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Saturday, December 24, 2005

A-Mays-ing

Take a gander at the following 2005 park-adjusted statistics for two American League pitchers:

Player

SO%

BB%

HB%

HR%

G:F

DER

06Pay

Plyr_A

12.7%

6.1%

0.8%

4.6%

0.67

.732

$4 mill

Plry_B

8.3%

5.9%

0.4%

3.5%

1.46

.681

$1 mill.

AL average

15.9%

7.8%

1.0%

2.8%

1.25

.696

---


Pitcher_A strikes out quite a few more batters than Pitcher_B. That's good. In all other categories, Pitcher_B is more alluring: He walks a few less, hits fewer batters, induces many more groundballs and, not surprisingly, gives up significantly fewer home runs. Pitcher_A received a bigger boost from the defense behind him though it should be noted that his flyball ways probably had a significant impact on those figures.

Going forward, factor in the Royals' infield defense which projects to be improved next season and ask yourself which pitcher you would rather have pitch in Kauffman Stadium in 2006.

Obviously the two pitchers in this scenario are Scott Elarton and Joe Mays. Given the weak outfield defense the Royals will likely receive from the corners and the fact that Mays could possibly nudge up his strikeouts due an additional year of recovery from Tommy John surgery, I'd take Mays.

As I've written before, Royals fans should hope that the veteran pitching acquistions by the Royals post ERAs close to league average. That's the upside of the Redman-Elarton-Mays triad. The downside is ugly. The likely outcome of a collective mid-5.00 ERA is an improvement from last season but is hardly what the Royals have in mind with these acquisitions.

I still like Redman the best of the three but I like Mays' chances to post a better ERA than Elarton. At the very least, he gives the team another option, additional depth. Hopes for real improvement still are carried by the arms of Greinke, Hernandez, Affeldt, Bautista and Howell. But if those guys aren't ready to produce this season, at least there are semi-competent placeholders who can keep them in the minors for a while longer.

My fear is that Elarton will bomb Jose Lima style. At $1 million (plus incentives) for one year, Mays can be easily shoved aside. But with $8 million committed to Elarton, the Royals will leave him out there to stink it up like they did with Lima and Brian Anderson before him.

Given the dollars and the possible upside, I think the acquisition of Joe Mays is has the kind of risk/reward ratio that Allard Baird should strive for. It's almost the antithesis of the Elarton signing.
Friday, December 23, 2005

Reggie, Reggie, Reggie

The problem with the signing of Reggie Sanders, who is, or used to be, a fine player, is that the Royals are paying $5 million per annum for a player based on what he has already done, not for what he is likely going to do.

When you look at the evidence, you have to think that Reggie Sanders is due for a precitious drop in production. That holds true even if he manages to stay healthy for 130-140 games, which is very unlikely.

Let's begin by looking at the history of 38-year-old outfielders.

Since 1950 and not including last season, there have been 134 player-seasons in which an outfielder, at least age 38, had at least 50 plate appearances. Only 28 (21 percent) created at least 10 runs above the league average or, to put it another way, only one-fifth of the 134 players added even a single win to the team's bottom line. Only 12 (9 percent) added two wins. Here are those 12: Barry Bonds (twice), Ted Williams (three times), Willie Mays (twice), Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn and Gene Woodling. Is it safe to say that Reggie Sanders is not in these guys' class?

When you look at the second year of Sanders' contract, only 8 of 83 39-year-olds (9.6 percent) added at least two wins offensively, all of them the Hall-of-Famers listed above.

Here are the ten-most similar player to Sanders at baseball-reference: Ray Lankford, Kirk Gibson, Ron Gant, Eric Davis, Darry Strawberry, Bill Nicholson, Frank Thomas (the 1950s/Pirates version), Ben Oglivie, Moises Alou, Roy Sievers. Each and every one of these players either quit after their age-37 seasons because of injuries (like Sanders) or declining skills. The ones who didn't quit suffered big productivity dropoffs at age 38 and never bounced back.

