was wrongly ruled out for offsides. His skill level is terrific, and if the Europeans don't get that, then he'll just have to remind them in 2006.

Eddie Johnson played very well. He's a better striker than anyone the US has had before. He's got both speed and ball-control. Plus, he doesn't fluff shots. He scored once with a perfect shot, assisted on a second goal, and forced two additional strong saves. He's good in the air, which was important because Eddie Lewis dominated the left flank and pumped balls into the box all day. The English would have been impressed with his game.

As for the Guatemalans, I've never seen a team flop more. Every time there was a modicum of contact (and often when there wasn't,) they fell to the ground with plenty of velocity. The ref bought some of their acting, but not all of it, and finally gave Carlos Ruiz a yellow card because of his frustration with their prostration. Otherwise, Guatemala didn't impress much. They only generated one or two good chances. (That's probably a compliment to Onyewu and Gibbs, who barely put a foot wrong all game.) They did have a free kick late in the game that nearly snuck inside the post from a good 30 yards. On the other hand, they had two free kicks from 20 yards out (one from a truly egregious dive) that they pumped directly into the wall. Their keeper Trigueno kept them in it with several good saves.

Overall, a very good night for the US, especially with the rest of the group tying one another and dropping points. With six points from two games and home dates against Trinidad & Tobago and Panama to go, the U.S. will have to make a major collapse to miss out on Germany. Now, if only someone will build a 20,000 seat soccer stadium near a MARTA stop...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

April 10 - Smoltz vs. Pedro

If neither of them have thrown out their elbows by that point, the first Sunday home game of the year promises a doozy of a pitching match-up. How many times do you get to see one sure Hall of Famer get to pitch against someone on the cusp (and Smoltz is only on the cusp because of injuries.) Considering that the last Braves game I attended was Hall of Famer Roger Clemens against the artist formerly known as Jaret Wright, the April 10 match-up seems to be just a wee bit of an improvement.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bat Giles Third

In looking at the Braves' stats from this spring, it occurred to me that Chipper Jones, at this stage in his career, might be better suited for the #2 spot in the order. He's more patient than Marcus Giles, which would give Furcal more chances to steal second. Chipper is also a switch-hitter, which would allow him to swing for the right side easily against right-handed pitchers when Furcal is on second.

In terms of power, Chipper's isolated power number (.213) was almost the same as Giles' (.211) in 2003, the last year that both of them were healthy. To the extent that spring stats matter, Chipper has fewer extra base hits in more at-bats this spring (3 xbhs in 43 ABs vs. 4 xbhs in 33 ABs). Giles is also entering the stage of his career when his power should go up, whereas Chipper is on the opposite end of his curve.

Two negatives to batting Giles third:

1. Giles is faster than Chipper, so it's better to have him on base in front of Larry Wayne rather than behind him.

2. If the Braves entertain hopes of re-signing Giles when he becomes a free agent after the 2006 season, then driving up his RBI totals is not the way to do so.

The Braves' Bullpen: Much Ado About Nothing?

I'm not as concerned about the bullpen, despite some truly wretched recent performances, as others. The lefties in the pen (Tom Martin and Gabe White) have been terrible and Adam Bernero has only been marginally better, but White and Bernero came straight from the trash heap and Martin is only slightly better. A bullpen basically needs four reliable relievers and right now, the Braves have Dan Kolb, Roman Colon, Buddy Hernandez, and Chris Reitsma.

Kolb is the big question in the pen and he hasn't had a very good spring, but spring is a small sample size. He's thrown almost 100 innings over the past two seasons and has an ERA of 2.55. He looks a little like John Thomson in the sense that both of them got a lot better once they were liberated from the pitching hell that is the Ballpark at Arlington.

Colon looks promising. He's allowed one run, five hits, and three walks in nine innings this spring. He was fairly good in the pen last year, including getting Barry Bonds out twice. Query how he'll stand up to throwing 70 innings, though. Overuse will be a big issue if the pen only has 3-4 reliable relievers. For evidence of overuse...

Reitsma will be the set-up man again and was effective in that role for a good chunk of last season. His stats were decent last year, despite a June slump, until the bottom fell out at the end of the season when his arm fell off. Reitsma had very good stats last year when he had 1-2 days rest, so the goal ought to be to make sure that this former starter isn't throwing too frequently. Hopefully, Bobby will be flexible in his decision-making process.

Buddy Hernandez is the interesting story. He doesn't look much like a pitcher, but his minor league stats are good (8.1 K/9 last year in Richmond) and he's been able to replicate them in spring training. If Bobby is willing to look past the fact that he's young and doesn't look like Reitsma or Smoltz, then he should perform fairly well. In addition to overuse, Hernandez and Colon are also at risk for slumping in the second half of the season when opposing hitters start to adjust to them.

As for the dilemma of not having a lefty to get the Delgados and Thomes of the world out, did anyone really see anything in Tom Martin last year to make us think that he's that guy? If Schuerholtz's main task is simply to find a designated lefty, then the Braves are in great shape. I miss Pedro Borbon.

Monday, March 28, 2005

My Saturday Night

A momentary departure from discussing sports...

Wifey, Brother of Wifey, and I went out in South Charlotte (or, as I dubbed it, SoShah) to a garden-variety strip mall sports bar. I had forgotten how memorable a regular old Saturday night at a bar can be.

1. I got hit on by a middle aged woman whom we dubbed "Boomer Esiason" because of her blonde mullet. She said that she was trying to see if I was single because she was there with her daughter, whom we graded immediately like catty women. In between white wines, she told us a joke about 90-year olds having sex and complained that people in the South just aren't as up front as they are in Cleveland, which is where she's from. For some reason, I didn't rip on Cleveland as "even worse than Detroit" like I normally do.

2. Every guy in the bar with a baseball cap was wearing it backwards. Damn you, Fred Durst and Junion Griffey. One of the Sugar Ray wannabes behind us was acting as a PA announcer for the Bobcats/Heat highlights going on on one of the screens. Amazingly enough, he pronounced Primo Brezec's name correctly.

3. I got my first exposure to a video jukebox. There's nothing quite as fun as drinking Maker's Mark while watching "Funky Cold Medina" and "The Humpty Dance" back to back.

Limited NCAA thoughts

Wifey and I went up to Charlotte this weekend to visit her brother, so I didn't get to watch as much basketball as I would have hoped. Apparently, that Miss Congeniality II gambit wasn't as effective as I would have hoped. Naturally, now that I got to watch every game, it turned into the best weekend of basketball in recent memory. Nevertheless, I have to ramble about something, right?

1. Since Billy Packer is paid to speak, could someone tell him that there is no "x" at the end of the first syllable of "lackadaisical"? And while we're at it, has he always been such a Duke lover? It was almost incidental to him and Nantz that Michigan State played very well to beat Duke on Friday night. Their comments almost solely concerned how Duke had overachieved this year (BS) and what they had done to lose the game. Strangely, the obvious "throw the ball to Shelden Williams on every possession" possibility was not mentioned. Coach K is great and all, but sometimes, he doesn't seem to understand what the players on his roster do best.

