Wednesday, September 30, 2015

This One's for the Non-Wisconsinites

My friend Jim Kogutkiewicz, a long-time Bucks fan of some renown (at least on Twitter, where his handle is @jimmyfk), recently returned from a trip to Kansas City to watch Sporting KC play a soccer match.  Jimmy -- or, "Camelot", as I call him due to his initials being J.F.K. -- piqued my interest because it recalled a subject I've through about before: the Bucks drawing fans outside of Wisconsin.

Milwaukee doesn't have a pro soccer team of any significance, and I'm sure that played a role in Camelot latching on to Sporting KC.  Camelot could have, however, chosen a team based on proximity (Chicago Fire play close enough for a day trip), success (America's most successful pro soccer team is the LA Galaxy) or star power (Toronto FC boasts some top players, including the biggest star on America's national team).  Yet, he didn't.  He chose Sporting KC.

The fact that Camelot roots for Sporting KC -- and is such a big Sporting KC fan that he was taking a weekend road trip to Kansas City in order to attend a match -- made me curious.  "Why Sporting KC?", I wondered.  It seemed he didn't do it for proximity or success or star-power, so why?

Camelot was nice enough to indulge my curiosity, and here's what he said:
It came down to a couple things: a player who I identified with and enjoyed his style of play, and on-field success.   The player on Sporting that pulled me in was Benny Feilhaber.  The more I followed MLS early on this year, the more I saw Sporting KC play well, with Feilhaber leading the way, and the easier it was to get to know the other players. 
Let's examine what Camelot is saying.  Camelot likes having a star player to root for, but Benny Feilhaber is far from the biggest soccer star in America.  Camelot likes the fact that Sporting KC is a good team, but he didn't feel the need to lurch for the best team.  (Sporting KC currently sits fifth in the ten-team Western Conference of MLS, with the top six teams making the Playoffs.)  Camelot also likes the way that Sporting KC plays, and has gotten to know other players on the team through Feilhaber.

In examining Camelot's words, it sure seems like a lot of this applies to the Bucks.  The Bucks have natural disadvantages in that they don't play in a city that's among the most attractive to NBA players and they are sort of land-locked by Canada, Chicago, Minnesota and even Indiana.  In short, the Bucks can't rely on proximity to draw out of state fans and they can't rely on raw star power.  They're not the Celtics, who can draw throughout New England, and they're not the Lakers, who seem to always have a superstar who is either playing for them or wants to play for them.

Look at what the Bucks do have, though.  The Bucks do have a player who is good enough to latch on to in the Greek Freak.  Just as Camelot developed an affection for Benny Feilhaber from hundreds of miles away, so too can NBA fans in St. Louis, Raleigh or Seattle come to admire Giannis Antetokoumnpo.  The Bucks also have the potential for success.  They are far from a favorite to win the NBA Championship in 2016, but they could certainly make the playoffs.  It is not out of the realm of the possible to see a person from a non-NBA city -- or, who knows?, maybe a person from an NBA city -- discovering the Bucks as a rooting interest.  It can happen.

There is one other, unsaid factor that I think played into Camelot's decision to become a Sporting KC fan.  I think that Sporting KC's public relations outreach also played a role.  The Sporting KC organization cares deeply about hot its perceived.  They dress in inoffensive colors (light blue & dark blue), but they add enough pieces of flair (this season it's a uni-color checkerboard pattern on their jerseys) to keep from looking drab.  They also run a local soccer academy, they've never had a player arrested (at least, to my recollection) and they go out of their way to create a nice environment for fans at their stadium (taxpayer-funded, naturally).  They cultivate a reputation at a team that is not going to acquire the biggest names or pay the highest salaries, but that is going to find players who play an attractive style.

I think that the Bucks are on the right track in creating a positive public perception, similar to Sporting KC's in soccer.  A new arena is coming, the new uniforms are an improvement (although the style of block lettering they chose is going to look really dated in a few years -- hopefully they can change that quickly) and the current ownership group is making a big push to really integrate the franchise with Milwaukee's culture.

Of course, success is the unknown.  If Sporting KC were a bad team that lost all of the time, then I doubt that Camelot would've become a fan from five hundred miles away.  In fact, Camelot said as much in the email he sent me:
Not ashamed in the slightest to admit following a team that played well and won games attracted me to them. That's how it works.
That is how it works.  Success is contagious.  And timing matters.  A successful Bucks season in 2016 -- with the arena deal done, the young players in place and the new uniforms still fresh -- will mean a lot more than it would in most other years, past or present.  Hopefully they will get it done, and we'll see some non-Wisconsinites making road trips in the opposite direction of Camelot's trip to Kansas City.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Do You Believe In Heat Checks? (Yes.)