Before this season, PECOTA forecasted a dropoff in VORP for Sanders from 18.1 in 2005 (he actually posted a 27.5) to 5.9 in 2005 and 3.9 in 2006.

The last two seasons for St. Louis, Sanders has posted road OPSs of 738 and 789. His overall OPS those seasons was .797 and .886, so you have to believe he was taking advantage of the confines of Busch Stadium. In Kansas City, he'll be moving into a park in which runs were scored a little below the league-average rate and away from a park that gave a slight boost to the hitters.

Worst of all, here are the games played for Sanders over the last EIGHT SEASONS: 135, 133, 103, 126, 140, 130, 135, 93. That's 301 games missed, or nearly a quarter of the games in which he could have played. That won't get better as he moves towards 40 years of age.

Defensively, Sanders suffered a huge drop in zone rating from 2004, from .888 to .785. Will that improve with another year under his belt?

Sanders' acquistion means that either Chip Ambres or Aaron Guiel will likely be pushed off the Royals' roster. Either one would have provided similar or, possibly, superior production and would have done it at a fraction of the price. Either one could be easy moved aside when it was decided that Alex Gordon and/or Billy Butler were ready for the big leagues. Moving Sanders aside won't be nearly so easy.

This is the worst move the Royals have made in an off-season of questionable activity. The Royals employ a statistical analyst but this person either looks at the wrong statistics or holds no sway with the team's decision makers. The team has fallen into the common trap in the free-agency game of paying a player based on past performance rather than future performance.

This one is going to come back to bite them.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NBA Trak, 12/20

Raptors 92, Magic 90
Magic 100 EFF - Raptors 87. Why? Eight more three-pointers. The great equalizer. Crappy game, nonetheless.
Celtics 109, Warriors 98
Warriors lose despite combined 74 points from Davis, Richardson and Murphy.
Bobcats 106, Kings 103, OT
When a pick'em game goes OT for the second-straight night, you got to like what your system is telling you.
Pistons 106, Grizzlies 104
You'd like the Grizzlies' chances to beat the Pistons if you knew they'd shoot 51.8% from the field but Memphis was done in by a 26-10 advantage at the foul line for Detroit.
Sonics 111, Wizards 101
Alonzo Jamison outscored 10-4 by Reggie Evans.

Updated rankings and predictions are here.

FULL DEFENSIVE RANKINGS ARE HERE
Yesterday, I finished incorporating on-court/off-court statistics into my defensive database. The information, which I am taking from www.82games.com, will be updated periodically but the latest update will always be included in the player rankings.

Again, I have taken a three-prong approach to address the issue of man-on-man defense as part of a player-rating system:

1. First, each player is assigned the team defensive rate (EFF per minute)
2. The team rate is then adjusted according to counterpart statistics. Each day, I enter player efficiencies from box scores and assign an opposing player as his counterpart. The system looks at the efficiency his counterpart posted and compares it to the expected efficiency based on season averages and minutes played. The difference, positive or negative, is that player's defensive efficiency for that game. The sum of all of these games are then compared to league averages and the team defensive rate is then adjusted upwards or downwards.
3. The player's team defensive rate is adjusted a second time using on-court/off-court statistics. If a team allows more points than its average when a player is on the floor, it has a negative impact on his rating. It the team allows fewer points, then the player's rating goes up.

So with those explanations out of the way, here are my initial man-on-man rankings:

DEFENSIVE MAN-ON-MAN RANKINGS

finley,michael

6.70

bowen,bruce

6.13

howard,juwan

5.68

stoudamire,damon

5.64

garnett,kevin

5.02

francis,steve

4.94

jackson,stephen

4.80

artest,ron

4.60

battier,shane

4.58

billups,chauncey

4.52


The name that will jump out to most people here is Damon Stoudemire. Clearly, Stoudemire, who has a terrible defensive reputation, benefits from the terrific team defense orchestrated by Czar Mike Fratello. But go to www.hoopsstats.com and look at the numbers posted by point guards against the Grizzlies. Stoudemire has been a part of that.