2. Has one team ever been more dependent on a player than Carolina on Raymond Felton? When he fouled out on Friday night, UNC went from comfortably in front to hanging on by the skin of their teeth. They had several close calls with turnovers in the final minutes and they were fortunate to get a bad travel call, although that call probably wasn't decisive because it would have left Nova down one with nine seconds to go, anyway.

3. The Big Ten's success (and to a lesser extent, Kentucky's strong tournament showing) illustrate that picking against a conference's top teams because the middle and lower class of that conference are terrible isn't always a wise strategy. I thought that Kentucky, Michigan State, and Wisconsin would be early casualties because they had inflated records as the result of playing in conferences with such crappy lower halves. Instead, they illustrated the Florida State phenomenon: a team that picks on weaklings in its conference can still do very well when it steps out to play teams from deeper, better leagues.

4. Am I the only person who doesn't like Kevin Pittsnogle's game? I suppose the inbred features are somewhat endearing, but any 6'11 center who shoots like that automatically reminds me of Bill Laimbeer or Jack Sikma, two of my least favorite NBA players in the 80s. Plus, did anyone else notice that he has a Battier-esque tendency to flop, even on minimal contact. Basically, he's a big guy who plays on the perimeter on offense and flops rather than blocking shots on defense. In other words, he's a symptom of the decline of modern big men.

5. OK, I'll be the 11,487th person to ask the question: why do otherwise astute coaches have their teams start their offenses late in the shotclock in end-game situations? It's amazing to me how many teams end up taking terrible shots on critical possessions, shots they almost never take throughout the game itself. Why not just run your offense and then make the other team hoist up a terrible shot to beat you. Plus, teams deprive themselves of the chance to get an offensive rebound when they wait too long, despite the fact that conventional wisdom is that the rebound is more dangerous than the shot at the end of a close game.

6. Does anyone think that Illinois is better than Arizona on a neutral court? I suppose that Illinois was lucky because they were good in a year that Chicago was a regional site, and they earned the right to have that homecourt advantage, but isn't it a little excessive?

7. More kudos to CBS: in addition to having announcers who butcher the English language and openly root for Duke, they managed to screw up their staggering of games on Friday night. The Kentucky/Utah game ran concurrently with the Carolina/Villanova game, which meant that I didn't get to see Andrew Bogut for more than a couple minutes. It sounds like I didn't miss much, but I'd like the chance to make that decision for myself.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I'm going to see Fever Pitch right after I pull the pin on a grenade and shove it up my...

If you would have told the 24-year old Michael that one day, he will go to see "Miss Congeniality II: Armed and Fabulous" on the Thursday night of the Sweet Sixteen, he probably would have stabbed you (or himself) with a KFC spork. Nevertheless, there I was last night at the Regal 24, enjoying date night with the wife and a theater full of teenage girls. The second preview before the movie was for "Fever Pitch" and it enraged me so much that my wife had to shush me when the movie started because I was still prattling on. Why doth this movie sucketh? Let me count the ways:

1. "Fever Pitch" is my second-favorite sports book of all-time, right behind "Season on the Brink". It helps that I'm a European soccer fan and know the author's Arsenal references, but even if you view soccer as a Bolshevik plot, it's terrific because it's the perfect description of the male sports nut's psyche, the way we get so carried away with wins and losses, the way we think we can affect the outcome of games, the way we know intellectually how silly our passion is and yet we keep with it. Based on the preview, it's been turned into "The Wedding Singer". My favorite sports movie is now a chick flick about sports getting in the way of a relationship. Think about that sentence for a minute or two. The Farrelly Brothers should burn in hell for this.

2. "Fever Pitch" has already been made into a perfectly good movie. More importantly, it starred Colin Firth, a reasonably masculine guy whom I can picture as an Arsenal nut. The new bastardization stars Jimmy Fallon, who could give Leo DiCaprio a run for the "least likely to be called a guy's guy" award in Variety. How could Nick Hornby allow this to happen? His protagonists have gone from Firth, Hugh Grant (enough of a cad for guys to appreciate,) and John Cusack (always a solid choice) to a clown who couldn't keep a straight face in some of the least funny SNL skits in history.

3. Are Americans so stupid that they couldn't relate to a movie about a fan of an English soccer team>? If I was English, I'd be more pissed about this than I would have been about "U-571" turning the protagonists of a plot to steal a German Enigma machine from Brits to Americans. Have the Star Wars movies made us incapable of seeing English people as anything but the enemy? What next, Ashton Kutcher as James Bond?

4. And as if we haven't had the frickin' Red Sox shoved down our throat enough over the past six months, here's another movie about their crazy fans. Wonderful. Those of us in the SEC football/ACC basketball region are just so AMAZED to see fans with such passion. Wherever would we see such foreign creatures? My campaign to not get excited about their "Greatest Season Ever (that didn't include a division championship)" is going to have to kick into high gear.

In short, the only good thing that can come of this movie is that it could provoke a riot upon the opening in London and Jimmy Fallon might be placed in the stocks on London Bridge. I was going to suggest that his limbs be sent to the four corners of Britain, a la the imagined William Wallace, but that seemed harsh. But only by a smidge.

I can't wait until ESPN does one of their gawdawful TV movies to destroy "Season on the Brink". Wait a minute...

Mark Bradley's bullish on Andrew Bogut

Mark Bradley, who's pretty much the only AJC columnist whose columns I read regularly, has a good piece this morning on why Andrew Bogut would be a good pick for the Hawks. (You need an AJC subscription to access the link. If you have one, then use the link to the right and the column is on the lower left of the page.) Here are the most encouraging arguments he makes:

1. Bogut has had very good games against Arizona and LSU this year. The Arizona comparison doesn't mean too much because Channing Frye is skilled, but soft. (I can't get past his name. He should be an extra on "The OC" with a name like Channing.) Still, 20/10 (on 8/10 shooting) is nothing to sneeze at. The LSU comparison means more to me because they have two NBA-quality, bullish big men. 24/17 (on 10/15 shooting) is really impressive against Brandon Bass and Glenn Davis. The only negatives I can find from those games is that Frye scored 19 on Bogutn and that Andrew didn't get to the line much.

2. Bogut's got a Croatian background. This shouldn't mean much to me, but Mr. Herrin's explanation of the Yugoslav conflict in 12th grade International Relations sticks with me. Get ready for a bunch of inappropriate jokes if Bogut becomes a Hawk.

On the other hand, Bradley is loony when he mentions Bogut in the same sentence as Kevin Garnett. They aren't on the same continent in terms of athleticism. He was much more accurate when he used the Zydrunas Ilgauskas comparison (and yes, I'm saying that because I drew the same comparison on Monday.) Bill Walton is an interesting idea, although I only started watching the NBA in the mid-80s, so I never saw Walton before his feet exploded.