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article today about the hot hand.  The article comes from my favorite current sportswriter, Ben Cohen, who is known best in some circles of the Internet as the Duke homer who claimed that Duke homer Dick Vitale is not a Duke homer.  The piece is light on the game of basketball and heavy on statistics (normally a huge no-no for the inhabitants of #BucksForest), but I found it interesting none the less.

The whole concept of the hot hand is fascinating and, for what it's worth, I am a believer in it.

The WSJ article had a counter-example, as Duke basketball legend/funder of mixed-race baby abortions JJ Redick (or, at least, his own mixed-race baby abortion - I should keep it legal here) is quoted in Cohen's article saying that he did a test where he recorded 100 shots per day along with his pre-shot emotions ("I feel hot", "I feel cold", etc.) and tabulated the results.  JJ said that he found no such thing as a "hot hand".  His shooting percentage during his test more or less stayed the same no matter his feeling of hotness.

Like much sports research (and, now that I think about it, research in general), I found JJ's methodology to be intrinsically flawed.  When you record your pre-shot emotions, it messes up any "hotness" you might have felt.  I may date myself a bit by saying this, but you know what basketball announcers used to say when a guy was hot?  He's "unconscious".  "Unconscious" is the perfect way to describe a hot hand.  The guy is so in-rhythm that he stops thinking and just keeps getting buckets. Recording one's pre-shot emotion naturally removes any "unconscious" state a person could be in because the person is required to think about his emotional state.  So, much like JJ's tenure with the Bucks and his efforts at avoiding impregnating women who he didn't want mixed-race babies with, JJ's research at Duke was a failure.

An interesting corralary to the "hot hand" is the "heat check".  A hot hand is a requirement for a heat check, but not vice-versa.  A heat check is when a hot-handed person (and, obviously, different people have different feelings on how many shots it takes for them to become "hot-handed") starts taking reckless shots, in part as a check on just how hot they are.  Klay Thompson's 37-point quarter against the Kings last season (which I happened to be watching live because I watch way too much Boogie Cousins on NBA League Pass) is the best example I've ever seen of a heat check.  The highlights didn't even include the best part of this one.  The Kings got so frustrated at one point that they fouled Klay thirty-five feet from the hoop to prevent him from hitting another three.  As Klay was being fouled he tossed the ball at the basket and it went in!  Incredible.

Anywho, when a heat check would happen in the olden days, TV announcers had a term similar to "he's unconscious" that they would say: "he has no conscience".  "He has no conscience" carries an important distinction from "he's unconscious."  The former implies consciousness, while the latter explicitly denies it.  What "he has no conscience" means is, in some cases after a shooter gets so hot that he loses consciousness, the shooter becomes a basketball sociopath who begins committing heinous crimes against the laws of good shot-selection.  It's a great way of describing the actions of Vernon Maxwell (or, to use a less dated example, JR Smith) when he gets a hot hand.

And this brings me to my point: all good basketball shots are relative.  Every time a player attempts a shot, a dynamic equation governs whether it is a good shot.  The equation considers the number of points that could be scored (two or three), potential negative outcomes (are there rebounders to clean up a miss?; are there men back to defend against a potential fast break?), the shooter's proficiency at that shot, his teammates feelings about him taking that shot (nobody likes to play with a Hondo), the potential ability of his team to create a better shot before the shot clock expires, probably another unknown factor or two and, yes, hotness.  And this is why I always defended Monta Ellis's tenure with the Bucks.  Considering all of these things, he took mostly good shots.  It's just that they only went in about 42% of the time.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Welcome to the 2016 Milwaukee Bucks Season, Hater's Edition (Plus: OJ Skips Media Day)

Oh, does it feel good to be back.

It may be different in Milwaukee, but right now in Los Angeles we need something -- anything -- to get away from the heat.  Early autumn is always the most insufferable time of year in Los Angeles -- late Saturday morning brunch lines excepted -- because it is too dang hot.  Every day reaches the mid-80's and most of them feel hotter.  I can't take it.  I want to be reminded of anything -- air-conditioned gyms, February walks down Highland towards the Bradley Center, Jabari Parker's three-point shooting -- that will make me think of COLD right about now.

