The Philadelphia 76ers and the 9,999:1 Bet

I’m not a betting man, but this is an intriguing betting story from Las Vegas. According to the AP, one Vegas bookmaker, LVH, has listed an astronomical 9,999 to 1 odds that the Philadelphia 76ers will win the NBA title in 2014:

As the NBA season tips off, the over-under for total wins for the 76ers this year is 16.5, the lowest of any team and the lowest that LVH sports book oddsmaker Jeff Sherman can remember putting up on any NBA team in the last decade or so.

That means optimistic Philly fans — assuming there are any for a team with only a handful of legitimate NBA players — can win money if they bet their team can win 17 games or more in the 82-game regular season. Conversely, those who think the 76ers are even worse than they look can cash in if the season win total is 16 or fewer.

“They’ve pretty much made it known in Philadelphia they’re trying to get the No. 1 pick for Andrew Wiggins and not holding back,” Sherman said. “Teams try for the draft pick sometimes late in the season, but they’re basically doing it the whole season.”

It gets even better for true believers. They can get astronomical odds of 9,999-1 if they want to wager at the LVH on the 76ers winning the NBA title.

“It was the highest number our computers would let us put in,” Sherman said.

The 76ers aren’t alone in chasing after Wiggins, who has NBA scouts drooling even though he he’s just beginning his freshman season at Kansas. Things are pretty dismal in the desert, too, with the Phoenix Suns posted as the next worst NBA team with an over-under total of 19.5 wins.

That’s your bit of sports trivia at your next party/social gathering.

Jack Taylor Scores 138 Points in a Division III Basketball Game for Grinnell

Last night, Jack Taylor, a player on the Division III basketball team for Grinnell, set an all-time NCAA scoring record with 138 points in a single game (!). Insane. How did he do it? ESPN takes a look:

For the past two decades, Grinnell coach David Arseneault has been running his system(“The System”), based on his formula (“The Formula”), which explicitly requires his team to shoot at least 94 field goals per game, 47 of which should be 3-pointers. Arseneault recruits almost exclusively sharpshooting guards, so that his players can be interchangeable when he runs them in quickfire all-five line changes every other minute. It’s a totally insane, totally thrilling way to play basketball, and it’s also an elephant and a tiger and a creepy clown shy of a straight-up circus freakshow.

So when you ask yourself, “How in the name of everything holy did some D-III kid just score 138 points?,” Arseneault’s crazy system is a good place to start. 

But alas, it’s not the whole answer. Typically, Grinnell’s offense is designed to be balanced. In Tuesday night’s 179-104 victory over Faith Baptist Bible, however, Taylor shot 108 field goals (he made 52), 71 of which were 3s (he made 27). He recorded three rebounds and zero assists, and he didn’t even shoot 50 percent from the field. The rest of his teammates combined for a grand total of 28 field goals. So not only was Grinnell running its inherently insane team system, it was obviously running it with the expressed purpose of getting Taylor enough shots to score an utterly mind-blowing number of points. 

A more cynical person would say that it’s pretty clear what Grinnell was trying to do here. It wasn’t merely trying to win a game. It was trying to set a record and get on “SportsCenter” and reap the benefits of copious Internet coverage. And guess what: It worked.

More about Jack Taylor’s accomplishment here and here.

Exploring New York Through Pickup Basketball

Isaac Eger moved to New York City on a whim: no job, no girlfriend, no aspirations. But he had one curiosity: the city’s mythical ownership of pickup basketball. Were its legendary courts just New York hype? He set out exploring the pick-up courts in what he describes as a “a little stream of consciousness, a little underreported, full of a bunch of first names and first impressions”:

If New York is the city that never sleeps, it is probably because the city never shuts up.

Drowning the shriek of sneakers and the clangs of missed shots is the constant trash talk from the players on and off the court.

“Shoot it! I dare you!”

“You ain’t got nothing.”

“I’m gonna score from the block next time. Wait and see.”

Players on the city’s courts comment on what you wear, how you look, how you smell, what you do, how you blink and breathe. Cries and hoots from the sidelines fill the park when someone gets crossed, blocked or dunked on.