Thanks, CBS 46

Great decision last night to show the Texas Tech/West Virginia game instead of Arizona/Oklahoma State. Sure the latter game had far more NBA-quality players. (I'd come up with a ratio, but as Mrs. Claxton taught me in the fourth grade, I can't divide by zero.) Sure the latter game involved higher seeds who are more likely to make the Final Four and show impressively once there. That's all true, but the mighty Red Raider nation has infiltrated the Atlanta area. Heck, every time I go to Jocks & Jills to watch games, I can't get a seat because of all of the T-Tech fans. And WVU? They've taken over the city! There's a reason why Cobb County is called "Morgantown South" now.

(Note to non-Atlantans: I'm being sarcastic. I've only encountered one Texas Tech fan in all my time of watching games here and she was here on business. And annoying. West Virginians tend not to leave their own state for, uh, fear of being exposed to modernity.)

Maybe CBS decided that north Georgia viewers in White or Union counties would respond well to Senor Pittsnogle?

I need digital cable or a dish. Badly.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Cadillac vs. Ronnie Brown

That reminds me of another topic: why is Cadillac behind Ronnie Brown on every draft board? Here's why I'd take the Caddy:

1. No one thinks that Brown is a better pure runner than Caddy. Cadillac is a rare breed, a pure runner who beat opposing defenders or run through them. He has the best feet and change of direction skills in college football. When picking runners, shouldn't running ability be the most important factor? Brown is more versatile in that he can play fullback because of his receiving and blocking skills, but how many teams are going to deploy their top ten pick as a fullback? Ronnie Brown is a little better suited for a one-back offense, but unless a team is totally wedded to that approach (and very few are,) then Caddy will be better for the offense.

2. Yes, Ronnie is a better pass receiver than Caddy. So? Isn't a better runner more important to a passing game? Isn't it better to draw the safeties up and unleash your receivers, the guys who are actually paid to catch the ball? Is it better to have a guy who will be productive on those five-yard swing passes? And aren't NFL third-down backs a dime a dozen? Is it that hard to find a Kevin Faulk type for $600K per year to spell Caddy in obvious passing situations?

3. Brown (6'1) is taller than Williams (5'11). Shouldn't this be a negative for Brown, not a positive? How tall is Emmitt Smith? How tall is Barry Sanders? Do we have agreement that Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Jamal Lewis are the three best running backs in the NFL? Are you aware than none of them are taller than 5'10? Or how about Curtis Martin, the leading rusher in the NFL last year? He's also 5'11.

4. Brown is faster in a straight line, but how many times are NFL running backs really in the open field? Even the good ones? Once every two games or so? Isn't it more important to turn a nothing play into five yards or five yards into 15 by making people miss? And remind me which of the two runners is more likely to make an opponent miss.

5. Ronnie Brown was never the starter at Auburn when Cadillac was healthy, even when the Tigers converted to a pro set last year. What does that say about the two players as runners? Shouldn't the conclusions of the Auburn staff mean something?

Brown and Williams will both be very good NFL players and Draft precedent says that you can't go wrong taking an Auburn running back (unless his name is Brent Fullwood.) That said, if I was picking between them, I'd take the Caddy.

Expanding on the point about drafting for need

The current analysis of the NFL Draft is a classic example of the dangers of drafting for need. The 49ers clearly need just about everything, or else they wouldn't have finished 2-14. So why are they focusing on quarterbacks? Alex Smith has rarely been under center in his college career and he was made to look good by an incredible offensive design that has not yet been figured out by college defensive coordinators. (And thanks to the BCS, we never got to see Pete Carroll against Urban Meyer. At least in basketball, Andrew Bogut will get a chance to show his wares against upper level opposition. I digress.) Moreover, his offensive design didn't require him to make a lot of difficult throws, which is partly why it's such a good scheme. Aaron Rodgers played for a coach whose quarterbacks have uniformly been busts in the NFL, mainly because Jeff Tedford, like Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer, makes his quarterbacks look better than they are by putting them in a great system where anybody can succeed. Rodgers was also completely ignored coming out of high school, which should worry the 49ers. (How could someone with #1 pick in the Draft talent end up at Butte J.C.? And don't give me Ben Roethlisberger as a parallel. Rodgers wasn't playing tight end in high school like Big Ben was because of his idiotic high school coach.) Nevertheless, the 49ers think to themselves "Peyton Manning is the best player in the league and he went #1, so we'll turn one of these clowns into Peyton Manning by drafting him #1."

There are players who are lead-pipe cinches to be very good NFL players: Braylon Edwards, Mike Williams, Carnell Williams, and Derrick Johnson all come to mind. (Shaun Cody is pretty close, as well.) The 49ers would be far better off taking a player whom they know is going to be very good, rather than reaching for a quarterback just because good quarterbacks are hard to find. The Hawks' potential Andrew Bogut decision is the same. Williams and Paul are virtually certain to be very good players, but NFL teams reach for quarterbacks and NBA teams reach for centers and therein will lie the temptation to take Bogut.

The first "whom do we pick #1" post

This will be a bigger topic in June and July, but because the sports scene is a little slow right now, let's assume that the Hawks get the #1 pick and have a choice of Chris Paul, Andrew Bogut, or Marvin Williams. (The trigger for this post, by the way, is that I had a dream last night that the Hawks finished with the worst record in the league, but ended up picking fourth and the Lakers were in the top three. Naturally, I threw a tantrum in my dream. Welcome to my subconscious.)

Marvin Williams - I'd take him #1. I know that what little talent the Hawks have his concentrated at the 2-3-4 positions (Childress, Smith, and Harrington), but if there's one major mistake a bad team can make, it's drafting for need. The Hawks are 11-55 for a reason, so they simply need to take the best player and Williams is the most likely of the three to become a star. First of all, Carolina players are like Miami football players: they rarely go bust on the next level. He's starting to dominate at the highest level in college basketball and his game translates perfectly for the NBA. If the Hawks take him, then there are enough minutes to play four guys at the 2-3-4 spots. The competition for minutes will make all four players better. And if the situation doesn't work out, the Hawks could surely acquire a PG or center for Al Harrington, who would be the most likely of the four to be traded.

Chris Paul - I'd be thrilled if the Hawks got him, but I'm a smidge leery of scoring point guards, especially smallish six-foot guys. Plus, the Hawks are miserable on defense now and Paul wouldn't exactly add much to the mix in that department. (Am I making him sound like Jason Terry?) His maturity is a little questionable; he's done a lot of bitchy things this year on the court that makes me think that he doesn't respond especially well to frustration. One other concern: Paul has always had trouble with Jarrett Jack and he's going to see a lot more physical guards in the NBA. That said, he has a terrific first step, he's a good passer, and he can shoot the ball, so he'd be a perfectly good pick.

