Month: September 2019
Like many counterfactuals, this is not an easy question to answer definitively, since having a kicker who is automatic from long range might have all kinds of ripple effects on the game that we can’t really foresee.(Although unlike many counterfactuals, it’s not a completely crazy idea: Thinking about a kicker who can usually nail it from 70 yards seems ridiculous to us now, but NFL kickers have steadily gotten better for at least 80 years, and they haven’t slowed down yet. In the 1960s, kickers made 13 of 129 kicks — 10.1 percent — from 50+ yards. In the past five years alone, NFL kickers have made 422 of 675 such attempts — for 62.5 percent. Since 2010, kickers have even made seven of 31 tries from 60+ yards — 22.5 percent.)If we simply replaced all a kicker’s misses with makes, an “automatic” kicker wouldn’t be worth much more than the worst kicker in the league. There’d be a few salvaged points here and there, but nothing major (kickers these days just don’t miss that often).But the real fun starts when we think about how a team would use a truly “automatic” kicker differently.To simplify the question, let’s assume the kicker makes 100 percent of his kicks instead of 95 percent — he’s “RoboKicker.” Using ESPN’s expected points model, we can identify all situations where a team would definitely want to make a FG attempt on fourth down if it knew it could automatically earn three points. A made kick is actually worth slightly less than that because the kicking team has to give up possession whether it makes the kick or not, but we’ll charitably give it full credit.2The actual value is probably somewhere around 2.6 points, but I think the charitable number is appropriate since the kicker is likely to be at least moderately more valuable strategically. So if a team is in RoboKicker’s range, it should want to attempt a field goal any time it’s fourth down and the expected value of its possession is less than three points. The value it gains from having that option is the difference between the two, and the kicker’s total value added is the sum of all those differences.This plot shows how much RoboKicker would be worth for an average team (since 2006) in expected points added per game, based on his range:This assumes the kicker would be just a normal kicker from longer distances than the one he’s automatic from, though if he was automatic from 50 yards he would probably be pretty good from 60,3Though if he were actually a robot, this may not be the case, as he would probably make about the same kick every time. which would carry additional value. But this is a fair first-order guess.The second wrinkle to @MattGlassman312’s question is its bit about RoboKicker being a No. 1 pick or an MVP. To answer that, we have to start to answer how valuable a No. 1 pick or an MVP is.Let’s use Peyton Manning as our stand-in for “best player in the league,” which helps us to answer at least the spirit of the question. When Manning was injured, the Indianapolis Colts’ average margin of victory dropped by 14.6 points per game (though this may have been in part because they were tanking so that they could draft Andrew Luck). And when Manning joined Denver, the Broncos’ average MOV rose by 17.1 points per game. But let’s assume that those years were outliers and assume that a typical MVP is worth about 10 points per game. To surpass that, RoboKicker would need to be able to hit from around 80 yards. (I confess, this is further out than I would have guessed.) Then, considering that even No. 1 picks have only about a 50 percent to 60 percent shot of ever making a Pro Bowl — much less of being MVP — I’d say being automatic from 50 to 60 yards would probably be sufficient to be worth the top pick in the draft most years.The Hacker Gods read FiveThirtyEight (or just love Andrew Luck)Last week’s games had a few outcomes consistent with this column’s most frequently asserted stereotypes. Most intriguingly, we saw win curve standout and two-time Gunslinger of the Week winner Andrew Luck4He won in Week 1 and again in Week 14 — you don’t remember? digging his own hole by throwing an early pick-6 that put the Colts down 7-0, and then climbing out of it to come back and win against the Houston Texans. This follows a similar Week 14 victory against the Cleveland Browns, when Luck was down 14 points in the second half after an early pick-6 (and a third-quarter fumble-6).If you’ve been reading Skeptical Football, you’ll know I’m generally pro-interception (at least certain kinds) — but as an indirect indicator of taking good risks. Normally, a quarterback will lose the games in which he throws interceptions. But so far in his young career, it seems like Luck has an uncanny talent for winning and throwing INTs in the same game. So, naturally, that got me wondering how these results compare to Peyton Manning’s and those of all other quarterbacks (since 2006):Luck shows a similar propensity for winning as his predecessor in Indianapolis, regardless of scenario. But the big caveat is that interceptions are often a function of losing as well as a cause of it. Generally this is because QBs make rational risk adjustments that lead to more interceptions when they’re behind.5There is also a smaller opposite effect, which is that QBs sometimes throw slightly more interceptions than expected in games they’re winning by wide margins, presumably because teams start playing a basic offensive set in blowouts rather than taking the extraordinary risk-avoidance measures they do to protect smaller leads. (Weird things happen in the NFL.) So to isolate the situations we’re most interested in, I limited the comparison to the number of interceptions thrown while the QB’s team was trailing (including only games in which the QB’s team trailed at some point):This is, of course, a small sample for Luck: He has two wins in the six games in which he threw two trailing INTs, and two wins in the five games he threw three. But those four wins in 11 games (36.4 percent success rate) are already more than Manning. Since 2006, Manning has just three wins in 24 games (12.5 percent) in which he threw two or more trailing interceptions, and all QBs since 2006 have only 56 wins in 1,025 such games (5.5 percent).Naturally, this relates back to my gunslinger hypothesis (that a quarterback can throw too few interceptions as well as too many). Andrew Luck is an example of someone who throws more interceptions than usual when his team is down, but wins more often. Overall, Luck has thrown one or more INT in 55.9 percent of games (19 of 34) in which he trailed and has won 52.9 percent of them (18 of 34). Other QBs have thrown one or more INT in 49.3 percent of games where they trailed, winning only 42.3 percent.You can continue like this for more drastic circumstances (more likely to require heavy risk-taking): Of the 19 games where Luck threw 1+ trailing INT, he threw 2+ in 57.9 percent (11 of 19) and won 36.8 percent (7 of 19). Other QBs have thrown an additional INT in 38.0 percent of such games and won only 16.3 percent (439 of 2,697).6And, if you need more: Of the 11 games in which Luck threw 2+ trailing INTs, he threw 3+ in 45.5 percent (5 of 11) and won 36.4 percent (4 of 11). Other QBs threw an additional INT in 30.3 percent of such games, and won only 5.5 percent.In other words, Andrew Luck is to gunslinging what Aaron Rodgers is to gunholstering.7However, for all that sound and fury about Luck, the actual Week 15 gunslinger winner was Mark Sanchez, who had two trailing interceptions for Philadelphia (in the third and fourth quarters), yet managed to take the lead (albeit briefly) in a game where the Eagles once trailed 21-0.Bonus chart of the weekAfter making the “team movement between 2013 and 2014” chart earlier, I thought it would be interesting to see how each team’s offensive and defensive performance has varied over the past five years. For this chart, I plotted expected points added per drive on offense and expected points denied per drive on defense for each of the last five years, and then connected them so you can see how each team has changed. Some teams have much tighter “shot groups” (Cleveland, New England) than others (Chicago, New York Giants), but I’ll leave you to look for yourself:Reminder: If you tweet questions to me @skepticalsports, there is a non-zero chance that I’ll answer them here.Charts by Reuben Fischer-Baum. There’s a bit of a schism in sports fandom. On one side there are those who want more and more statistical analysis (Hi, everybody!); on the other