Thursday, April 29, 2010

Foul Trouble in the NBA (sport, NBA2H)

My friend JLW (blog link to the side) recently wrote a post about foul trouble in the NBA. Read his post here. I believe, however, that he left out a few key points which I'll address here.

First, note that in the current age of the NBA, taking players out solely for foul trouble is usually limited to big men. Rather, the best way to put it is that coaches take players out for "foul trouble" nowadays only if the player is one that is prone to fouling as part of his game. This usually applies to big men because the physicality in the paint still exists while the hand check rules on the perimeter have been long gone.

The most important point that I think JLW missed was one of effectiveness. A player who is afraid of picking up another foul and getting really close to fouling out will often play less aggressively. This results in weaker defense as well as being hesitant to take it strong to the hoop. Because the NBA is so full of talent these days, bench players are often not that much of a downgrade, and a bench player playing at 100% will often be just as effective as the "star" player who's scared of picking up another foul. More than anything, the n/6 rule of thumb tempers that fear and allows the player to play better psychologically.

As for caveat #1 in his post, I don't really see how rest factors into this at all. While in the long run, rest and playing less minutes will probably lead to better production overall, that is not necessarily true in the short term for any given game. How often do you see a player be red hot in the first half only to go cold in the second? Both being rested and being tired will affect the mechanics of a shooter, where just a slight difference might throw things off. Also, there is a matter of adrenaline. The ability to play through pain. To step up in big moments. A player being "in the zone" and wanting the ball is much more important than taking him out to rest. This is one of the reasons that even though I love bridge and poker, I cannot classify them as sports. To me, physical sports involve a pain factor that just isn't present in mind sports/games. Now, if they created the no caffeine no smoking bridge world championships, we might be a step closer.

As for caveat #2, I strongly believe that minutes/possessions are not created equal (more details in the bonus rant below). The wide-open Kerr analogy is very flawed because if it wasn't for Jordan drawing a double-team, how does Kerr get wide open? Furthermore, you want your best player in the game at the end not just for the basic stats he may provide (scoring, assists, whatever) but for his decision making. More often than not, the war is won when the opposing general is lost, rather than fighting down to last man standing. With regards to the amount of time the key player leaves the game, even at n/6, 8 minutes in the NBA is a long time, especially in the drawn out final moments.

My objections above illustrate that playing key players through foul trouble is not at all "all upside". With regards to assessing the risk of sitting the player for too long, this is often a matter of the quality of the coach himself. Gregg Popovich would NEVER make that mistake. I've often seen him take players out for foul trouble, but put them back in the moment the game might get away from them. Since this is an execution issue and not a concept issue, you can't generalize based on the bad coaches. ie. the issue here is not whether to take the guy out for foul trouble, but rather for how long.

The NBA is actually at the forefront of the quantitative, stats-driven movement amongst all the sports. Without actually following the NBA closely, one should not make judgments about how strategy is implemented as a whole. Which brings me to the bonus rant, which is actually the meat of the matter.

#Bonus rant#

While JLW doesn't agree with the simple baseline model (or rather, thinks it's oversimplified), I also want to put in something here about it being just plain wrong. There was an astounding number of times when I was doing my masters work in statistics that I would hear or read some sports statistician go on and on about how "minutes/possessions later in the game being more important than minutes/possessions earlier in the game is just a common misconception". In the end, they are just plain wrong. Especially when it comes to the NBA. I don't want to get into it any further, but let's just say that my assumptions on how the game works (which are quite different from most simple models) are a huge part of my NBA2H strategy, and the results speak for themselves.

Statisticians love iid distributions and other things that can be broken down simply because it helps them fit models to data (or if you're a Bayesian, fit data to models). However, when it comes to sports, such simplicity just doesn't work. When you don't play the sport, when you don't follow the NBA nightly, and when you don't understand the grind, you can't model everything correctly. Here's a simple example from when I was a kid. I was talking to my older cousin, who played for his high school basketball team, about a friend who had remarkable accuracy shooting shots from the foul line. My cousin's response was, "Well, have him run up and down the court 50 times and see how well he shoots it then." Even though I'm a big fan of the quant/sabermetrics movement in sports, I'd rather it be done by guys who've ran up and down the court 50 times.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thoughts on the NBA Playoffs (sport)

After watching the playoffs for a week, here are some thoughts on each of the series.