Andrew Bogut - This is the pick that would really cause me concern. First and foremost, Bogut is slow and isn't a very good shooter. How exactly is he going to score in the NBA? He can pass well and seems to be a decent enough rebounder, but how well will he do outside of a structured college offense? Second, most busts in the NBA Draft result from teams putting an excessive premium on size. There are a few players who are worth it and generally, you know them right off the bat. Otherwise, big men like Bogut who are questionable in many respects and their draft status is justified with "you can't teach height" tend to be disappointing. Third, if the Hawks are going to re-energize their predominantly African-American fan base, is a marquee player from Australia with a moptop really the guy who's going to accomplish that feat? I'd be excited, but what percentage of the Hawks fanbase are short Jewish guys with parents from the British Empire? (Actually, since I'm one of the Hawks' 20 fans, I'd say about 5%.) Bogut could potentially help the Hawks' defensive issues and the thought of his passing skills combined with Josh Smith's finishing skills is tempting, but he would worry me as the first pick. I'll be very interested to see how he does Friday against Randolph Morris and possibly Sunday against Shelden Williams. If Williams can't exploit Bogut's slowness, then Andrew might be a keeper.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A legalistic, linguistic pet peeve

Words that sports announcers use incorrectly:

"Literally" - as in, "Michael Jordan can literally jump out of the building." No, I'm pretty sure that he can't do that literally. Figuratively? Maybe. Literally? Won't he bump his head on the way through the roof?

"Patented" or "Trademark" - This is the lawyer in me griping, but when an announcer referred to Syracuse's "patented" zone or Sekou Smith described the Hawks' "trademark" valiant efforts in today's paper, it drives me nuts. Jim Boeheim didn't invent the concept of a zone defense and I'm pretty sure that he didn't show up on the doorstep of a patent office with diagrams of his 2-3 so no other caoch could use it. Similarly, the Hawks' effotrs are not distinctive to them, unless Sekou thinks that the Hawks are the only team in the NBA that plays hard (and if that's the case, then G-d have mercy on all of their souls.)

I'd rather announcers continue to butcher the English language with made-up words like "sticktoitiveness" than screw up existing words when there are perfectly readable dictionaries that would teach them the error of their ways.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A draft pick delayed is a draft pick denied?

The AJC ran this headline for an article yesterday on the Hawks:

"No. 1 pick acquired for Walker might slip away"

A casual reader might think "Billy Knight screws up again." However, if you actually read the article, you realize that the pick won't "slip away," but rather, it would simply be deferred until 2006 (unless it's a top ten pick) or 2007 (unless it's a top five pick.) So, if the Lakers make the playoffs this year, then the Hawks get a non-lottery pick, but if they miss the playoffs and don't improve in the next 1-2 years, then the Hawks will end up with a better pick.

And what the hell is the hurry, anyway? Is a mid-first round pick the difference between the Hawks making or missing the playoffs next year? This article betrays a fundamental misunderstanding as to how long the Hawks' rebuilding process is actually going to take.

Insert crappy "Edge" pun here

Thoughts on the Ed Hartwell signing:

1. Generally, this is a good idea. The Falcons' braintrust has the right idea by continuing to focus on the defense, which tailed off as last season progressed and needs an infusion of talent. Ed Hartwell will improve the run defense significantly and will allow the Birds to play the undersized, but very athletic Demorrio Williams at weakside LB. At first blush, the Falcons' run defense doesn't need much work, since they were 3rd in the NFC in yards per carry allowed, but that could have been a function of the fact that the Falcons were overcompensating for their smallish personnel by calling run defenses and that exposed them to the pass. With Hartwell, they can drop their other LBs more. Also, Hartwell might need to pick up the slack in run defense if Ed Jasper is replaced by an inferior DT.

2. Normally, I'd worry that Hartwell looked good in Baltimore's scheme because Ray Lewis was occupying the attention of opposing defenses, but at this stage in his career, Ray is somewhat overrated. (Anyone else see him get abused by Kansas City on a Monday night last year?) Hartwell did a very nice job replacing Lewis when Ray was out for most of the 2002 season.

3. Would it be too much to ask for the AJC to print the details of his contract, specifically when bonuses are due and what his yearly salaries are? They publish that he's getting $26.5M, but any NFL fan with sense knows that he'll probably never see the back-end of that contract. Some details might be nice.

I'd sooner gouge out my own eyes than rip on anything Smoltzie says...

but this remark doesn't make sense to me: "I would hope this start eases [concerns]. I've been badgered by the same questions over and over again. That's been the hardest part for me."

I completely understand his frustration with being asked the same question over and over again, but throwing five innings in spring training isn't going to convince me or anyone else that Smoltz's arm can handle 35 starts or that he'll still be mowing down the opposition in August. I generally support his decision to start again, but it's a significant risk and we won't know if the risk has paid off for months, just like we won't know if the Tim Hudson deal was a good one after this season.

Bobby will almost certainly keep Smoltz on a short leash for the first 1-2 months of the season. Smoltz will probably bristle at being taken out after six innings, but it's good for him and he has enough respect for Cox and Mazzone to defer to their judgment. Thank G-d Dusty Baker isn't managing the Braves; he'd have Smoltz throwing 145 pitches in the opener against Florida.

Monday, March 21, 2005

"Aren't you feeling the Madness?"

Sadly, that argument didn't work when trying to convince the wife that a fourth straight day of hoops watching was a good idea. So we took most of yesterday off and went to see "Downfall", which I highly recommend if you're in the mood for two hours and 45 minutes of delusional Nazis, punctuated every so often by a tirade from Hitler about how everyone has betrayed him. (At some point, I need to post a little self-analysis on why I'm so interested in Hitler, Bobby Knight, and other combustible personalities.) Anyway, on with the tournament thoughts:

1. At some stage, I need to write an in-depth post on the comparison between the '04 Georgia football team and the '05 Tech basketball team. Both were disappointing, although Tech was moreso, since they aren't going to finish in the Top Ten like Georgia did. Both teams had a hard time making their offenses work this year. Both teams leave the season with a number of fixtures moving on, leaving questions for the upcoming season. Both teams' icons (David Greene and Ismail Muhammed) proved to be flawed players. I'm going to need to think about this a little more.

2. Every year, one team gets completely screwed in terms of their site for the first two rounds. In 2004, it was #3 seed Pitt, which had to travel to Milwaukee to play Wisconsin. This year, it was Wake Forest. Wake lost primarily for the same reason they lost games during the season: they could not stop dribble penetration. However, it couldn't have helped that they had to travel to Cleveland for a second-round game against West Virginia. How is that fair? And how the hell does West Virginia, a #10 seed, get to play two home games? Would it have been that hard to flip them with Iowa or St. Mary's? And it must have really galled Wake fans that Duke got a #1 seed, despite finishing two games behind Wake in the ACC, and got to stay in Charlotte and play Mississippi State, a team that would not have beaten Wake because they didn't have the guards to exploit Wake's weakness. Ultimately, Wake's season was undone by Chris Paul's nutpunch on Julius Hodge. After that, Paul was suspended, costing Wake in the ACC Tournament, and karma went against the Deacs.

3. You know you've watched too much CBS when you get drawn into "Spring Break Shark Attack", which had all of the necessary elements of a bad disaster movie:

Incredibly unsubtle foreshadowing - Dad refusing to let daughter go to Florida because those men are "like sharks"

Nerdy whistleblower - Shannon Lucio's brother, who figures out before everyone else that there is a shark problem, but no one will listen to him.

Improvised tech solution - I was bitter that there was no "this just might work" statement when the protagonists deployed their electronic shark repellant.