there are those who think stats are overused and blanch at how sabermetrics and analytics have changed what it means to be a good fan.But I have a theory about this latter group: In general, they’re not really anti-stats. Virtually every argument about sports on TV or online is made using stats of one sort or another.1My wife, who is not a sports fan herself, describes “Pardon The Interruption” as “a bunch of guys shouting numbers at each other until a bell rings.” A typical exchange between talking heads includes one guy emphasizing one set of stats (“He throws a lot of touchdowns!”), which is then countered by another (“But he throws too many interceptions!”). Almost no sports fans are truly anti-stats, they’re just anti-complicated, hard-to-understand stats.And to some extent, they’re right. Over-reliance on advanced metrics can lose the forest for the trees, and vice versa. But, ideally, good stats aren’t meant to eradicate classic storylines or debates, but to lend context to them (and hopefully to shed new light on difficult questions along the way). As usual, let me illustrate with an example using Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.The Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers each played the Buffalo Bills in Weeks 14 and 15 of this season, respectively. In both games, the MVP-candidate QBs “struggled” statistically. This shouldn’t be a total surprise: Despite having games against Manning, Rodgers and Tom Brady, Buffalo has had arguably the best defense in the NFL this year (judging by expected points denied per play).But Rodgers’s and Manning’s stats seemed particularly bad. Each threw two interceptions, no TDs and fewer than 200 yards. Manning’s 51-game TD streak ended, and Rodgers threw just his fourth and fifth INTs of the season.The media wasn’t kind to either quarterback, but much of it was particularly brutal to Manning. Here’s the Colorado NBC affiliate: “Denver wins despite Manning’s worst game as a Bronco.” Meanwhile, a number of stories about Green Bay’s loss emphasized Rodgers’s lack of interceptions this year or the fact that his receivers dropped or tipped some key passes.But not all no-TD, two-INT, 180-yard games are created equal. For example, Manning’s two interceptions were pretty “good” as far as interceptions go: the first was 42 yards downfield (which is practically a punt), and the other was 18 yards downfield on a third-and-12 — with the Broncos up 21-3. In general, it’s a bad idea to judge a QB who throws a small number of passes in a game his team led wire to wire.Besides, touchdowns and interceptions can be fickle: For example, sometimes a significant part of QB efficiency can be accounted for by whether his team likes to run or pass on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. But a QB often has just as much of an effect on his team’s ability to run the ball as he does on its ability to throw it. (If all teams played optimally, game theory suggests he should affect them about equally, because opposing defenses should adapt to a stronger passing game by devoting more resources to it.)With some exceptions, it generally makes more sense to judge a QB by the outcomes of his team’s offensive drives. From this perspective, the difference between Manning vs. Buffalo and Rodgers vs. Buffalo was pretty stark. Here are the outcomes of each player’s drives by situation:Denver started out its game against Buffalo with a punt, then scored TDs on three of its next five drives (also, one of those drives ended in field goal range after Jacob Tamme fumbled a completed catch). Up 18 points in the second half, its offense stalled, particularly as it attempted to run more. But even counting those possessions, 10 (non-end-of-game) drives were turned into three TDs and one field goal. This may have been a bit of an off day for Peyton Manning, but that’s a good day for most QBs. Denver’s 2.18 points per drive was only slightly below its season average of 2.33, and was better than 24 teams have averaged in 2014. Green Bay’s offense, on the other hand, started out cold (punting on three of its first four drives), and basically stayed that way — ultimately scoring only 13 points on 13 drives.The point here isn’t to knock Rodgers or Green Bay. The Rodgers-led offense still leads the league with 2.7 points per drive this year, and with his TD/INT ratio (so beloved by media everywhere) still a league-best 7/1, Rodgers is still probably the MVP frontrunner. But we should understand the limitations of first-order stats that people are shouting about, and how they can be deceptive. What context do they include, and what do they ignore?Chart of the weekThe Seattle Seahawks’ defense has its own deceptive stats. The defending champions are in an odd spot. If the playoffs started today, the 10-4 Seahawks would play a wildcard game on the road against the 6-8 New Orleans Saints. And depending how the next two weeks go, they could easily end up as the top seed in the NFC, or out of the playoffs entirely.Two weeks ago, I introduced some “scoring curves,” and showed how Seattle’s defense (with the team 8-4 at the time) flirted with league average in many situations (such as when its opponent has a long way to go for a touchdown). Many readers expressed skepticism, particularly because Seattle has the best defense in the NFL by the old “yards allowed” metric, and is among the league leaders in points allowed per game (as well as yards per play against).I partially agree: I find it very unlikely that Seattle’s defense is average or below average. And I’m tempted to go further and say that it’s unlikely this defense is much worse than last year’s squad. But the stats show the defense has had a pretty huge regression to the mean in measurable defensive outcomes.To show just how much these kinds of things vary from season to season, I’ve plotted each team’s expected points allowed per play on offense vs. expected points allowed per play on defense, and then shown how this year’s iterations compare with last year’s:Seattle has had a pretty big decline on the defensive side, but this is to be expected: Last year’s results were a big outlier, and outliers are more likely to regress toward the mean. For example, Denver’s incredible 2013 offense declined similarly. Both remain among the top tier of teams for each respective side, but are much closer to the pack than they were last year.Once again, the context here is important, and this time for either side of the advanced-stats debate: Simply looking at basic defensive stats and saying that everything is fine with the Seahawks’ D misses a dramatic decline. But simply looking at the magnitude of the decline without considering the context would overvalue its importance.Twitter question of the week
When Derek Jeter retired last year, the pundits puzzled over who would be the next “Face of Baseball.” Jeter was the guy on the Wheaties box, after all. And more broadly, Jeter’s retirement seemed to close one era of baseball and open another. Without an elder statesman, the game belonged to the kids. But would there be enough excellent, prodigious young players to replace Jeter’s cohort? We already have an answer: The kids are damn good, and they’re part of one of the most significant youth movements in baseball in the past 25 years.Baseball’s excellence is supremely concentrated in its young players at the moment. To get a sense for the balance of power in MLB, I calculated the average age of all position players in the league while weighting each player’s age by how good they were in a given year (using wins above replacement1FanGraphs’ version.). For example, the age of an MVP-type player counts for roughly eight2Here, I am contrasting an average MVP-level of performance — about 8 WAR — with a below-average player’s performance — about 1 WAR. times as much as a below-average scrub because he’s eight times better according to WAR. So, if the MVP is young, he’ll pull the weighted average down toward him. By weighting the ages in this way, we get a sense for where in MLB the production comes from — specifically, whether it arises from the grizzled veterans or the youngsters.The youngsters are winning.Since the early 2000s, the MLB’s weighted age has consistently fallen, hitting its low point (of 27.76) this year. This graph tells us that in recent years, more of the positive value in the league has been coming from younger players.The twin faces of the youth movement are undoubtedly Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, still only 22 and 