Of course, blocks, steals, fouls and defensive rebounds - all measurables - are components of a player's defensive value. These are and have been included in the TPR ratings, which were missing only individual defense to be truly comprehensive. But to rank the best and worst defensive players strictly for their all-around defensive contribution, defensive TPR needs to be combined with these plays made.

To accomplish this, I developed a formula which blends defensive TPR with the other categories weighted by value per possession, which is a method taken from John Hollinger's excellent Pro Basketball Forecast. With that, here are the best and worst defensive players in the NBA so far this season:

BEST DEFENDERS

WORST DEFENDERS

garnett,kevin

11.2

williams,marvin

-10.5

marion,shawn

10.6

arenas,gilbert

-6.1

artest,ron

9.8

bibby,mike

-5.5

ming,yao

9.3

james,mike

-5.0

gasol,pau

9.1

graham,joey

-4.7

bowen,bruce

9.1

turkoglu,hedo

-3.5

duncan,tim

9.0

simmons,bobby

-2.6

battier,shane

8.8

jones,damon

-2.4

finley,michael

8.7

davis,ricky

-2.1

francis,steve

8.7

stojakovic,peja

-1.8

wade,dwyane

8.4

rose,jalen

-1.8

howard,juwan

8.4

calderon,jose

-1.8

jackson,stephen

8.1

ridnour,luke

-1.6

camby,marcus

8.1

dixon,juan

-1.5

stoudamire,damon

7.9

brezec,primoz

-1.4

mcgrady,tracy

7.8

childress,josh

-1.3

mourning,alonzo

7.4

bosh,chris

-1.2

o'neal,jermaine

7.3

daniels,antonio

-0.8

wallace,rasheed

7.2

jeffries,jared

-0.8

kirilenko,andrei

7.2

lewis,rashard

-0.6


I didn't develop this system until around Thanksgiving. Many early-season box scores have not been entered. Thus, there is a fairly small sample size in the counterpart database. But the anamolies (Ben Wallace has very poor counterpart statistics) should smooth out as the database grows.
Monday, December 19, 2005

NBA Trak daily, 12/19

Yesterday's games:

76ers 107, Raptors 80

Iguodala: 9-10 FG. You can only assume that's 9 dunks and 1 jump shot. Sixers have been significantly better since Dalembert (18 boards, 3 blocks) returned to the lineup. Sixers doubled Raptors' EFF score.

Hawks 110, Nuggets 107

Hawks are playing better but Nuggets are woefully thin right now.

Nets 118, Warriors 90

Sign of road weariness: allowing 57.5% FG shooting to Nets. These things happen.

Mavericks 102, T-Wolves 95

Josh Howard outplayed Wally more than KG outplayed Dirk as Mavs win another one with defense.

Trail Blazers 97, Wizards 92

Where have you gone, Larry Hughes?

Rockets 76, Lakers 74

When the effort is there, T-Mac can get it done on both ends of the floor.

Hornets 89, Spurs 76

If Chris Paul continues to school guys like Tony Parker, he'll be this season's ROY easy.

New ratings & predictions are here. Spurs' dud means there is a new second-place team.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

NBA Trak, 12/18

Last night's games:

Clippers 89, Rockets 81
COMMENT: Bad Clips' free-throwing kept this one closer than it should have been.
Pistons 103, Bobcats 78
COMMENT: The Pistons just don't let up. Bobcats need to get Sean May, Ray Felton on floor more, Kareem Rush less - much less. Remember when Gerald Wallace was a burdgeoning All-Star? That was just two weeks ago.
Pacers 102, Knicks 96
COMMENT: Tinsley getting his groove back.
Cavaliers 115, Heat 107
COMMENT: King James. Shaq isn't back.
Grizzlies 91, Suns 87
COMMENT: 114 missed field goal attempts. Suns were 3-4 from the line. NBA is FAN-tastic. Grizz committed just 4 turnovers.
Bulls 118, Celtics 86
COMMENT: Bulls shot 59.7% from floor and assisted on 34 of 43 field goals. Sometimes, it just seems so easy.
Spurs 90, Kings 89
COMMENT: Once-sharp-shooting Kings lose by 1 in game they went 8-16 from the foul line.
Jazz 88, Bucks 80
COMMENT: Who can figure out the Jazz? An up-and-comer: Devin Brown of the Jazz.