Malevolent business interest - the sharks are all drawn to the beach by a nightclub owner from a rival beach. Couldn't have seen that one coming a mile away.

Malevolent male interest - I had the date rapits pegged from an early stage, although it was disconcerting to me that he looked like a less horsey Ruud Van Nistlerooy.

Unsubtle class issues - the rich guy is a date rapist, the club owner is killing people in the sake of profits, and the one good guy is a flannel-wearing handyman who doesn't have the money to go to college, so he spends his weekend nights at a bookstore.

Lots of hard bodies, many of which were eaten by the sharks.

Terrible CGI, although the scene where the windsurfer flew into the jaws of the shark was nice.

Shannon Lucio's two friends - as the movie progressed, her boobs became more and more prominent, to the point that I expected to see them acknowledged in the closing credits.

Where was I?

4. Kentucky/Cincinnati was the best game of the tournament. Nothing says "big game" like a rocking Dome. And for some reason, the Hoosier Dome (f*** you, RCA) always seems to play host to big games and it adds something to the aesthetic of the game. Don't ask me to explain. I didn't have much faith in this Kentucky team because of their youth and issues scoring, but they played well against an inspired opponent. And as if Cincy didn't give me enough reasons to root against them, Jihad Mohammed? Think he gets stopped when he gets on a plane?

5. Your daily reminder of the importance of identifying the effects of recency in sports prognostication: it's always a good idea to pick against teams that play better in their conference tournaments than they did all season. Florida? Gone. Georgia Tech? Gone. Iowa? Gone. Syracuse? Gone. West Virginia is the only team that was able to sustain a March run. Speaking of the Neers, between his name, his lack of a chin, and his bad tattoos, is Kevin Pittsnogle the ultimate embodiment of his school and state? Not unlike J.J. Redick, save for the fact that he's not from Stamford, CT.

6. My goodness is the SEC bad?!? I'm of the opinion that you can point to the coaching ranks. Few of the programs in the conference pay much attention to basketball, so they've hired a collection of average coaches based on short, successful runs at mid-majors. Really, is there a coach in the conference who would be on anyone's list of top 15 coaches in the country, other than Tubby?

7. Color me skeptical about Andrew Bogut. He played fairly well on Saturday and there's no way that Utah would be anywhere near the Sweet Sixteen without him, but should a guy that slow be the #1 pick in the Draft? Is his maximum upside that of Zydrunas Ilgauskas (or, as my wife calls him, Drew Nizzlegoskas)? I'm fervently hoping for Chris Paul, although CP seems to have a short fuse. For instance, he got his fourth foul in the second OT on Saturday night and then immediately picked up #5 on an overly-aggressive defensive play that smacked of total frustration. He's going to have a hard time adjusting to the NBA, unless refs give him the star treatment from day one.

8. Another issue when picking NCAA teams: imagine that team down three with eight seconds to go. Can you imagine the team hitting a three? Put another way, does the team only have one three-point threat upon whom the opposing defense can focus? If so, then don't pick that team. Syracuse and UConn were both in that position this weekend and I was confident on both occasions that they had no prayer of making a three. Sure enough, both teams' point guards were forced to hoist up terrible shots and they're both home now.

9. An illustration of measuring conference strength by number of teams reaching a certain benchmark in the Tournament: the Big Ten has three teams in the Sweet Sixteen. This obscurs two facts:

a. The Big Ten was viewed this year as three good teams and a bunch of unmitigated crap. The first weekend of the tournament did nothing to disabuse us of that notion. Thanks for the cameos, Iowa and Minnesota.

b. The Big Ten's three survivors have beaten five teams seeded #11 or higher, plus #9 Nevada. Oooooh!

10. After all my talk of impotence when picking brackets, my Final Four teams all progressed, although how hard is that when you take three #1 seeds and a #4?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Other notes from glancing at the Braves' stats from 2004

1. Jaret Wright's meltdown in the NLDS is truly inexplicable. He allowed 11 homers in 186 innings in the regular season and then five in 9 2/3 postseason innings. Want further evidence that the "clutch player" label is a myth? Why would the Yankees sign a player like that unless they themselves believe that players don't magically get better or worse in the playoffs. The same was true for their signing of Gary Sheffield, who was dreadful in two post-seasons for Atlanta. If post-season baseball somehow reveals a player's character as most brainless media types claim, then why would a franchise that bases its existence on winning in the playoffs sign players like Wright or Sheffield?

2. I didn't realize how good John Thomson was last year. For instance, he gave the Braves a quality start 61% of the time, which was better than that of ERA champ Jake Peavy and was among the top 25 in all of baseball in that category. He was also in the top 25 in DIPS (defense-independent pitching stat). He and Hudson book-ended Randy Johnson in the P/IP stat. He was in the top 25 among qualified pitchers in K/BB ratio. In short, I was never excited to go to the park to see Thomson pitch, but maybe I missed the boat on him. His second-half performance was awesome and second-half performances tend to have a greater effect on the following season than first-half performances. Between Wright blowing up and Thomson being hurt, last year might have actually been a year in which the Braves were unlucky in the playoffs.

3. J.D. Drew was the best hitter on last year's team by a wide margin. For instance, a lineup of nine J.D. Drews would have scored 9.4 runs per game. The next best Braves in that category were Chipper, Estrada, and Andruw, all of whom were around six. So how are the Braves going to replace that production? Mondesi and Jordan might be major league-average outfielders (at best,) but for my money, here are the most likely sources, in order:

a. Marcus Giles - Giles had an MVP-caliber year in 2003 (.921 OPS at a defensive position) and was the Braves' best hitter early in 2004 until Andruw broke his collarbone in Milwaukee and Giles wasn't the same, even when he came back. Marcus turns 27 on May 18 and is coming up on free agency. All of this means that, unless 2003 was a mirage, Giles should be the Braves' best offensive player this year. Is a .950 OPS out of the question? That would do a lot to replace Drew's 1.006 OPS.

b. Andruw Jones - I try not to get suckered in by spring training reports, which make every player in the majors seem as if they are in shape and ready for a career-best year because of a good attitude (as if it's so simple.) But in the back of my mind, the reports of Andruw coming in in good shape and his team-high four homers through the first half of spring have me dreaming. He knew in the off-season that the Braves had lost a good chunk of offensive talent and that he would be relied upon in 2005, rather than simply being a complementary piece. He's also turning 28 this season, which means he's also in his prime. His career-high OPS is .907; he was at .833 last year. Is .925 out of the question?

c. Rafael Furcal - He turns 27 this year and is in a contract year. He's knocked on the door of an .800 OPS before, but has never quite gotten there. He'll make himself a lot of money if he breaks through that glass ceiling this year.

d. Adam LaRoche - That 1.000+ OPS, eight homer August and September are hard to ignore. It's unlikely that LaRoche can sustain those numbers over the course of an entire season, but if he can come close, then he'll go a long way to replacing Drew. He does need to learn how to draw a walk, however.