23, respectively. Despite the best efforts of opposing pitchers, Trout is performing at his now-routine MVP level. Harper seems to have finally discovered consistent success with an overwhelming power stroke. But Harper and Trout have been joined by a generation of super-prospects who are outperforming even the loftiest expectations. Kris Bryant is the most obvious, but others include Joc Pederson, Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts and Addison Russell.There are several ways that baseball’s production could be getting younger, but it turns out that there are two straightforward explanations. One is that the oldest players have become less productive. The second is that the youngest players are on pace to create a tremendous amount of value.Let’s start with the veterans. Players ages 333Roughly the oldest 15 percent of players in MLB. and up have produced only 24 WAR so far this year, on pace for the second-lowest total of the past 25 years. Over a full year, that prorates to 54.8 WAR, which is less than half the total achieved by the equivalent group of players around the turn of the millennium.It’s not clear what is driving older position players down. One possibility is that new pace-of-play rules are making it harder for older hitters to make use of their experience. On the other hand, older position players seem to be getting worse not only at hitting, but also with the glove — and even on the base paths.There could be a connection between the fluctuating pattern of production by older players and the steroid era. Certainly, some of the confirmed steroid users managed to be productive well into their 30s, suggesting that steroids might confer their beneficial effects especially upon older hitters. But in the absence of data on who used what steroids when and how, it’s difficult to pursue this idea beyond a hypothesis. Regardless of the cause, it looks as though the current trend of age and production is more of a return to the norm of the early 1990s than a novelty.At the same time, we are witnessing a historic youth movement. Just as the very old players have gotten worse, the youngest have become much better. Players 24 and younger4Roughly the youngest 15 percent of players in MLB. have produced 48.7 WAR this year, which puts them on pace for about 110 WAR in a full year. If it holds, that would be the most WAR put up by this age group since 2007.That year saw a generation of future stars cement their place in the league. David Wright, at that time 24, had his best season, an MVP-caliber effort. Wright was joined by a host of talent, from Troy Tulowitzki to Jose Reyes to Miguel Cabrera. In total, 13 young hitters put up WAR values greater than 4, in the neighborhood of All-Star-level performance. Many of those players, and even some of the tier below them, have gone on to become superstars.Young players have traditionally relied upon their defense to build their value, and this year is no exception. The 24 and under group typically performs anywhere from 100 to 500 runs below average on offense but makes up for it to some extent with 100 to 200 runs from their defense.5I am also including the FanGraphs positional adjustment here. Less than halfway through this season’s games, young position players have been worth 93 runs defensively. Prorated to a full season, this would be the best defensive performance for that age group since 2001, when the overall value of the youngsters was near its low point.Except today’s kids can do something those 2001 ones couldn’t: rake. With an average mark of 94.6, young hitters are putting up the best Weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+) since that marvelous 2007 class (which was at 99.2). The average wRC+ is set at 100, so the young players are adding decent hitting to their superlative defense. Much of the hitting stems from a power surge: The young hitters are racking up a slugging percentage of .400, slightly better than the league average of .397.6Relative to the league average, this is the second-best number in the past 25 years (second, of course, to 2007).The young players are even providing value with their baserunning. Reds speedster Billy Hamilton, 24, leads the way, but the group is already up to 27.1 runs of baserunning value (Hamilton alone is responsible for nearly a third of this number). If it holds over a full season, that will be the best mark since 1990.Some of these statistics will not hold up over the length of a full season because of injuries or regression to the mean, of course. And many of the averages will be distorted by September call-ups. But two-thirds of the total WAR in this year’s young group comes from the 10 best players, all of whom are firmly ensconced in starting roles.A wave of young talent has arrived, just as the old veterans are fading into irrelevancy. Whether your preference is for Nolan Arenado’s slick glove work, Harper’s absurd power or Bryant’s eyes, we are witnessing the rise of a generation of future superstars.
Tyrann Mathieu, the former LSU star cornerback, says his arrest for possession of marijuana in October was a strong wake-up call about his future.“Sitting in that jail cell, it clicked,” Mathieu told ESPN’s Joe Schad this week. “Looking at those people, just staring at me. ‘You don’t belong in here.’ They wanted to come through the jail cell and get me. I’m scared now. Because it’s reality now. I don’t ever want to feel like this again. I’m not going to feel like this again.”Mathieu was arrested along with three other former LSU football players, including former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Before his arrest, Mathieu was dismissed from the team by Tigers coach Les Miles in August for a failed drug test.Mathieu, who was a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist, said he became heavily dependent on marijuana after the Tigers 21-0 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in last year’s BCS championship game.Playing the Crimson Tide in his hometown of New Orleans was a little too much for Mathieu to handle.“And it really took me out of my preparation for the game,” Mathieu said. “I didn’t give up a touchdown, but I gave up four or five passes. Passes when I knew they were going to run that route. I mean, I knew they were going to run that route. But I didn’t prepare myself. I was worried about everything outside the game.”But Mathieu admits that if he could re-live that BCS championship period, he would handle things differently. He says that he would have remained in his hotel room and turned off his cell phone.When Mathieu received the news that he had been kicked off the team, he was crushed.“Devastating,” the emotional Mathieu said. “It’s all I had. Football. And to think back on it … for the BCS game, I abused myself.”Mathieu admits that Miles and Tigers head trainer Shelly Mullenix did everything possible to help kick his addiction to marijuana, but he ended up failing them and the school.“I had to accept the responsibility that I was never going to play for LSU again,” Mathieu said. “The only school that believed in me. And I didn’t even believe in them. I felt I was a loyalty person. Looking back, I didn’t know anything about loyalty. I could talk it, but you know, walking it, was a whole different thing. And when you realize you’re not loyal, that’s what hurts the most. When you realize you lied to people, that’s what hurts the most.”Marijuana provided an escape for Mathieu when it came to problems on and off the field.“I’d tell the world I abused myself though marijuana,” Mathieu said. “I abused myself through marijuana. Was I addicted to it? Maybe. Did I form a habit of it? Yes.”After Mathieu was forced to deal with the consequences of drug abuse, he re-enrolled at LSU and paid for his education. People close to Mathieu advised him to transfer and play lower-division football, but he did not.Mathieu is adamant that he has given up marijuana by going to rehab and counseling. He says he has removed the negative influences from his inner circle.He has declared for the 2013 NFL draft and has been training in south Florida with Patrick Peterson, Sr., the father of his former Tiger teammate and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.With difficult questions looming at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, Mathieu understands that he must be on his best behavior.“I know my mistakes throw red flags up. But I want people to trust me. When I get back on that field, I don’t want to get off. I don’t ever want to leave this game again.”