As always, the updated rankings and predictions are here. A shocking name sneaks his name onto the 10-worst list. How did he get there? It's a combination of inefficient offense and horrendous defense, a malady which effects nearly the entire team he plays on.
Saturday, December 17, 2005

NBA Trak, 12/17

Updated NBA rankings can be found here. New leader at the top - and the bottom - of the player rankings.

Who's in right?

It's still my position that the Royals don't need to sign a free-agent outfielder. But they appear intent on doing so. Jacque Jones is the likely signing but two other names have been mentioned. Here's a thumbnail look:

PLAYER

AGE

3YR_RD_OPS

ZR**

2005 ROYALS

--

.721*

.873

Preston Wilson

31

.784

.884

Jacque Jones

31

.782

.875

Juan Encarnacion

30

.746

.890

* Royals' 2005 overall park-adjusted OPS for LF; ** projected

From this table, it doesn't look like there is a whole lot of difference between the three. All of would be upgrades with the bat and the glove. As I mentioned yesterday, you have to use the Royals' LF stats last year for comparison because, in essence, that is the lineup spot that will be replaced. Last year's right-fielder, Emil Brown, will be moving to left field. Emil posted a .809 OPS last season.

Dollars and length of contract should be the determining factor here. Jacque Jones may be similar in value to the other two but would you rather have him for three years if you can get one of the others with a two-year pact?

That aside, if you're talking strictly about on-field value, I like Encarnacion. He's the best gloveman in the bunch and has, by far, the best throwing arm. Offensively, he might be a bit below the other two, though the numbers you see here are weighed down by his subpar 2004 season.

Further, Encarnacion is a year younger, no small consideration when you're talking about 30-somethings. His right-handed bat would meld well with a corner-outfield rotation of Encarnacion, Aaron Guiel, Emil Brown and Matt Stairs, though there wouldn't be room for all of them if the Royals go with a 12-man pitching staff. That leaves Chip Ambres out of the equation, which would be semi-regrettable. (By the way, Baird said yesterday that Stairs will be getting time in the outfield during the upcoming season.)

Even though Encarnacion is my preference, there really it really doesn't matter a whole lot who the Royals bring in if the dollars and years are similar.

But, again, I think corner platoons of Stairs/Ambres, Guiel/Brown work just fine. Pocket the $5 million per annum for another season. Which reminds me - a lot of the response that I got yesterday was mildly scolding for being too negative. Perhaps my opening comments were a little harsh but, overall, I think I presented a mixed bag of opinions. Most of the moves are defensible and, in the end, the 2006 Royals will win a few more games than they would have without the moves.

However, I have to reiterate that I think it would be better to keep the payroll supressed for at least another year. I'm working on an analysis of last year's free agent class along with some other big-picture issues. That should be ready in a couple of days.

But, hey, if you're excited about the Royals' moves yesterday, more power to ya. I may be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time.
Friday, December 16, 2005

Baird's big day

I suppose it was bound to happen. You give a guy money to spend, I guess he's going to find a way to spend it. The damage is done. No use crying about what should or shouldn't have been done. Contracts have been signed and they're legally binding and there are no two ways about it.

The worst move is yet to come. Jacque Jones hasn't signed yet, but sounds like he will and his three-year, $15 million deal will be an albatross, the exact kind of move the Royals can't afford to make. Not when you've got better options already in house and even better options coming down the pipe.

Anyway, to recap (with projections from my PROFITS system):

THE PITCHERS
[2005 ROYALS STARTERS: 33-73, 6.00 ERA]

* Mark Redman (9-11 wins, 190 IP, ERA 4.59 - 5.02, 105-115K, 18-23 HR, 58-68 BB, 1.25 GB:FB)
* Scott Elarton (8-10 wins, 180 IP, ERA 5.10 - 6.00, 90-100K, 30-35 HR, 50-60BB, 0.60 GB:FB)

Both of these guys will be around for the next two seasons. Neither will strike out many batters and the Royals have virtually guaranteed that their starters will again finish at the bottom of the league in K's.