These four guys - Giles, Jones, Furcal, and LaRoche - are all in the second half of their 20s and should have better seasons in 2005 than they did in 2004. If the Braves are to cover for J.D. Drew's absence, they'll be the ones to do it, rather than the guys on the wrong side of their career paths (Chipper, Mondesi, and Jordan) or a guy who can't be as good this year as he was last year (Estrada).

Some reasons to feel good about Tim Hudson

As background, the main criticisms of the Braves inking Hudson to a long-term deal are 1) he has had hip problems for the past 2-3 years, probably as a result of the torque he has to generate with his small frame to produce velocity, and 2) his strikeout rate has declined. As to the first issue, the Braves examined him pretty thoroughly before inking him to an extension, so we'll just have to trust their judgment. As to the second, there are a number of reasons to feel good about Hudson:

1. While his strikeout rate did drop, he was still a respectable 29th in the majors in K/BB ratio. Why? Because his control was terrific. He walked a smidge over two batters per nine innings, which is a great ratio.

2. He allowed eight homers in 188 innings, which is a fantastic record of keeping the ball in play. In fact, Hudson's homers allowed have declined in each of the past five seasons, as have his walks allowed. The three stats that a pitcher can truly control are walks, homers allowed, and strikeouts. Hudson isn't striking out as many batters as he used to, but he's gotten significantly better in the other two categories. Also, while Oakland's [Insert name of tech company] Stadium is a decent pitcher's park, Hudson will benefit, as most right-hand pitchers do, from Turner Field, which punishes left-handed hitters with a deep right-center field alley.

3. Only seven qualified pitchers had a lower pitches/inning pitched ratio, which means that Hudson isn't lying when he says that he deemphasized striking batters out and has become more effective at getting out of innings.

One other note: Hudson was 4th among qualified pitchers in GB/FB ratio. This means that Atlanta's infield is going to play a major role in determining whether Hudson is successful this year. The Braves are strong up the middle. Giles has turned into a good defensive second baseman and Furcal makes up for an erratic arm with terrific range (and his arm is powerful enough to get runners that other shortstops would never be able to throw out.) LaRoche is a good defensive first baseman. The big question could be Chipper, who was pretty good last year, but who doesn't have very good range anymore. If his defense contributes to Hudson struggling this year, then the calls for Andy Marte are going to get louder and louder, not that Bobby would ever move Chipper to LF for a youngster.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

This is what happens when athletes try to talk about a substantive topic

Describing today's Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball, Randy Wolf, a pitcher for the Phillies said: "It's chemical McCarthyism."

No, Randy, McCarthyism involved persecution of individuals for legal, but politically unpopular opinions and affiliations. Today's hearing are an inquiry into players breaking the law to gain a competitive advantage and their union abetting them by forestalling a drug-testing policy that would prevent steroid abuse. There's just a wee bit of a difference there.

Actually, I shouldn't come down too hard on Wolf, since he's simply doing something that many in the political sphere do all the time: mishandling a historical analogy. Remember how attacking Baghdad was going to be a moder-day Stalingrad? Well, if anyone advancing that analogy would have bothered picking up a book about Stalingrad, they would have realized that their analogy was atrocious on a number of levels, starting with the facts that 1) the Iraqis didn't have the forces to break the American supply lines and encircle the Americans in Baghdad and 2) the Americans, unlike the Germans in 1942, had complete superiority on the ground.

This is the history snob in me coming out. If people are going to make historical analogies, then they ought to at least make an effort to get them right. Otherwise, they end up sounding like they don't know what they're talking about. Like Randy Wolf.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bracket Ennui

One of the signs of aging, for me at least, is the feeling of impotence when looking at a blank NCAA bracket. In my college days, I knew all of the teams. I had seen Tulsa play when Tubby was their coach and knew that they could upset big name teams. I had typically seen most of Championship Week and had a sense as to how good the mid-majors were. I had seen all of the major contenders several times, sometimes in person since I did college and law school at schools with major programs. Of course, I would always bollocks up on picking the national champion, usually by tabbing Kansas, so I wouldn't win the pool, but I always took relief from being a real fan and leading after the first weekend.

Now, I'm married and have a real job. In return for emotional support, regular sex, meals that don't come from cans or frozen boxes, and enough cash to get a good haircut and drink $7 beers at games, I've had to trade in my bracket prowess. I looked longingly at the bracket like an alum looks at the students as they rush the field after a big win...or how Mick Jagger probably looks at rock acts now.

Anyway, Illinois over Duke with UNC and L'ville to round out the Final Four. If I'm right, it'll only be dumb luck. If I'm wrong, well, I used to be a man.

Woodson's March to Chris Paul Continues...

I'm not sure what it says about me that I've been to three straight home games of the worst team in the NBA. Either I'm taking this whole "paying dues" thing too seriously or I have a bona fide mental condition. I'm not even a huge NBA fan. I just enjoy going to sporting events and the Hawks are the only game in town right now. Plus, it's hard not to have a good time at Philips, although I'm sure I would have felt differently back in my college/law school days when paying $7 for 24 ounces of beer really offended me.

The Golden State game was a blowout, which I suspected it might be beforehand after the Hawks got off the schneid with a win in Toronto the night before. G-State has been playing some good ball since trading for Baron Davis, which gives Hawks fans hopes that our team can also right the ship. Of course, having Jason Richardson as a building block helped. Josh Chidress has a ways to go before he gets to that level.

Golden State rained down three all night on the Hawks, coming up one short of the NBA record. It wasn't hard for them to do so; their offense consisted of a player beating his man off the dribble from one side, getting into the middle of the defense, and then kicking to an open shooter on the opposite wing. The Hawks were never able to adjust, mainly because:

1. They don't have a shot-blocker in the middle, so they have to help from the perimeter. (I guess that's where the Sam Dalembert rumor comes in.)

2. They don't do a very good job of defending on the perimeter. Tyronne Lue is a nice player and all, but he was unable to keep Derek Fisher or Baron Davis in front of him and that's where some of the defensive issues came from. Similarly, Josh Childress could not stay with Richardson, which was evident from the first possession of the game. Those three Warriors combined for 16 assists.

Against Detroit on Monday night, the Hawks continued their pattern of getting the ideal result: a close loss against a good team. They've done this on a number of occasions over the past month and it's perfect for their long-term goals, certainly in comparison to last year's 6-5 hot streak to end last season that cost them a better shot at Ben Gordon or Shaun Livingston. Al Harrington played a fantastic offensive game, lighting up a very good defensive player (Tayshaun Prince) by hitting a bevy of difficult shots. Tyronne Lue was also useful offensively.

The bad part was that the Hawks were completely unable to defend a mediocre offense. Anytime the Pistons did anything organized on offense, the Hawks were unable to stop it. I suspect that Mike Woodson and Herb Brown have a good understanding on how to stop the Pistons' offense, so I'm going to put this one down on execution. The Hawks just don't understand defensive basketball right now, especially against one of the few teams in the league that runs actual plays. The good news was that the Hawks played better defense as the game went on. The bad news was that they couldn't get a defensive rebound when they really needed one. Such is to be expected when you're rolling Ekezie and Collier out as your starting centers.