Hard to believe, after all the news around Ray Rice’s potentially career-ending domestic violence case and Adrian Peterson’s child abuse drama, that another NFL player would be photographed in handcuffs for similar charges any time soon. And then there was Jonathan Dwyer of the Arizona Cardinals on Wednesday.Dwyer, from metro Atlanta and Georgia Tech, was was arrested Wednesday for investigation in two altercations that occurred on July 21 and 22 at his Phoenix residence, just days before the Cardinals reported to training camp. His wife left the state after the incidents but came forward a week ago after Dwyer apparently sent suicidal text messages including a photo of a knife.In the first encounter, police say Dwyer attempted to kiss and undress his wife, but she refused. Someone who heard the argument reported the assault to police, who showed up at the apartment but did not make an arrest. Dwyer hid in a bathroom and the wife denied he was in the home because the running back threatened to kill himself in front of her and their child if she told police about the assault, police said.The next day, Dwyer punched his wife with a closed fist on the left side of her face, according to police. He also punched walls and threw a shoe at his 17-month-old son, who was not injured, police said.As his wife tried to call police, Dwyer grabbed her cellphone and threw it down from the home’s second story. Witnesses told police that Dwyer’s wife said, “I’m calling the police,” as she held her swollen face and clutched her son.During his police interview on Wednesday, Dwyer acknowledged hiding in the bathroom when police responded to the first argument and sending a photo of a knife with suicidal threats. Dwyer denied committing an assault, though he acknowledged that he punched walls in his home, threw a phone and that his wife bit his lip during the disputes, according to the police report. As he was released from jail Thursday, he said he never hurt his son.The Arizona Cardinals say they first learned of the domestic abuse accusations Wednesday afternoon. Hours later, “the serious nature of these allegations” led the team to deactivate the running back from all team activities.Dwyer was released early Thursday after posting bond, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said. Police said they were carrying out a search warrant at Dwyer’s residence in pursuit of more evidence.The 25-year-old player denied committing any assault against the 27-year-old accuser, police said.Authorities depicted a stormy relationship between Dwyer and the woman that escalated into violence on July 21, four days before the Cardinals reported to training camp.Neighbors heard a fight and called police, who showed up at the residence but left without making an arrest because Dwyer hid in the bathroom, and the woman said she was the only one at the home, Sgt. Trent Crump said.“She said she was in an argument on the phone only,” Crump said.The next day, Crump said, Dwyer snatched the woman’s cellphone and threw it from the second floor of their residence to prevent her from calling police about another dispute.Crump confirmed there was an allegation that Dwyer threw a shoe at or toward the couple’s 18-month-old son. Crump said he couldn’t elaborate on it.Crump said the woman moved out of state with the child but came forward last week and provided police with information about her injuries and text messages indicating Dwyer ”was going to harm himself because of what had been going on.”The NFL has been jolted by domestic violence issues since a videotape surfaced that showed Rice knocking out his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, elevator. Peterson has been deactivated after child abuse charges were filed against him.So, a league that was reeling since the Rice news continues to spiral in a public relations mess.
Former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former heavyweight champion George Foreman has challenged big-screen tough guy Steven Seagal to a real-life fight.The 68-year-old Foreman posted a picture of the 65-year-old Seagal on Twitter on Monday, writing: “I challenge you One on one, I use boxing you can use whatever. 10 rounds in Vegas.”When fans asked Foreman on Twitter why he wanted to fight Seagal, Foreman replied that the martial artist “really can fight” and is big enough to defend himself. Foreman first won the heavyweight title in 1973 and again in 1994.Seagal made headlines last week for saying that NFL players kneeling during the national anthem were a “joke” and an “outrage.”A representative for Seagal told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the star didn’t want to comment on Foreman’s offer.
Oh, and don’t forgetA UNC player lost a video game an broke his hand, as your Duke fan friend probably already texted to you. Things That Caught My EyeThe Most Improved Player has really improvedWith an average of 36.8 points in the first four games of the season, Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks sure as heck looks like an MVP contender this year. The kid is only 22 years old and is hot off last year’s Most Improved Player award. [FiveThirtyEight]They say there are Angelenos still sitting in post-game traffic to this very dayIt was an 11-inning absurdity Wednesday night in L.A., with a win probabilty chart that causes bona fide whiplash just looking at it. Houston notched their first-ever franchise World Series win in what will go down as an ultimate case study in both why the east coast hates extra innings and also how to perfectly mismanage a bullpen: The Dodgers used nine pitchers in Game 2 after pulling Rich Hill despite throwing just four excellent innings. [FiveThirtyEight]Irish not in control of own destiny, per usualNotre Dame is 6-1 this year, but despite that record and the strong chance that a one-loss team will make the College Football Playoff, they’re still only an 11 percent chance to make the postseason. Indeed, even if they win out — they have a 21 percent chance of doing so — their destiny is still in the hands of others since they won’t have a conference title to bring up in their bid to get in over other one-loss teams. [FiveThirtyEight]32nd time is the charmPenn State (No. 2) faces Ohio (No. 6) this weekend in what will be the biggest Big Ten game of the entire year. It’s a pretty solid rivalry: They’ve played 31 times in the AP ranking era, and 30 of those times one of the two teams was ranked. FiveThirtyEight has Ohio State as the favorite here, with a 61 percent chance to win in Columbus. An Ohio State win would decimate Penn State’s chances of winning the conference and more than halve their chances of making the playoff. A Penn State win, probabilistically speaking, basically ends Ohio State’s season and gives the Nittany Lions a 69 percent chance of making the playoffs. [ESPN, FiveThirtyEight]Golden Knights: pretty good!The Vegas Golden Knights are off to a terrific start, sitting atop the Western Conference at 6-1. By all appearances, Vegas has some of the best talent of any expansion team in NHL history back 1991. The average expansion team since then has put up 57 points in its first season, which is awful: Only four normal teams in the past four seasons did that. [FiveThirtyEight]The return of the kingRoberto Aguayo is a kicker who was drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft by the Bucs. Read that sentence again. Kicker, second round, Bucs. Remember that insanity? Anyway, his NFL debut was not up to second-round drafted Bucs kicker standards apparently and he was cut on national television in a preseason game. Well he’s back, and with no more ridiculous expectations to live up to on the Panthers’ practice squad. I see a winner there. [NFL.com]Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions? game!Big Number8 home runsIn a new World Series record, there were eight home runs in Game 2. “Obviously, the balls are juiced,” said Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel, and most stats nerds everywhere and also anyone with eyes. [CBS Sports, FiveThirtyEight, FiveThirtyEight, The Ringer, FiveThirtyEight, Seriously there’s a lot of evidence for this on FiveThirtyEight]Leaks from Slack: emily:women’s hockey Canada v USA is in boston tonight at BU with a great crowd 🏒 🏒 🏒daniel.levitt:you should really help me write a hockey story as I know v. little. We could maybe do one about the #goleafsgoemily:also Canada won! both teams getting in their groove for the olympics, USA took the first game of what could be 8 games between the two (if you consider 2 possible Four Nations tournament games on top of 6 The Time Is Now tour friendlys), announcers were mentioning some stats of just how many times the two have met and how often they’ve been in Worlds/Olympics finals together. Wonder where they fall on the Big Rivalry list.daniel.levittSo Emily’s writing and editing? Sounds good.emily:(also small hockey update: I did make http://isadammcquaidhealthy.com/)[Check out IsAdamMcQuaidHealthy.com for all your “Is Adam McQuaid healthy?” questions!]Predictions MLB NFL See more MLB predictions See more NFL predictions All newsletters We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe
The previous two games each contained a couple of teams with intact national championship aspirations, however strained. In this game, however, the three-loss Cardinal is basically eliminated from playoff contention — yet could still play spoiler to the 8-1 Huskies, who are right on the edge of playoff contention. Right now, Washington has a 31 percent chance of making the playoff, good for sixth-best in the country; those odds would jump to 48 percent with a win but fall to practically nonexistent (3 percent) with a loss. And Stanford is no pushover, record notwithstanding: It currently ranks 14th in ESPN’s Football Power Index, with a rating roughly equal to that of Miami. The Huskies are still favored to win by our model (we give them a 63 percent chance), but they’ll have to play their best football against Heisman contender Bryce Love and the Cardinal in order to keep their CFP hopes above sea level.One more notable aspect of this game is just how much effect it could have on other teams in the playoff race. No fewer than 10 teams figure to see their own CFP odds change by at least 1 percentage point based on the outcome of Washington and Stanford’s tilt, with most of those contenders rooting for a Husky loss. (Because Stanford would only have a 1 percent playoff probability even if it wins, this is the rare case of a realistically probable upset where the would-be victor poses little threat to other top teams.) Add in the extra twist of it taking place on Friday night, and this one could reshape the playoff race before Saturday’s games even get a chance to kick off.4. Georgia at Auburn (3:30 p.m. EST, Saturday)33.1 percentage points of total swing How Notre Dame-Miami changes the college football playoff picture Auburn8.4-7.7+9.4+8.5 This might not be the marquee game-of-the-week you were expecting (more on that one later), but it will undeniably change the complexion of the playoff race. Both teams are 5-1 within the Big 12, so the winner will have sole possession of first place with two games left in the regular season. Our model has the Sooners as the nation’s fourth most likely team to make the CFP, with a 42 percent playoff probability. That number would rise to 58 percent if the Sooners win, paving the way for a likely berth in the Big 12’s newly revived conference championship game, though it would drop to 15 percent if they lose. And TCU isn’t out of the CFP race, either; the Horned Frogs rank ninth with a 23 percent probability of making the playoff. If it wins, TCU’s own odds would rise to 46 percent — placing it firmly within the CFP conversation down the season’s final stretch — while a loss would all but eliminate the Frogs (knocking them down to 8 percent). Such a large potential swing in CFP probability — plus the small peripheral effect it will have on the odds for both Notre Dame (a TCU win would boost the Irish’s chances by clearing Oklahoma out of their way) and Ohio State (whose head-to-head loss to the Sooners looks worse with every OU loss) — make this the week’s most important game.2. Notre Dame at Miami (8 p.m. EST, Saturday)43.4 percentage points of total swing SWING IF… Alabama62.4-1.2+1.8+1.4 As of Nov. 8, 2017. Includes teams where the average swing is at least 0.5 percentage points. Oklahoma41.7-1.6+2.7+2.0 TEAMCFP PROB.UGA WINSAUB WINSAVERAGE Oklahoma41.7%+16.7-26.5+20.5 Washington31.5-0.4+0.6+0.5 TEAMCFP PROB.OU WINSTCU WINSAVERAGE Oklahoma41.7-1.2+1.9+1.5 Wisconsin35.2-0.6+0.9+0.7 Wisconsin35.2-1.4+2.5+1.8 Clemson57.2-0.5+0.8+0.6 Stanford0.5-0.5+0.9+0.7 As of Nov. 8, 2017. Includes teams where the average swing is at least 0.5 percentage points. Notre Dame29.6-1.0+1.5+1.2 TEAMCFP PROB.UW WINSSTAN WINSAVERAGE Georgia57.3%+12.6-15.4+13.9 As of Nov. 8, 2017. Includes teams where the average swing is at least 0.5 percentage points. Ohio State14.0-0.6+0.9+0.7 Notre Dame29.6%+17.3-27.0+21.1 How Georgia-Auburn changes the college football playoff picture Georgia57.3-1.5+2.5+1.8 SWING IF… How Oklahoma-TCU changes the college football playoff picture TEAMCFP PROB.ND WINSMIA WINSAVERAGE SWING IF… Ohio State14.0-2.6+4.5+3.3 Alabama62.4+0.9-1.1+1.0 TCU23.0-0.5+0.8+0.6 TCU23.0-1.5+2.6+1.9 Ohio State14.0+0.9-1.5+1.2 Coming in a close second behind OU-TCU is the matchup everyone has their eye on, Notre Dame on the road against Miami. The game will carry with it echoes of the “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry from decades ago, and with good reason — according to our Elo ratings (adding up the pregame ratings of both teams), this is easily the best matchup of these two classic college-football powers since 1989. The Hurricanes won back then, but our model gives the Irish a 61 percent chance of coming out on top this time around. If they do, Notre Dame’s odds of making the playoff would rise from 30 percent to 47 percent,3Although Notre Dame would still likely need to beat Navy and Stanford on the road, there’s also a pretty good case to be made that our model is understating Notre Dame’s chances, given how frequently they get the benefit of the doubt from college football’s institutions. But that’s a subject for another time. while a loss would drop the Irish’s playoff odds to 3 percent. For the undefeated ’Canes, a win would vault them from 25 percent to 45 percent, and a loss would send them down to 13 percent. The Irish in particular would really struggle to make the playoff as a two-loss team, because unlike two-loss fringe contenders like Ohio State or USC, the Irish will not have a conference championship against a quality opponent to pad the resume.3. Washington at Stanford (10:30 p.m. EST, Friday)42.0 percentage points of total swing USC6.9-0.9+1.6+1.2 As of Nov. 8, 2017. Includes teams where the average swing is at least 0.5 percentage points. Alabama62.4-0.6+1.0+0.7 Oklahoma41.7-0.8+1.0+0.9 Miami25.5-1.7+3.0+2.2 Although Georgia held steady at No. 1 in the CFP committee rankings for the second straight week, this week will provide the Dawgs with their toughest test since beating Notre Dame in early September. Auburn has plenty of talent — it’s the eighth-best team in the country according to FPI — and it will also be at home, a big reason why our model has UGA as only a narrow favorite to extend its undefeated record against the Tigers. Needless to say, the playoff implications of this game are enormous. The Bulldogs, at 57 percent to make the CFP, could bolster those odds up to 70 percent with a win or see them fall to 42 percent with a loss. The latter scenario wouldn’t be a complete catastrophe for Georgia, but it would make its playoff path a lot more daunting, with Alabama (or maybe Auburn!) potentially looming in the SEC title game. For Auburn’s part, the two-loss Tigers sit at 8 percent to make the playoff, and those chances would rise only to 18 percent if they knock off UGA. But that would improve their chances of forcing ’Bama into a must-win Iron Bowl to get into the SEC championship, one of the Tigers’ few viable paths to possibly making the playoff. The only thing keeping this matchup from ranking higher is its relatively limited effect on the rest of the country — aside from Notre Dame and Clemson rooting for a Georgia loss, there aren’t