Redman has always nominally been a flyball pitcher but posted an excellent 1.65 GB:FB for the Pirates last season. A continuation of that trend would be great. There are no such hopes for Elarton who is an extreme flyball pitcher. He moves from a stingier run-scoring environment in Cleveland so his already-shaky numbers will likely take a hit.

The ERA range for all of the pitchers is predicated on the Royals' DER. A .690 DER would generate the low end of those projections. A .670 figure yields the high end. An extreme bump (say to .700 or .705) would move the pitchers into the neighborhood of league average. But don't hold your breath.

Both pitchers should be an improvement over the stock 6.00 ERA the Royals were getting from starting pitchers in 2005. But they might not be, either. The hope is that they hold steady in the midrange of those projections (4.90 ERA for Redman, 5.50 for Elarton), which would be good enough to keep them in the rotation for 30-35 starts apiece.

That would allow the Royals, and the rest of us, to pin our hopes for pitching improvement to come from:

1. a maturing Zack Greinke
2. a healthier Runelvys Hernandez
3. a more consistent Jeremy Affeldt
4. a potentially dynamite bullpen

In other words, Redman and Elarton can hopefully stop the merry-go-round of replacement-level fodder (and worse) that annually fills out 2/5 - 3/5 of the Royals' rotation. Will that be worth the combined $10 million the two are likely to make each of the next two seasons? What happens if Denny Bautista and J.P. Howell are ready to stick in The Show?

Best case scenario: Redman & Elarton overachieve the first half of next season. Bautista & Howell progress in the minors. Redman and Elarton are flipped at the trade deadline, leaving the Royals with a 2007 rotation of Greinke, Hernandez, Affeldt, Bautista & Howell.

Worst case scenario: Redman and Elarton make us long for the days of Brian Anderson and Jose Lima. Midway through the 2007 season, both are released with the Royals eating considerable dollars. Meanwhile, none of the five young starter aforementioned fulfill their potential.

* Elmer Dessens (3-5 wins, 60-70 IP, 4.40 - 4.95 ERA, 30-40 K, 4-8 HR, 10-15 BB. 1.65 GB:FB)
- Elmer has exceptional command and a sterling groundball ratio. He can go 2-3 innings and his finesse style will be a different look from the BBs fired by Sisco, Burgos, Nunez, et al. But what does he do that is any different than Mike Wood? How many of those guys do you need on your staff? Wood has higher upside. Dessens might work out just fine but it's money that could have been better spent elsewhere. Or, better yet, not spent at all.

POSITION PLAYERS
[2005 ROYALS SECOND BASEMEN: (.235/.293/.334, 9 HR, 55 RBI, 66 R, 4 SB, .786 ZR]

* Mark Grudzielanek (.299/.342/.412, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 69 R, 6 SB; .856 ZR)

I've changed my tune on Grudz. He's a middle infielder who will turn 36 next season but his indicators were solid last season. (CAUTION: middle infielders, when they drop off, do it steeply. See Boone, Bret; Alomar, Roberto) The Royals are only on the hook for him for one year, minimizing the risk.

It will be virtually impossible for a healthy Grudz to not improve the position, both at the plate and in the field. Look at that difference in zone rating. That alone could bump the Royals' DER 5-10 points.

If the Royals could unload Berroa and hand shortstop over to Andres Blanco AND if Mark Teahen plays as he did at the end of last season AND Doug Meintkiewicz hits well enough to hold down the first-base position, then you're looking at a pretty solid infield defense. With the improvement of the young starters the single most important problem facing the Royals, improving the defense to above league average is crucial. They may be on the path to accomplish that.

The other upshot is that during the one-year of Grudz' package, Ruben Gotay and Donnie Murphy will be subject to another much-needed year of development and evaluation. If they don't pan out, then you can pick up Grudz' option for 2007 and hope that Jeff Bianchi is ready beyond that.