Not much to say here except that Lebron James is beyond incredible, and that Derrick Rose is very entertaining to watch. Regardless of whether he stays or goes, I think LBJ understands that this will be his best chance at a championship in the next three years. Chicago is almost there, and with the progress of Rose and Noah, probably could have made some real impact had they dealt Gordon (two years ago) and/or Deng. They really need some muscle down low, and a real spot up shooter would be nice too.


Charlotte plays hard every game, and it's a shame that it looks like they're heading for a sweep. They are a really good group for Larry Brown, so he might stay a bit longer. They've done a really good job of making Howard uncomfortable, but when Jameer Nelson gets hot it's too hard to stop Orlando. To me, they are clearly the deepest team in the playoffs.


They were showing a stat during game 3 of the series that in Atlanta's last 9 road playoff games, they were 1-8 with an average loss margin of 24. Game 3 stayed on track with that average, and if Milwaukee can repeat that performance, this will be a series. Even though they weren't really in it in both games in Atlanta, they weren't blown out either, so there's still some reason to possibly fear the deer. It's quite sad to think how the Bucks would have been able to play if Bogut didn't get injured. Brandon Jennings is a winner and I believe he will continue to be a winner the rest of his NBA career. Even if people compare him to Allen Iverson, Iverson did make it to an NBA finals with a horrific supporting cast. Jennings, though, has the benefit of having Skiles as his coach, and he's done a good job of keeping Jennings in his place while letting him go off when he's feeling it. I feel much more confident about the futures of Jennings and Curry among this year's rookie class than Tyreke Evans, who could easily end up being a Steve Francis (although I hope not).


I don't blame the Miami coach for not using his last foul in game three. Doc Rivers draws up fantastic out of bounds plays, so there wasn't much advantage in having the Celtics take it out. Rather, I think there just wasn't enough preparation on the part of the defender, since Pierce was allowed to step to his right and pull up, which is essentially his move. Wade is still amazing, but with both Jermaine O'Neal and Michael Beasley not really showing up there's nothing he can do.


An entertaining series through and through. Kevin Durant is mature beyond his years and could easily will them to this upset. Russell Westbrook is just schooling the older, slower Derek Fisher. While much of the talk has been about Kobe not being full strength, I believe the key to this series (and possible future Lakers series) will be the bench. Once considered the deepest team in the NBA along with the Nuggets, their bench is much thinner now and definitely underperforming. It's easier for bench players to play much better at home, so maybe the Lakers will squeeze it out with the home court advantage.


This was the matchup I really didn't want, since I like both teams. Dallas would have matched up well against almost any other team. Unfortunately, a couple of their key pieces (Kidd and Marion) have not had much success historically against the Spurs. Caron Butler has underperformed, while Jason Terry hasn't gone on one of his hot streaks. What I really think Dallas needs to do is to really utilize the extra set of fouls down low now that they have two effective centers in Dampier and Haywood. They need to rough up Duncan a bit, make him work hard in the post, and wear him down. As for the Spurs, putting Parker on the bench has really opened up the game for Richard Jefferson, since Manu is a better passer. I think they should definitely play Dajuan Blair, Manu, George Hill and Richard Jefferson together while playing Parker with Bogans and McDyess.


What a crazy series. The return of Brandon Roy is what most will talk about, but there is a real chess game going on in this series. First Andre Miller went off. So Gentry put Grant Hill on him, slowing him down, while letting Jason Richardson use his energy on the offensive end. McMillan counters by starting Bayless as well, so that with two speedy point guard types, they expose Nash on defense. While the two teams have very different styles, they are actually fairly evenly matched overall, so it should be interesting what set of moves come next.


Two teams that won't be able to reach their full potential this season because of late injuries. However, they both play an entertaining up-tempo game so it's fun to watch. With Utah being such a good home team though, I make them a strong favorite now that they took home field advantage. The real story of this series for me has been Deron Williams' strong play. He's getting himself back into that Chris Paul level of untouchable point guards. I also like that Boozer has played well, showing that the Utah front office know what they're doing.

It's been very entertaining so far, and I'm looking foward to more.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lunch at Bhatti Indian Grill (food)

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned Bhatti before, and this time it's pretty much the same mixed review. I really like the food, but the service is mediocre at best, though there's been a little improvement since the last time I went. The only thing different about this review is that there are pictures. I went for their set lunch special, which is $7.95 for vegetarian and $9.95 for nonvegetarian and offers unlimited servings. You pretty much have to do unlimited to compete with all the buffets in the area.