many implications here outside of the SEC.Honorable mentions: Alabama at Mississippi State (23.2 points of swing); Iowa at Wisconsin (22.7); Florida State at Clemson (21.9); Michigan State at Ohio State (13.4).Check out our latest college football predictions. Also, see what it will take for Notre Dame, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma to still make the playoff. Clemson57.2-0.9+1.5+1.1 Clemson57.2-2.1+2.6+2.3 Notre Dame29.6-1.6+2.7+2.0 TCU23.0-14.8+23.5+18.2 How Washington-Stanford changes the college football playoff picture SWING IF… Notre Dame29.6-3.6+4.4+4.0 Washington31.5%+16.6-28.7+21.0 Georgia57.3-0.5+0.8+0.6 Normally in this space, we examine all the things a certain contending team needs to have happen over the rest of the season in order to make the College Football Playoff. But at this stage of the calendar, every single week has a huge effect on the playoff picture. So to change things up a bit, this week we’ll be focusing on the most important games of the upcoming weekend, based on how much they project to swing the odds in our CFP prediction model.For each matchup, we’ll list the total swing it has across the entire college football landscape. We’ll also break out the ripple effects it might have on each school — from the obvious implications for those involved to the more hidden impact it might have on other teams’ chances. Here are the most crucial matchups of Week 11, with odds given as of Wednesday:1So, not including those earth-shattering midweek MAC games.1. TCU at Oklahoma (8 p.m. EST, Saturday)44.3 percentage points of total swing2This adds up the average swing for each game (weighted by the probability of each outcome — i.e., the winning percentage for each team). Auburn8.4-0.6+1.0+0.7 Miami25.5-12.8+19.9+15.6
On any given week during peak soccer season, FiveThirtyEight offers projections for dozens of club soccer matches across the globe. The sheer volume of matches taking place this time of year can be paralyzing. With that in mind, we’ve added a feature to our club soccer predictions that rates upcoming matches on their quality and importance. You can use this page to pick a few good ones to be sure not to miss.This week’s biggest match — rated an overall 96 out of 100 — is today’s Champions League round of 16 first leg between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain. This is a bit of a no-brainer — it features Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo leading the second- and third-best teams in the world against each other in a high-stakes clash. But there are some other good matches to watch: Borussia Dortmund and Atalanta — two of the best eight remaining teams in the Europa League — play each other on Thursday in the round of 32. If we dig deeper, Empoli and Parma — two teams fighting for promotion and the league title at the top of a very tight Italian Serie B — play each other Saturday. And Manchester United plays Chelsea on Feb. 25 in the Premier League in what is a pivotal match for Champions League qualification. Here’s how we calculate our match ratings:Quality is simply a measure of how good the teams are. Specifically, it’s the harmonic mean of the two teams’ Soccer Power Index ratings. (We’re using the harmonic mean instead of merely averaging the two ratings because in lopsided matches it limits the impact of very high or low ratings, resulting in a more balanced number.) Because every team has an SPI rating between 0 and 100, our match quality stat also ranges from 0 to 100.Importance is a measure of how much the outcome of the match will affect our forecast for how likely the two teams are to win the league, or be relegated or promoted, among other things. To calculate it, we generate probabilities conditional on each team winning the match and then find the difference between those two possible numbers.We consider different factors depending on which league the match is being played in. For some leagues, our forecasts cover winning the league and qualifying for the Champions League, for example.We take a weighted average of the change in each applicable factor and scale the result to between 0 and 100. All leagues are treated equally when calculating importance, so a match to decide the winner of the Swedish Allsvenskan would rate just as high as a match to decide the winner of the English Premier League.The overall match rating is just the average of quality and importance.Visit our club soccer predictions to explore the ratings of all the upcoming matches yourself.
Embed Code More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed This week, Hot Takedown is checking in with those MLB teams that may have gotten off to a slow start but are starting to show promise. David Samson of CBS Sports thinks run differentials are the most informative data point to look at with a team. Our crew assesses whether that’s the case and what we can best expect from the reigning champions this season.Mike Goodman — managing editor of StatsBomb, co-host of the Double Pivot podcast and a FiveThirtyEight contributor — joins the show to look at the battle for the Premier League title. Manchester City looks poised to repeat as champions, but Liverpool is mere inches away. We break down the probability of each potential outcome in what BBC 5’s Kelly Cates calls “the most unforgiving title run.”Our Rabbit Hole goes deep into the world of unofficial mascots and good luck charms. Ever heard of the San Francisco Giants’ Crazy Crab? Or Hamilton the pig of the Carolina Hurricanes? We hadn’t either, but now we can’t let them go.Here’s what we’re looking at this week:Players say which stats do the best job of evaluating them in this MLB.com story.We’re consulting our MLB prediction model with regularity.And we keep double- and triple-checking our club soccer model. FiveThirtyEight
tchow: Out of RJ, Zion, Winslow and Tatum, who is the most likely to also believe the Earth is flat?natesilver: New Orleans is extremely flat, so I’m guessing it will be Zion after a few years.Check out our latest NBA predictions. natesilver: I mean, that’s how the system is supposed to work, right?neil: Well, I’ve always thought these tanking teams underestimated the luck involved in the lottery. Even under the old system.chris.herring: Last night’s outcome was probably about as solid as you could hope for from the league’s perspective if that’s the message you wanted to send. That being awful gives you a better chance but by no means guarantees you the very best — or even second-best — pick.tchow: Big win for Mr. Silver. (Adam, not Nate.)natesilver: And it’s not like the Knicks were categorically different than the Cavs, Suns or Bulls. They were just better at tanking. No. 3 is a comparatively good result vs. the rest of that group.BTW, someone should check the lottery ball codes to see what the results would have been under last year’s system.neil: Yeah, it’s weird to think of the Knicks as “winners” last night. But things could have been worse.chris.herring: The Knicks were the only team with the best lottery odds that didn’t fall out of the top four!natesilver: I really don’t get the losers talk, and I think it goes to show how people’s intuitions about probability aren’t very good.tchow: 14 percent means 100 percent, Nate!natesilver: People were treating it like 60 percent or something, I swear.neil: Knick fans’ expectations are always out of whack with reality, though… (This is a franchise that wins like the Mets but acts like it has the pedigree of the Yankees.)tchow: Neil, this is an NBA chat.chris.herring: I’m on record saying that I feel like the average Knick fan expects bad things to happen.neil: Maybe it’s more the New York media than rank-and-file fans, Chris.natesilver: This does leave open at least the tantalizing possibility of trading for Anthony Davis. If the Knicks do want to make a play for AD, this is one of the better scenarios for them. There’s no one who can trade Zion to the Pels since they already have him! The No. 3 pick is probably comparable to the best single asset that the Celtics and Lakers can offer. And if the Knicks get Kyrie Irving, maybe the Celtics don’t even try to get AD anyway.The Lakers do have the No. 4 pick, but at least based on the scouting consensus, there’s a big drop-off between 3 and 4. We’ll see if the Pelicans agree with that or not.chris.herring: I honestly don’t have a sense of what the Pelicans would prefer at this point.The Celtics would obviously be in play, based on their young talent and the draft picks they have. The Knicks just got the No. 3 pick and have two picks they got from Dallas in the Porzingis trade. Though those picks could end up being lower-end ones, depending on how the Mavericks are in the future. And then there are the Lakers, who just landed the No. 4 pick, plus all the guys they reportedly offered in February for Davis already.So it’s a combination of which players the Pelicans like, plus how they value the notion of future picks that would likely be lower in the draft, as opposed to higher ones they could make use of right now.natesilver: 🔥 Fun hot take: RJ Barrett could be the new Carmelo Anthony. High-volume, medium efficiency, good rebounder, mediocre effort on defense despite good athleticism. 