* Doug Mientkiewicz (.270/.350/.460, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 60 R, 0 SB; .890 ZR)

Not since the days of Wally Joyner have the Royals seen a capable glove at first base. Well, I guess Jeff King was here but he was mailing it in by the time he was through here. Anyway, I like this move as a stopgap solution if D.M. matches that projection. That's a big, fat if, however.

Last season, he showed surprising pop for the Mets but his batting average was down for the second-straight season. But D.M.'s contact rate and walk percentages have remained steady. Was he unlucky with the average? I can't answer that for sure but his line-drive rate was a good 5 percent below the National League average. That's a sign of slowed bat speed.

But, as I say, the risk is minimal. Sure, he's blocking Justin Huber but Huber could use more Class AAA seasoning anyway. If D.M. can't hit at all anymore, then Huber is always just a phone call away. D.M. would then just be an expensive defensive replacement.

* Paul Bako (Sal Fasano, Tim Spehr, Jorge Fabregas, Hector Ortiz, A.J. Hinch, Mike DiFelice, Alberto Castillo, Kelly Stinnett - does it really matter?)

[2005 ROYALS LF: .276/.324/.396, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 81 R, 5 SB, .873 ZR from right fielders]
* Jacque Jones (.257/.321/.442, 25 HR, 84 RBI, 82 R, 15 SB; .875 ZR)

I used left field hitting stats here because Jones will be replacing Emil Brown in right, who will move to left. While the zone-rating improvment projects to be nominal, the ZR for that position is flaky and Jones will be a defensive upgrade.

Jones projects to be a slight upgrade at the plate over the Royals' paltry LF production from last season, which came primarily from Terrence Long. But will it be better than what the Royals could get from a platoon of Matt Stairs & Chip Ambres? Was it worth it to designate Matt Diaz for assignment?

Those questions pertain to this season but what about beyond that? Billy Butler? Alex Gordon? Hello? Remember, folks, the Royals' offer to Jones is three years, $15 million. Perhaps it won't happen but if (or when) it does, it'll be a terrible acquisition.

Overall, the Royals have acquired a group of players that, in the aggregate, is mediocre or slightly worse. That, sad to say, does improve the ballclub over the short term. Other than Jones, none of these players are likely to be blocking a younger player who ought to be playing in a regular big-league role in 2006.

I give tepid thumbs-up to signings of Mientkiewicz and Redman, a solid thumbs-up to Grudzielanek, a moderate thumbs-down to Dessens and Elarton, a who-cares to Bako and a resounding thumbs-down to Jacque Jones.

The unasked question here is whether it would have been better for the Royals to take it on the chin for another year, save these funds for the next off-season, and hope their not-ready-for-prime-time crew develops at the big-league level. That was my preference at the beginning and after Baird's spending frenzy of the last two days, that preference hasn't changed.
Thursday, December 15, 2005

NBA Daily

For those of you that have used the Blogger platform to post data tables, you know how aggravating it can be. On this site, the problem is compounded by the Knight Ridder coding that is forced onto the template. So...

I'm going to keep this page text only. But don't worry. I'll still be lashing together tables. I'll upload them as seperate pages and link to them. It'll be better this way. Trust me.

Anyway, no time for commentary right now, but the complete updated NBA Trak ratings with yesterday's results can be found here.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005

NBA Trak, 12/14

TUESDAY'S SCORES

E

W/L?

OFF

REC

Hawks 100, Cavaliers 94

L

15

0-1

Wizards 94, Nets 74

W

18

1-1

Nuggets 101, Bobcats 85

W

15

2-1

Kings 93, T-Wolves 91

L

9

2-2

Spurs 95, Clippers 87

W

12

3-2

Heat 100, Bulls 97

W

5

4-2

Warriors 110, Sonics 107

W

3

5-2

NBAT LINES:

PREDICTION



ClevelandCavaliers

By

10

WashingtonWizards

By

4

DenverNuggets

By

2

MinnesotaT-wolves

By

8

SanAntonioSpurs

By

5

MiamiHeat

By

2

SeattleSupersonics

By

1

A shocking Cavaliers' loss and a miracle three-pointer from Bonzi Wells were all that kept NBAT (NBA Trak) from forecasting a perfect night. Some good match-ups last night:

ENIGMATIC CAVS

Just what is wrong with LeBron and company? It seems as if James has hot lately because he has been on a scoring tear. Over the Cavs' last eight games, James has averaged 35.4 points per contest. But his EFF average is just 30.0 over that span. When your point average is higher than your per-game EFF, you're playing inefficient basketball.