The Hawks also seem to have taken my suggestion that making the rest of the season a paean to Googs is a good idea, because he played a major role. He's the best shooter on the team, which helps when the offense is designed around driving to the basket and kicking if the defense collapses too much. Googs also made two terrific outlet passes to Harrington for easy dunks. In fact, even before Googs hit a three to send the game to overtime, my friend Daniel and I agreed that resigning Googs for a year at about $1M might not be a bad idea. He clearly seems satisfied that he's finally getting some playing time and he gets to mentor some young players. That's more satisfying than wasting away on the bench.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Thoughts on the first day of the ACC Tournament

1. Not that I'm biased or anything, but why is the ACC Tournament not in Atlanta more? If it's the hottest ticket in American sports, then why not hold it in the largest facility in the region? And it isn't as if Atlanta lacks the hotel rooms or other attractions to keep 50,000 visitors entertained. I'm sure that Greensboro is exciting and all, but wouldn't a visitor rather be here? The Tournament is ostensibly in North Carolina almost every year because of "tradition" (as if that stopped the conference from bringing in a team from Massachusetts,) but in reality, I suspect the clout of the "Carolina Mafia" keeps their baby at home every year. All that said, I'm fine with the tournament being in DC every now and again because it shuts Gary Williams up and DC is a fun city for a weekend. I doubt that the irony is lost on many ACC fans that Gary whined constantly about the tournament being in North Carolina and now that it's a Metro ride away from College Park, his team made a one-game cameo before being knocked out by Clemson.

2. Rick Majerus is ESPN's best college basketball analyst. He actually analyzes players and schemes, which is so rare these days in an age where storylines and hype take precedence over everything else. He also has a good wit. For instance, his line at the end of the first half of the Miami/Virginia game that he hopes that the slow-fingered clock-keeper is in charge of deciding how long Majerus lives was amusing. He's also not afraid to say something mildly critical, like that Guillermo Diaz lacks a mid-range game.

3. It's hard not to feel good for Pete Gillen after last night. Whatever his failings in Charlottesville, he's universally described as a good guy and is one of the few coaches in a dour profession that can make a room full of similarly dour sportswriters smile. His team underperformed this year, going 4-12 in the ACC after a good performance in November and December, highlighted by a shelling of Pac Ten champ Arizona, but they didn't quit on Gillen. Assuming that they can't beat Duke tonight, it was nice that Gillen's players gave him a going-away present. If only some of his previous teams could have played so well in March... Then again, in a way, this was a typical Virginia performance under Gillen. They got killed on the glass, they couldn't make a free throw in the second half, and they turned the ball over with a one-point lead and 20 seconds to go because Gillen had burned all of their timeouts and they couldn't call one when they had trouble inbounding the ball. In a way, they illustrated why Gillen has been strangely disappointing in Charlottesville.

4. Here's a law school hypothetical for you: if by some freak of nature Virginia beats Duke, Wake, and Carolina to win the ACC Tournament and make the Big Dance, they would presumably save Gillen's job. How would Virginia fans feel about that?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A pet peeve with sports radio

I really enjoy Mayhem in the AM on 790, mainly because the hosts have the right personality miz to make me laugh in the mornings. That said, they ask some of the worst questions when doing interviews. For instance, this morning, they had Chris Dimino on, who is a fount of baseball wisdom. I was looking forward to hearing his take on the teams that he had seen so far. Instead, the first two questions were about the good "buzz" for baseball in general and all of the good feelings that fans have towards the game now. What the hell kind of question is that? What sort of response are you going to elicit from that? "Yes"? "No"? The final question - "The Braves will have a successful season if...?" - was a much better one and led Dimino to an intelligent description of how Mike Hampton and Adam LaRoche could have big seasons. That said, the question only highlighted the missed opportunities from the first two. And what's with the obsession with "buzz"?

And the Tim Hudson interview that preceded the spot with Dimino? "Are you a big Auburn football fan?" (What Auburn grad, let alone a former Auburn athlete, isn't? And what sort of response is that going to engender?) "How do the A's view the Braves' success?" (What do you think he's going to say? That they view the Braves as a bunch of chokers? That's typically the province of reactionary sports talk hosts.) Real insightful stuff.

I don't mean to bag too hard on the Mayhem crew, who generally do a very good job with the show. If anything, the interview highlighted why sports interviews in general are a complete waste of time. The conventions of interviewing these days are to ask questions that have only one obvious answer and/or to make banal statements and ask the interviewee to agree or disagree. Listen to sideline reporters; this is exactly what they do 75% of the time. I don't bother watching or listening to interviews, unless the subject him/herself (Charles Barkley, Bobby Knight, etc.) is inherently interesting.

Al Harrington had another nine assists last night

Otherwise, the Hawks lost again and got one step closer to Chris Paul, G-d willing. Childress turned in another solid effort. Not much else to say.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Trying to make 10-48 sound as good as possible

Wifey and I went to the Hawks-Sixers game on Saturday night. We tend to get strange looks from most of our friends when we say that we go to Hawks games, but we were part of a sell-out crowd on Saturday night (at least 15-20 of whom were cheering for the home team,) so maybe we're not freaks after all. Anyway, for the 15-20 of you who care about the local team, here's how they looked on Saturday night:

1. Al Harrington is clearly the go-to player on the team. He's assumed that role since Antoine Walker was traded and since Harrington actually figures into this team's future, that's another reason why the Walker deal was a good one by Billy Knight. Harrington was on fire at the start, then cooled off offensively for a while, but finished with 19 points on 14 shots, which is good. He also had nine assists, which was very encouraging. His passing throughout the game was good, especially because it shows that he hasn't responded to losing by jacking up shots and ignoring his pedestrian teammates. He did a very nice job of setting up Gugliotta for what would have been the winning points had the Hawks been able to come up with a final stop. (Incidentally, I remarked to Wifey during the timeout leading up to that possession that we would find out a little about Mike Woodson as a coach by seeing if he could get a good look for his team on a critical possession. Mission accomplished.)

2. Josh Smith has regressed since winning the dunk contest. After dropping 19 and 10 on the Kings in the first game back, he's hit double-digits in points only once (on a 4-15 shooting night) and is shooting .321 from the field. Right now, he has no offensive game other than dunking in transition. Even his offensive rebounding, which was the second source of his offense, has declined (eight in the last six games.) Maybe he's hitting a rookie wall, or maybe he misses 'Toine throwing him lob passes, or maybe his head's been in the clouds since becoming the Dunk King. On the bright side, he did a very good job defensively on Kyle Korver and had one bring-down-the-house dunk, although I predicted immediately (and correctly) that he would miss the following free throw. Smith was also the Hawks' leading rebounder on a night that they outrebounded the Sixers by 15.

3. Josh Childress' game is somewhat similar to Smith's right now. Neither of them are a threat one-on-one to either hit a jumper or beat their defender off the dribble and score at the basket. Both of them get their points from feeds in the lane or offensive rebounds. That said, Childress is doing a better job now of moving without the ball than Smith and as a result, he's scoring pretty consistently. I looked at the game on Saturday night as a test between Childress and Andre Iguodala and Childress clearly won it, although he had the advantage of not playing with a player who hoisted 31 shots.