🔥tchow: Looking at the different mock drafts, it does seem like there is a consensus on Top 3 (Zion, Ja, RJ in that order) and the fourth pick is immediately where you start seeing disagreements.neil: Which I think speaks to how few truly elite picks are in this draft class, Tony.chris.herring: Totally agreed.neil: But the Lakers can’t complain too much. They only had the 11th-best odds going on, so even moving up to fourth in a three-star draft is something.chris.herring: On Tuesday I walked past Gar Forman, from the Bulls’ front office, and he had a pretty grim look on his face after the team finished No. 7. Thought it was noteworthy that the Bulls’ John Paxson all but acknowledged that with a pick that low, the team was more likely to trade for a veteran as opposed to making it work with a rookie.It’s far more of a crapshoot outside of the Top 3.natesilver: We do know that the Pelicans didn’t like the Lakers’ pu pu platter back in February. And that was before Brandon Ingram’s DVT diagnosis. Although also before David Griffin took over, so maybe not as relevant now.chris.herring: There are a lot of options now for New Orleans. A lot of people were wondering out loud, too, whether getting Williamson might make the Pelicans more likely to find a deal for point guard Jrue Holiday, who could help a ton of teams as well.tchow: Chris, Paxson also had another pretty optimistic outlook on the results that I hadn’t thought of last night: chris.herring: Yeah, that quote infuriated Bulls fans here. It read like something out of The Onion.tchow: LOLneil: Do the Pels have more or less leverage in an AD trade now than they did at the deadline?natesilver: Weirdly, they have less, because there’s no one who can trade them Zion!chris.herring: Exactly. Likely less leverage but more flexibility in terms of the path they take, since they can feel pretty comfortable about building their future around him.natesilver: Are people too confident that Memphis will take Ja Morant and not RJ Barrett? They both have one glaring flaw (Morant: defense, Barrett: shooting), and historically, you’d rather go with the guy who can fix his shooting than a guy who is probably too undersized to ever be a great defender. Barrett’s also almost a year younger.Just to show how much a year can matter, compare Morant’s stats this year vs. last year: neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): So we just witnessed what our friend Zach Lowe called the “wildest lottery ever.” The Zion-Williamson-to-the-Knicks (or its less-heralded cousin, Zion-to-the-Lakers) hype train gained a ton of steam when both teams were revealed to be in the Top 4 … and then it crashed and burned on live TV as the Lakers ended up at No. 4 and the Knicks at No. 3.Guys, take me through each of your experiences and emotions as you saw what unfolded.chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): I think we saw right away how crazy this new lottery system has the potential to be. By flattening out the worst teams’ odds of winning, you get a higher probability of something like last night playing out. It was insane at the actual lottery here in Chicago. There were these enormous gasps when they announced that the Bulls were going to pick seventh, the Suns were going to pick sixth, and the Cavs were going to choose fifth.natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I was at a fairly nice Italian restaurant with a friend who doesn’t really like basketball, and I made him pull out his phone along with my phone just so we could see who had the faster livestream. Unfortunately, this restaurant had a lot of wood paneling or something that was causing the signal to be pretty weak. Anyway, the livestream cut out right when it looked like the Knicks might be shut out of the Top 4 entirely, then it came back on and they were in the Top 4, and then right after that they got the No. 3 pick. As dumb as it sounds, the experience of having my expectations lowered made the No. 3 pick seem a lot better as a quasi-Knicks fan.Also, we ordered pasta for dessert, which people should try.tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): My fingers and toes were crossed from the time Boston’s 14th pick was announced. I started jumping up and down on my couch and screaming sometime between Phoenix’s sixth pick reveal and Cleveland’s fifth. There was a moment during that window that I thought 14 percent really meant something like 98 percent, and I was ready to buy my Zion Knicks jersey.chris.herring: Hahahahaha. Brutal.neil: Our colleague Chad Matlin had a great experience as well that he granted me permission to share:“a small anecdote from brooklyn last night: I’m walking home from dinner down Flatbush Ave and a man appears half a block behind me and starts violently screaming something, but I can’t quite make out what. he keeps screaming. I only catch snippets. “FUCKING!!!” “ALL!!!” “LOSING!“”” this goes on for 90 seconds as he crosses street aimlessly, screaming the same thing over and over. I finally piece it together: “ALL THAT FUCKING LOSING FOR NOTHING!!”And that’s when I found out the Knicks didn’t win the lottery.”Suffice to say, emotions were running high here in New York.chris.herring: LMAOnatesilver: I had run the numbers beforehand, and the No. 3 pick — in a draft where there’s a clear drop-off between Nos. 3 and 4 — is slightly above the expected value for the Knicks pick. Even if you think Zion is going to be reaaaaaaaaaaaly good, a 14 percent chance just isn’t that high.chris.herring: On some level, the lottery process and unveiling is really, really challenging for the average person — even for me — to follow along with if you aren’t focused on a single team and where they’re ending up.tchow: Yeah, Chris, in the hysteria last night, the graphics on TV really played a trick on me: They had the Top 4 picks in individual blocks on top, while 5 through 14 were listed below as they were revealing the picks. As the blocks were getting filled in, you saw the Lakers, then the Grizzlies and then the Pelicans, and I went, “Holy shit, we got No. 1!”chris.herring: One team being slotted lower than you expect is useful information, but it’s hard to know exactly who it benefits until there are only two or three teams left.Rachel Nichols was explaining it in real time, but it still takes a hot second or two to register what it all means, because of the pick swaps and protections, etc.neil: It’s kind of incredible that so many of us devote time to watching the unveiling of the results of pingpong balls based on probabilities, which each have obscure caveats (protections, etc), and it actually makes for compelling TV. The NBA is amazing.natesilver: Maybe they should reveal it one pick per day at a time over the course of the playoffs, sort of like an advent calendar.Think of all the opportunities for #content.chris.herring: I’m still kind of shocked that New Orleans ended up getting it. Makes a huge difference for them going forward. All this time, analysts were suggesting that they make a deal with the team that wins the lottery for Anthony Davis. Now they have the No. 1 pick AND Anthony Davis.neil: And David Griffin said their big