It may be a case of LeBron trying to do too much right now, but if he's going to make an extra effort, it should be on the opposite end of the floor. Cleveland is in the lower third of the NBA in defensive EFF. As an individual defender, James is getting his share of steals and blocks but his man-on-man indicators are not good at all. In fact, his defensive numbers are so poor that he shows up at #22 in the player rankings. With his ability and skill, he should be in the top five, no doubt.

It's time for LeBron to get serious about defense.

CARMELO RISING?

Great game from Carmelo Anthony last night:

in

Pts

Reb

Ast

Stl

Blk

To

eff

40

42

8

4

4

2

4

48

The consensus is that Anthony has really taken a step forward this season. Has he? Absolutely. Melo is averaging a 19.4 EFF this season after posting 16.5 and 16.9 EFFs during his first two campaigns. What's more, he's doing it in fewer minutes: Anthony is averaging 33.8 minutes this season versus 34.8 last. (The reason, of course, is he had one game where he played only a couple of minutes before leaving with an ankle injury.)

So Anthony is better this season and is showing signs of maturity in that his offensive numbers better reflect his strengths. He is attempting fewer three-pointers this year and, as a result, his FG% has risen to .463 and he is getting to the line more often.

As for the rest of his game, Anthony has been pretty stagnant, which is bad news because he needed improvement. He doesn't rebound well for his size and isn't as adept at getting teammates involved as you'd like your star player to be. His defensive numbers suck - they're so bad that they almost completely cancel out his offensive efficiency.

Anthony is still a winning player and is getting better. But he has a long way to go to be elite.

CLASH OF THE TITANS

The other interesting story last night was the match-up between Elton Brand and Tim Duncan. The Clippers fell just short in San Antonio but even in losing, Los Angeles is showing that they have a complete squad capable of getting a high seed in the Western Conference bracket and winning in the playoffs.

The acquisitions of Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley have worked out far better than anyone could have anticipated and the team really has a nice chemistry. But don't lose sight of the fact that the engine that drives the Clippers is Elton Brand. He was one of the most valuable players in the league last year and, this season, he is doing even better.

Entering last night's game, Brand and Duncan were in the top three of the NBAT player rankings. Even after playing each other last night, they now are the top two thanks to an off-night from Kevin Garnett.

Based on seasonal averages and the minutes played last night, both players should have been expected to post a 35 EFF. Brand ended up with a 24 EFF and Duncan with a 32. So both players hold their opponent beneath norms but the advantage clearly went to Duncan, especially when you consider that Duncan's 3-13 performance from the foul line depressed his EFF. That's not really something that Brand can take credit for.

At this point in the season, Tim Duncan is head and shoulders above Brand, Garnett, Shawn Marion and Dwyane Wade as the league's best player.

TONIGHT'S VIEWER'S GUIDE

Visitor

Home

TIMES CST

QUAL

PREDICTION



AtlantaHawks

Philadelphia76ers

6_p.m.

(16)

Philadelphia76ers

by

8

ChicagoBulls

TorontoRaptors

6_p.m.

(27)

TorontoRaptors

by

1

CharlotteBobcats

NJNets

6:30_p.m.

(9)

NJNets

by

4

IndianaPacers

BostonCeltics

6:30_p.m.

5

IndianaPacers

by

1

OrlandoMagic

NYKnicks

6:30_p.m.

(17)

NYKnicks

by

4

SacramentoKings

DetroitPistons

6:30_p.m.