And -- with that unprovoked jab at Jabari -- the penny drops (to quote THE BEST "Mission Impossible" movie, which is the first one starring Tom Cruise).  Yes, #BucksForest inhabitants, it's true.  I am down on Jabari.  I am down on MCW, I am down on Khris Middleton and I am down on just about anything Bucks-related (aside from Monroe's passing, Coach Kidd's coaching and Greek Freak's anything).  Welcome to the 2016 Bucks, Hater's Edition.  I expect it to be a long year.

For those of you who are Bucks optimists (and, judging by Twitter and the rest of the web, that appears to be all of you), fear not: I am wrong often, especially when it comes to the Bucks.  I loved trading Ray Allen for GP (still do; Ray Allen ran Big Dog out of town), I loved drafting Bogut number one (which I continue to defend to this day), I loved signing Michael Redd, Bobby Simmons & Charlie Bell and I loved drafting Yi Jianlian.  Aside from firing Terry Stotts, I loved just about every move made during the most disastrous era in Bucks history, the Larry Harris era.  So, take my pessimism with a grain of salt (or, recall that I predicted that the Bucks' 2015 season would completely fall apart after the Brandon Knight trade and join me in fearing that this thing could get ugly).

Whether you believe -- as some prominent NBA writers do (sub req'd) -- that the Bucks will soar or whether you believe -- as I do -- that 2016's loss total will come closer to 2014's (67, for those who are new here) than anyone in the NBA media believes, #BucksForest will have content for you.  Some days may see lots of content and some days may see just a blurb (and, I'll be honest, some days I'll get lazy and there will be nothing), but overall this blog will produce.  I thank all of you for reading.

***

Bucks media day was today, which marks something of an unofficial kickoff for the NBA season.   For those who are fluent in bullshit, the big news of the day was OJ Mayo skipping the event.  

Oh, I'm sorry.  My mistake.  OJ Mayo had a "family situation".  That's why he was excused from media day.

Oh-kee-doh-kee, let's think about this one.  We have a coach who -- as much as I love him as a coach -- has a loooooong history of feeling A-OK about lying to the media.  We have a player who -- although he is a USC Trojan and Trojans can do no wrong in my book -- more or less quit on the Bucks during the 2014 season because he disagreed with how he was being used by the team.  Hmm. Provocative.

"But Ben," you say, "if OJ were to just skip media day there must be some kind of reason.  He wouldn't make himself look bad entering the last year of his contract."

True.  Good point.  

But, consider these counterpoints:

-All of the veterans who drove the Bucks' surprising play a year ago are gone, save Zaza and Bayless. (Ed. note: Sorry. I forgot that the Bucks shipped Zaza to Dallas.)

-OJ has almost no chance of starting now that Khris Middleton got his huge contract.

-Khris Middleton will be making 75% more money per season, with four additional years on his deal.

-OJ Mayo is a better basketball player than Khris Middleton.

Some basketball players would respond to these circumstances by playing really hard in an effort to get one last big contract in summer of 2016.  Other players would pout their way through a lackluster season, figuring that they're not going to be given a chance to prove that they are worthy of a big free agent contract.  Which of those two types of players sounds more like OJ?

Hopefully, it's nothing.  Hopefully, OJ kills it this season and nobody even remembers that he missed media day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Another Clueless Move

Here's what some people think:

-Brandon Knight has no vision (true, admittedly), so we'll never be elite with him as a star.

-Michael Carter-Williams has vision (true, admittedly), so he can become a good point guard.

-Jabari Parker has been taught skills his whole life and the NBA has become a skills game.

-Sidney Moncrief has a lisp and a high-pitched voice, so he isn't a good TV game analyst.

-Coach Kidd likes playing an active style, and young players tend to be more active than veterans.

-Greg Monroe can be taught to play great defense.

These things are all wrong.  Bucks management is embracing all of them.

I'll give management some credit.  The uniforms look a lot better (though not as good as Dunleavy, Sr.'s "Wimbledon" uniforms).  Picking Bobby Portis (who will likely be an energy Big and a crowd favorite) would've put Jabari's growth at risk.  Park East is a great spot for a practice facility.  They got a fukkin arena deal done!

But I do hate this ownership/management.  They are not a family.  Kohl didn't run the Bucks like a family at first, either (that's why Nellie, the greatest Bucks coach, left) and he learned.  So, I'll cut them some slack.  They're trying.

I do, however, think that the Lasry kid is a dunce.  It's clear that the team was bought, in part, so that Alex Lasry (son of owner Marc) could be given a nepotistic executive position in a business he enjoys.  Sometimes, these things work out.  Usually, they don't.