priority is convincing AD to stay now. Is that feasible?chris.herring: It doesn’t seem the most feasible to me. You’d love for him to change his tune on that, but reports suggest that he won’t. It’s incredibly risky to gamble on the hunch that he will.natesilver: I think Zion might make it more likely that AD is traded, if anythingBecause now the franchise has something to play for and sell hope/tickets for, even without AD. So any scenario where they’re just being super stubborn and desperate is probably off the table.chris.herring: You don’t know whether Zion alone would be enough for them to make a huge jump in the next year, which is what you’d need to feel better about letting Davis test free agency.natesilver: New Orleans was one of just three teams to win the lottery that was neither undeserving, nor boring, nor annoying. So that was a win in my book. neil: And how does either affect where Mike Conley goes? They were shopping him pretty aggressively at the deadline but didn’t find the right deal.natesilver: I don’t think Memphis has any business keeping Conley either way.chris.herring: I’m interested in that question, too.natesilver: And I’m not sure it affects their pick much. If you want Ja, you can keep him and use Conley as a mentor if you want.chris.herring: Memphis is one of the smaller markets in the league, and because of that, I think they maybe hold on to players a year or two longer than they should. Perhaps because of the ties those fans feel to certain players.Morant is seemingly good enough where you draft him and then figure out the answer to that question with Conley later.natesilver: The Grizzlies have historically been a bit allergic to high-usage-rate guys, and both Barrett and Morant use a lot of possessions, so in some ways neither one feels like a natural Grizzly.chris.herring: Morant is a great passer, too, though, and averaged a double-double with assists. So I’d hope they make an exception in this case.tchow: If I were the Grizzlies, I’d take RJ.chris.herring: Wow. Knick fans would love if you became the Grizzlies’ GM.natesilver: The thing that’s really hard to project with Barrett is his defense. A lot of the comparables are pretty unflattering because people want to typecast him as Andrew Wiggins 2.0, maybe just because they’re both Canadian. But Wiggins was thought of as a guy who was going to be a plus defender, and he’s been pretty darn terrible instead. If Barrett’s a good defender, though, you start getting into a whole different set of comps, more along the lines of Jimmy Butler (if he tamps down the usage rate a bit) or Victor Oladipo.neil: Just goes to show how much defense — which I think can go overlooked for prospects at times (and is difficult to predict out of college) — can really alter a player’s pro trajectory. This, from ESPN’s mock draft on Barrett, sounds like it’s ripped out of the Wiggins scouting report: “he wasn’t the defender his physical tools suggest he should have been.”chris.herring: In fairness, Morant’s defense isn’t all that great, either. That’s part of what makes the No. 1 pick so easy, among other things.natesilver: Barrett was a much better rebounder, which counts for something. A much better and more active passer. And he was using a ton of possessions, which sometimes yields lower effort on defense. And Duke played a very tough schedule.I don’t know. If Barrett had shot 38 percent from three instead of 31 percent, I think people would be talking about him and Williamson like it’s … I don’t know, the Kevin Durant/Greg Oden draft or something. And of course, you can’t just disregard the difference between 38 percent and 31 percent. But he’s a pretty spectacular prospect if he learns how to shoot.chris.herring: It’s so hard to tell in college. The shooting is somewhat predictive. But even if he had shot 38 percent this year, I think there would be room to ask whether it was completely real.I remember Justise Winslow shooting a pretty healthy percentage from out there during his lone year at Duke, but so many of the makes came with Jahlil Okafor being doubled in the post, which left Winslow wide-open a lot of the time. And then he initially struggled from three once he came into the league, which was what many folks predicted.natesilver: The low free-throw percentage is troubling for Barrett.Like, Jayson Tatum — a guy who’s been a much better 3-point shooter as a pro than people thought — shot free throws pretty darned well in college. Barrett didn’t.chris.herring: Completely agreed. That tends to have solid predictive value.neil: It’s also worth remembering that Barrett was actually the No. 1 prospect in that star-studded class going into their freshman seasons. But I’ve seen studies that indicate the weight given to even one year of college should far outweigh our priors for prospects coming out of high school.tchow: This chat is just becoming a conversation about how Duke players perform in the NBA.chris.herring: Seems fair to me: neil: SO many people were looking at that!tchow: It must have meant something!neil: NBA conspiracies are the best.chris.herring: It seemed that might have been his preference.tchow: Can you imagine all the “it’s rigged” people if the Hawks did end up getting No. 1 after the logo double tap?chris.herring: Can’t remember too many people WANTING to go to Atlanta, but I actually hoped he’d end up there after that.neil: 😢tchow: Zion with Trae Young is really intriguing.But if we’re playing alternate universes and what-ifs, can we play “what if Zion did go to the Knicks?” Neil thinks owner James Dolan would have somehow messed it up anyway. I disagree.neil: Right, my take was always that he should be happy he didn’t go to the Knicks. Everything that franchise touches goes to ruin.tchow: But he could have changed that, Neil!chris.herring: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was reporting pretty adamantly that the Knicks wouldn’t have traded him. So it seems like they would have moved forward with him, and then gone into free agency shooting for the stars.natesilver: I think it would have been dumb to trade him. Like, more dumb than people realize. When you consider the contracts, and that the Pelicans don’t rally have much leverage, I think you can even argue that Zion straight up is TOO MUCH for AD, without all the other assets that the Knicks were likely to have to throw into the deal. But, anyway, I guess we don’t have to worry about that now.chris.herring: I agree. You’re going to want and need cost-controlled contracts for when you get other stars, anyway. Having Zion would allow you to do that.tchow: Is it wrong of me to think that this is even more proof that the lottery was rigged? Like, the results were so much the complete opposite of what you thought a “rigged” one would look like that it’s almost too opposite. Am I making sense? Like, the results seemed to be what someone would produce to prove that something wasn’t rigged when it actually was.natesilver: Tony I think you’re overthinking this just a liiiiiiiiiiiiittle bit.chris.herring: LOLneil: Of course, they did invite some of this rigging speculation by having Patrick “Frozen Envelope” Ewing there to represent the Knicks.chris.herring: As someone who’s been in the room, it’s not rigged. They go to great lengths to let people watch it. And make the actual process available on YouTube shortly after.I think the variance is going to be really wild going forward because of how they’ve flattened out the odds for the worst few teams, though. And honestly, it will make it more fun and heartbreaking.tchow: I know it’s not rigged. But……Just kiddingneil: But yeah Chris, I wanted to ask about that. Did we see the death of tanking last night?Look at how much the results at the top differed from the ranking in order of worst records: tchow: Nate, I disagree with so much of that Venn diagram.natesilver: Hahaneil: As an Atlantan who also once worked for the Hawks, I guess I’ll take “basically OK.”chris.herring: Neil, I’m sure die-hard Hawks fans were disappointed last night. Basketball people seem to universally feel that would’ve been his best fit.Did you all see the video of Williamson hitting the Hawks logo twice before the lottery began?