11

DetroitPistons

by

8

LAClippers

NOrleansHornets

7_p.m.

7

LAClippers

by

5

LALakers

MemphisGrizzlies

7_p.m.

2

MemphisGrizzlies

by

3

MiamiHeat

MilwaukeeBucks

7_p.m.

4

MilwaukeeBucks

by

1

PhoenixSuns

DallasMavericks

7_p.m._(ESPN)

35

PhoenixSuns

by

pick'em

PortlandTrailBlazers

UtahJazz

8_p.m.

(23)

UtahJazz

by

10

HoustonRockets

GSWarriors

9:30_p.m._(ESPN)

(1)

GSWarriors

by

3

TEAM RANKINGS

.

POWER

14-Dec

1

PhoenixSuns

22.4

2

SanAntonioSpurs

20.0

3

LAClippers

13.5

4

DetroitPistons

13.1

5

DallasMavericks

12.8

6

MinnesotaT-wolves

11.9

7

IndianaPacers

8.9

8

DenverNuggets

7.1

9

MiamiHeat

5.7

10

ClevelandCavaliers

3.4

11

MemphisGrizzlies

2.0

12

GSWarriors

1.2

13

LALakers

(0.4)

14

Philadelphia76ers

(0.4)

15

SacramentoKings

(0.6)

16

UtahJazz

(1.5)

17

HoustonRockets

(1.9)

18

MilwaukeeBucks

(2.6)

19

WashingtonWizards

(2.7)

20

NJNets

(2.8)

21

BostonCeltics

(3.3)

22

CharlotteBobcats

(6.0)

23

NOrleansHornets

(6.7)

24

ChicagoBulls

(7.1)

25

OrlandoMagic

(8.4)

26

NYKnicks

(9.3)

27

SeattleSupersonics

(9.5)

28

AtlantaHawks

(16.2)

29

TorontoRaptors

(19.3)

30

PortlandTrailBlazers

(21.8)

PLAYER RANKINGS

No.

TPR

14-Dec

1

duncan,tim

16.75

2

brand,elton

14.43

3

garnett,kevin

14.41

4

marion,shawn

13.40

5

wade,dwyane

12.94

6

camby,marcus

11.82

7

mcgrady,tracy

10.82

8

o'neal,jermaine

10.46

9

gasol,pau

10.14

10

nowitzki,dirk

9.78

11

billups,chauncey

9.49

12

nash,steve

8.56

13

frye,channing

8.51

14

ming,yao

7.88

15

stoudamire,damon

7.67

16

maggette,corey

7.57

17

redd,michael

7.57

18

abdur-rahim,shar

7.23

19

howard,dwight

7.00

20

okur,mehmet

6.50

21

parker,tony

6.49

22

james,lebron

6.35

23

francis,steve

6.09

24

butler,caron

5.97

25

jones,james

5.91


BOTTOM TEN


1

james,mike

(12.17)

2

rose,jalen

(10.45)

3

simmons,bobby

(9.74)

4

najera,eduardo

(8.05)

5

daniels,antonio

(7.57)

6

graham,joey

(7.22)

7

mason,desmond

(6.47)

8

dixon,juan

(6.16)

9

calderon,jose

(6.11)

10

rush,kareem

(6.08)

TOP SINGLE-GAME TPRs FOR LAST WEEK

12/11

wade,dwyane

61.09

12/10

james,lebron

52.07

12/12

webber,chris

50.91

12/9

carter,vince

48.48

12/13

allen,ray

46.00

12/13

anthony,carmelo

44.81

12/11

butler,caron

43.48

12/13

duncan,tim

42.72

12/10

brand,elton

42.24

12/10

iverson,allen

41.52

12/12

kirilenko,andrei

40.74

12/7

duncan,tim

40.72

12/11

brand,elton

40.20

12/12

frye,channing

38.29

12/9

przybilla,joel

36.78

12/10

harrington,al

36.72

12/11

paul,chris

36.59

12/7

garnett,kevin

36.47

12/11

abdur-rahim,shar

36.31

12/9

jefferson,richar

35.97