4. That said, Iverson is the most entertaining player in the NBA. TV doesn't do justice to how quick and agile he is, or how good his handle is. If he was a slightly more accurate passer, he'd be close to the best player in the league. Chris Webber, on the other hand, is struggling mightily to jell with the Sixers. He has a very unique game at this stage in his career. He needs the ball in his hands in the high post where he can shoot his jumper or hit cutting teammates. Now, he doesn't get the ball in the high post and his teammates don't move without the ball, so he's basically useless. He reminds me of Herschel Walker with the Vikings; the debate about his likely failure in Philly will be whether he's washed up or Philly didn't use his talents properly. It's quite possible that Iverson will cement his reputation as a player who is impossible to play with on the offensive end, which means that the Sixers should focus their efforts on surrounding him with players who can hit open jumpers, play defense, and rebound.

5. I also paid attention to Sam Dalembert on Saturday night because he's a potential target for the Hawks in the off-season. He has no evident back-to-the-basket game and I'm suspicious that he's the center on a team that got killed on the glass by the Hawks. I didn't see anything that would cause me to think that the Hawks should overpay for his services. It would be better to pocket their cap room until they have a better young core than to spend it on marginal players. The golden rule in sports is that spending star money on average players is the surest way to the toilet. (See: Knicks, New York.)

6. Other than Harrington, Smith, and Childress, how did the substitute teachers of the team play? I'm glad you asked:

Ekezie - He's functional, but nothing special. The Hawks pulled him off the trash heap and he's now starting ahead of the Drobber and Collier. Ekezie does give the Hawks some hustle, although he was rewarded for his efforts on one occasion by being whistled for a foul after Iverson hit him in the head going for a loose ball. (NBA refs: they're FANTASTIC!)

Lue - Harassed Iverson into 10-31 shooting, giving us a little glimpse of the form he showed for the Lakers in the '01 Finals that caused the Wizards to overpay for his services. Golden rule #2: role players on championship teams are fool's gold. (Watch NFL teams overpay for Pats players, forgetting that the Pats have shown that they can win no matter who is suiting up.) Again, he's a major improvement over Kenny Anderson and Royal Ivey.

Diaw - He's taking baby steps now that he's getting playing time. Like the Hawks' other young players, he can't hit a jumper to save his life, although there's no one on the team that can force a double-team to create open jumpers. Actually, there is one guy who seems to get plenty of open jumpers and buries them all...

The Drobber - 12 and 4 in 14 minutes. Either he got hurt or Bobby Knight taught Mike Woodson that you just can't trust Eastern Euros. Pedrag has filled the void in my life left by Antonio Alfonseca's signing with the Marlins. (Sadly, I never took the chance to replace Sheff's Chefs in right field with The Octopus's Garden.)

Googs - Here's an idea for the Hawks to sell tickets for the rest of the year: Googs needs to average 12.1 points a game over the remaining 24 games to hit 10,000 for his career. Who wouldn't pay money to see Tyronne Lue run screen & flare with Googs over and over again to get him to his milestone? And surely the Wolfpack fans in the area could get behind this effort; it isn't like they have anything else to do this March.

Ivey - Yup, great idea taking him when Chris Duhon, a former HS all-American and solid player for a great college program was still available. (Now that Childress is playing well and Luol Deng is hurt, I need to rue other decisions made in last year's Draft.)

The Greatest Season Ever

That's how Sports Illustrated described the Red Sox' 2004 season on the cover of their Sox commemorative edition. Shouldn't a team actually have to win their own division before they get that label? It takes a lot to make me sympathize with the Yankees, but they did beat the Red Sox in the fairest test of all: a 162-game season. I guess those 162 games were irrelevant and the seven games that the teams played in October were the only meaningful ones they played all season.

(My bias as a Braves and college football fan infects just about everything I write.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Hudson Deal

And now for the impetus for me to finally get off my posterior and start the Blog I always wanted to write: the Tim Hudson signing. My wife is stewing in the other room that Michael loves his Blog more than me, so here are my quick first thoughts:

1. Short-term, the Braves are slightly less likely to win the Division this year because of this deal. Hudson would have been remarkably motivated by pitching in a contract year, just as Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, and J.D. Drew were all remarkably more productive in their contract years than they were in the preceding season. Long-term, this is a good move. Given the insane money that was thrown at pitchers like Russ Ortiz and Kris Benson in the off-season, Hudson's deal isn't overly burdensome, although it's a little longer than I would have liked. Personally, I worry that giving any pitcher a deal longer than three years is a mistake because they are so prone to injuries, but if we're going to overpay for anyone, Hudson's the right guy.

2. Hudson's strikeout rate worries me. I buy into the bill of goods that sabrmetricians have to sell me, and they think that strikeout rates are an important index of a pitcher's health. Hudson's strikeouts have declined over the past several years. Baseball Prospectus (like patience, diamonds, and the Clermont, an invaluable resource if there ever was one,) speculates that his splitter is not coming with him to Atlanta. I trust in Mazzone, both to play with Hudson's mechanics and to keep him healthy with his off-day throwing regimen, but we might have just given an expensive, long-term deal to a pitcher who is starting to have consistent health problems. On the other hand, his health issue was a hip last year. I'm no doctor (although I do share a bed with one,) but a hip doesn't worry me like a shoulder or an elbow.

And speaking of Dr. Mrs. Michael, I can hear the steam bouncing off the ceilings, so good night.

Let the sport commence!

And with that quote from Kamal Khan in Octopussy, my blog gets underway. I'm sure you have a lot of questions, so why don't we start by answering some of them:

What's this Blog about?

Atlanta sports teams. I'll be posting on the Braves, Hawks, Falcons, and Thrashers (G-d willing), along with some SEC and ACC action. I don't cover golf, tennis, NASCAR, or any other individual sports. I'm a real Communist like that. Intermittently, I'm sure I'll veer onto Dylan lyrics, Bond movie rankings, the Battle of Stalingrad, and whatever else crosses my mind. There'll also be plenty of media criticism, because what's better than a typing head criticizing a talking head?

Why are you writing this Blog?

Because no one else is. I go to a lot of games and always find that the write-ups in the AJC never quite scratch my itch for provocative analysis. I also find that most of the media is targeted to the lowest common denominator, so there's a void for intelligent analysis. (Note that I am not foreclosing myself from the occasional Lindsay Lohan remark with that statement.) Having lost faith that I'll ever find a media source written by people with graduate degrees with no fear of angering any of the people they cover, I decided to do my own.

Who are you?

Michael. I live in Atlanta. I grew up in the state (from age 9 until I went to college.) I went to plenty of games at Fulton-County and the Omni. Game 7 of the '92 NLCS is my favorite sports memory; Game 4 of the '96 Series is my least favorite. 'Nique and Murph were my childhood heroes.

What do you do all day?

Lawyering, but man cannot subsist on screaming at opposing counsel and drafting discovery alone.