We start off with chaat. Good flavors, good textures. A good sign of things to come.

Assorted chicken and kebabs, done on the namesake bhatti grill. It is far and away more moist and flavorful than any meat in any of the buffet steam trays around town. Again, this was unlimited, so I think I ended up ordering thirds. Sorry for the bad pic, I didn't do any QC while I was taking them.

Assortment of curries. There was aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower), paneer masala (cheese with tomato and onion), a terrifically moist and flavorful rice, chickpeas, lentils, and chicken curry. I would have preferred a little more char on the naan, but it was decent.

Dessert. Kheer? It was sweet without being sickly so.

Lots of food. Great flavors and textures. The service is coming around, if very slowly. Then again, if you look at the price and compare it to a buffet lunch, it really stands out above the pack in terms of quality if you ask me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

TV gained and TV lost (tv)

TV gained:

Conan O'Brien signs with TBS to do their 11pm slot, with George Lopez pushed to midnight. This makes perfect sense for everyone. Lopez's audience is younger, so they'll definitely be in the Conan range, and Lopez will now be part of a duo, which should lead to stronger ratings than a standalone late night show against the networks. Given the NBC debacle, it's nice to see that they all handled this signing very well. Just goes to show once again that the best brains in TV are on cable (and not just the expensive premium cable). To use an analogy, it's like the brain drain from Wall Street (the networks) when many of the young and bright stars left and went into hedge funds (basic cable is responsible for many of the recent Emmy winners and keeps setting new ratings records).

Read online somewhere that the pre-finale show will be 2 hours long for LOST, meaning the full night's programming for that night will be 5 hours of LOST-related TV.

TV lost:

My first iPod blacked out last week and erased everything I had on it. Since I no longer have the original computer on which the files were kept, I lost all the iTunes store stuff I had on it. This included the first seasons of Damages and 30 Rock, and the first two seasons of The Loop, How I Met Your Mother, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. A lot of good TV lost.

It's weird enough to me that TV advertising still works in this age of the DVR, but why do lead-ins still work? Are people still that lazy to change the channel or look ahead of time to see what might be good on other channels?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Random Food Pics (food)

Between tax season, earnings season, the start of the baseball season, basketball playoffs, the search for a new place, and the subsequent move, I expect to be very busy in the coming month plus. So until I move (I hate moving it's such a pain) and can post more regularly, here's some food porn for everyone to enjoy.

The first of these come from a lunch at EMP with my buddy BL.

Big eye tuna tartare. Tuna tartare is still such a tired dish for me. The one at Momofuku Ko was the last one I really enjoyed.

Lamb done many ways, with loin, merguez, sweetbreads, and confit. Every part was delicious and full of lamb flavor.

I'd never had the chicken for two before, because the description on the menu is rather plain, but it came highly recommended. So I tried it and now I crave it. The piece on the right is the breast, cooked beautifully, with crisp skin and a layer of foie/truffle mixture between the skin and the meat. The mixture reminds me of the pate and duxelles layer in a beef wellington and is very flavorful.

Accompanying the chicken breast is a fricasee of pieces of chicken thighs and legs, so that one can have both white and dark meat. This is really good but I wish that they threw in some chicken liver into this fricasee as well. Then again, I can understand how that might not appeal to everyone.

The meatball from Gramercy Tavern (tavern side). Made of beef, pork, and veal, then stuffed with fontina cheese. Served on top of potato or parsnip puree and onion marmalade, this thing is delicious and the meatball is incredibly moist. However, it's been quite a while since I've been to Gramercy Tavern and the meatball looked smaller than I last remember it. That matters considering it's $18.

Pastitsio brought in by coworker PS. PS's wife and in-laws are Greek and so they cooked a ridiculous amount of food for Easter Sunday and I partook in the leftovers at work. I've loved pastitsio ever since I had it as a kid at the neighborhood Greek diner when I grew up in Queens. It's essentially layered pasta and meat sauce, topped with a bechamel sauce and baked. It's like a lasagna with cream sauce. Everyone should love it. While some think that the bechamel sauce makes the pastitsio, I find that the most important thing is the seasoning on the meat and meat sauce. I don't have any photos, but the following day PS brought in huge chunks of lamb with home-made tzatziki (his wife made the yogurt herself) which was also delicious.