On being close:

Though everything seems to be less than an hour away, people do not appear too inclined to venture far beyond their neighborhood. Perhaps there is a level of comfort that comes with picking a court and sticking with it — like picking your favorite bar or cigarette brand. All of the players seem to know one another’s nicknames, tricks and extended families.

The city’s busy, congested courts have influenced the style of play that takes place on them. For instance, I haven’t run across many pure shooters, but I have encountered a lot of athletes with wicked ball-handling skills. My theory is that because the courts here are so packed with players, there is not enough time or space to practice jump shots.

That is why so many shooters, I suspect, are cornfed boys from the Midwest and prep schoolers from the suburbs: the country and sprawl quarantine them, and they have nothing to do but practice fundamentals by their lonesome.

His conclusion on the guys he played with on the courts:

We weren’t going to be friends. Ever.

But teammates? Perhaps.

The 13 Types of Players in the NBA

Is there a term for Sabemetrics of basketball? What Muthu Alagappan, a Stanford undergrad, is doing in his spare time could qualify. His new super-nerd study suggests that there are really 13 positions in basketball—not just five.

The first thing to know about the thirteen NBA positions—Muthu labeled them offensive ball-handler, defensive ball-handler, combo ball-handler, shooting ball-handler, role-playing ball-handler, 3-point rebounder, scoring rebounder, paint protector, scoring paint protector, role player, NBA first team, NBA second team, and one-of-a-kind—is that the idea of thirteen NBA positions is a misnomer. Anyone who’s ever watched basketball knows that there are more than thirteen positions, and not even Isaiah Thomas would put together a team based solely on five positions. Indeed, the best basketball players are like soccer midfielders: They can function anywhere on the court, they make their teams better, and they’re not defined by position. But Muthu’s positions weren’t all that rigid. Tony Parker is an offensive ball-handler, which separates him from John Wall, considered a combo ball-handler, not based on anything stylistic but solely because of their statistics. Tyson Chandler, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, is a paint protector who specializes on one side of the floor. Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are actually scoring paint protectors. Some players are in a league of their own: Kevin Durant and LeBron James, for example, are NBA first-teamers. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard are one-of-a-kinders whose statistical combinations make them NBA outliers.

The graphic representation of the 13 players looks like something out of a molecular biology textbook:

The thirteen types of players in the NBA

Read the rest of the piece here.

Shooting Patterns of the Heat and Thunder

One of the most anticipated NBA finals in years is set to begin tonight.

The shooting patterns for the players on the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder reveal where they are most dangerous on the court. Before the series begins tonight, compare each player’s strengths using court maps and analysis by Kirk Goldsberry, a geography professor at Michigan State, in this stunning New York Times infographic.

The related blog post is here.

On the Origin of the Tournament Bracket

March Madness begins today. And that means everyone is scrambling to finish their brackets. Well, almost. An estimated 45 percent of Americans fill out the brackets with their predictions of the results each year, and Barack Obama has referred to the practice as “a national pastime.”

But what about the history of the bracket? Where does its origin lie? According to this piece in The Wall Street Journal, the bracket isn’t a modern invention and may have originated with the Greeks:

Steven Murray, a Colorado Mesa University professor who has studied the history of sports, said the concept that inspired the bracket—a single-elimination sporting competition with many rounds—isn’t a modern invention. He said the ancient Greeks held wrestling and boxing competitions starting around 700 B.C. where the combatants would draw lots to set pairings.

If the tournament pairings were posted in a bracket form, Murray said, they probably would have been painted with pigment on scrolls, placards or walls and wouldn’t have survived.

But perhaps the modern bracket had its origins with a more familiar concept, the family tree:

Several historians, when confronted with the question, speculated that the basketball bracket could have its roots in another organizational art form: the family tree. Brenton Simons, president and chief executive of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, said renderings of family trees date at least to the 18th century in the U.S. and stretch back centuries before in other countries.

Most likely, the modern rendition of the sports bracket can be traced to England with the Lawn Tennis Championship at Wimbledon.

So basically, the origin of the bracket is still a mystery. Click here to view a slideshow accompanying the article showcasing various brackets throughout history. For more info on the history of the bracket, see this explainer in Slate.

The Evolution of Jeremy Lin

The phenomenon that is #Linsanity has swept the nation… The saga began after Jeremy Lin had a 25-point Game at Madison Square Garden on February 4. Since then, Jeremy Lin has been averaging more than 20 points and dishing out nearly 9 assists per game for the New York Knicks. In my opinion, he has single-handedly resurrected the shortened NBA season.

But what of Jeremy Lin’s evolution? Cut twice by two NBA teams, this fascinating New York Times story reveals how Jeremy Lin’s evolution as a point guard we observe today was gradual. Over a span of eighteen months, he has shown dedication to get better at his game. It meant coming to the training arena before anyone else and leaving after everyone else has gone home. The Jeremy Lin that is now the starting point guard for the Knicks isn’t the same player as the one who entered NBA after his playing days at Harvard:

It began with lonely 9 a.m. workouts in downtown Oakland in the fall of 2010; with shooting drills last summer on a backyard court in Burlingame, Calif.; and with muscle-building sessions at a Menlo Park fitness center.

It began with a reworked jump shot, a thicker frame, stronger legs, a sharper view of the court — enhancements that came gradually, subtly, through study and practice and hundreds of hours spent with assistant coaches, trainers and shooting instructors over 18 months.

My favorite anecdote from the story is a game called “Beating the Ghost”. This passage shows Lin’s dedication to continue improving:

Doc Scheppler has coached in Bay Area high schools for 34 years. He first saw Lin as a scrawny eighth-grader. But even then, “he had the ability to see the floor, make the right decision, make the correct angle pass. And that is just not done at 13, 14 years old.”

Last summer, Lin sought out Scheppler to help him with his 3-point shot. It was improving, but Lin was still shooting too high and throwing the ball — a “flying weapon,” Scheppler called it.

Working mostly in Scheppler’s backyard in Burlingame, Lin learned to begin his shot on the way up and release it at his peak. They also worked on a variety of in-game situations: the catch-and-shoot, off-the-dribble shots, and hesitation moves to create space.

Lin’s perfectionist tendencies came out in a 3-point-shooting drill called “beat the ghost,” in which Lin earned 1 point for every shot he made at the arc and the “ghost” earned 3 points for every shot Lin missed.

On one occasion, Lin made 17 3-pointers but lost 21-17, then kicked the ball in anger, Scheppler recalled with a chuckle. He refused to stop until he beat the ghost. It took 14 games. When Scheppler tallied up all of the scores for the day, Lin had converted 71 percent of his shots from the arc. “That’s the beauty of Jeremy Lin,” Scheppler said. “It’s not about moral victories. It’s ‘I have to win.’ ”

Of all the stories I’ve read about Jeremy Lin, The New York Times piece is one of (if not) the best explainer of Jeremy Lin’s rising stardom in the NBA. It didn’t happen overnight.

Jeremy Lin: From Harvard to the NBA

The New York Times has a great story on Jeremy Lin, an NBA player currently with the New York Knicks. He is an Asian-American in a league devoid of them (the only other name that comes to mind is Yao Ming). He is the N.B.A.’s first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent and only the fourth Asian-American in league history.

Lin received no college scholarship offers, even though he lead his Palo Alto High School team to a 32-1 record and the California championship. At Harvard, he was twice named to the all-Ivy League first team and delivered a signature 30-point performance against 12th-ranked Connecticut. In June 2010, he went undrafted in the NBA. His defense, jump shot, and just about everything else seemed subpar compared to the NBA elites. Why is he receiving so much attention all of a sudden? Not only is he helping the Knicks overcome a mediocre season, but

[T]he Lin phenomenon transcends race or nationality. He resonates with devout Christians, because he speaks openly of his faith, a sort of Taiwanese Tim Tebow. He taps into the passions of Harvard alumni, Ivy Leaguers, New Yorkers and anyone anywhere who loves an underdog.

Below, some highlights of Lin’s ability to pass, score, and play defense:

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Related: this piece on Jeremy Lin reminded me of the Remarkable Story of the Caltech Basketball Team.