Happy hour is always happier with food, and so we tend to go to 1849 every now and again for their 20 cent wings and $3 beer and well drinks 3-6pm every day. The wings are actually really good and of decent size, as seen in the photo. They come in hot/medium/mild and bbq with ranch or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

More Random Thoughts (entertainment, sports, tv, food)

This is what happens when I'm stuck at home (to watch the NCAA) over a long weekend. Lots of random thoughts.

Since The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there have been quite a few large-scale fantasy adventure movies. However, none of them have really been very good. Harry Potter is consistent but not breath-taking. The Chronicles of Narnia are just bleh. Pirates of the Carribean got worse and worse. So my vote for the best fantasy movie series since LOTR has never actually been in theaters. It is the God of War trilogy. Yes GOW is a video game, and it is completely animated. It also is not child-friendly because of its over-the-top gore and nudity. But the story is actually quite good and the visual effects are quite stunning. Someone finally put all the GOW3 cut scenes into a movie and it is definitely worth watching.

Also worth watching this year has been 60 Minutes. Maybe I'm just getting old, but the interviews this year have been very entertaining. Beyonce, Andre Agassi, Michael Lewis, Mikhail Prokhorov, etc. are all people I actually want to hear about. They also do a pretty good job when they report on medical discoveries. I don't care at all for Andy Rooney, but the main point is that every once in a while, 60 Minutes does come up with a can't-miss interview of someone really interesting.

Playing Bo Jackson on the old Tecmo Bowl or Tecmo Super Bowl (using a NES emulator online) is like watching the end scene of a Benny Hill episode. See here.

So I was eating my McDonald's Filet-o-Fish (hard to beat 2 for $3) and noticed on the box that they emphasized sustainable fish. Except that there's a little problem. McD's used to use cod, until cod catches declined and they needed to move on. Then they used hoki, and continue to use hoki, although they lowered its use as there began a decline of New Zealand hoki fishery sustainability. So they moved on to Alaskan pollock a few years ago, but now the catch numbers of that fish have declined as well. Anyone notice a pattern here? (information from wikipedia)

This is also a completely different problem from species such as chilean seabass, bluefin tuna, and shark (shark's fin), where they are endangered because of the high prices for them. I'm worried that we are going to approach a point of saturation. One where "normal" consumption habits of an overpopulated world would put too much stress on wildlife regeneration.

This problem will also spread to farmed fish. Cows that are not fed grass. Chicken feed that noone probably ever wants to know the underlying ingredients of. Fish need to eat protein too, and if fishing for smaller fish such as sardines also becomes unsustainable, we might see fish fed with chicken feed in the near future, if not already.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Random thoughts (entertainment, sports, tv)

Guess I've been a little disorganized since coming back from Reno. Continuing on that trend, I'll just blog about all the things that've crossed my mind lately in one post.

Great Sports Documentaries

I've mentioned before how amazing I think the ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries have been. The Reggie Miller one certainly lived up to that and was extremely entertaining, especially for someone who lived through that as a Knicks fan.

The next 30 for 30 is Guru of Go and will premier tomorrow. Looking forward to that one too.

Still on HBO on Demand is the Magic and Bird documentary. Two greats that changed basketball culture and saved the NBA just before my time. After watching both of these NBA documentaries, I must admit that I miss that edge the game had when teams hated each other. Now it's bordering on sports entertainment. If David Stern had the playoffs scripted, would anyone really care?

Speaking of sports entertainment, there was another documentary that I really enjoyed. Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows was only released on DVD in the USA last year, so it's great that someone uploaded the whole thing on youtube. It was a documentary about wrestler Bret "the hitman" Hart, and his family (who were all in wrestling, as his father Stu Hart was a legendary figure in the sport) during his contract negotiation year and through the Montreal Screwjob. For a kid who grew up loving wrestling (and still catches it every now and then), this was great.

Great TV

Enjoying my usual shows so far this year. Especially LOST, which has been very entertaining and hopefully building towards a satisfying conclusion. Even if it doesn't, why can't people just enjoy each individual hour of terrific acting and story-telling? Of the newer shows, modern family is my comedy of choice, as I just couldn't get into community. Mondays continue to be the day that fills up my DVR, with House and the CBS comedy lineup at 8 (end up watching Chuck on prime time on demand), Gossip Girl and more CBS at 9, then Damages and Castle at 10. Castle has continued to improve this year, and even beat a brand new CSI:Miami in the ratings last week. It's a light-hearted cop/murder mystery procedural that reminds me of Moonlighting.


With my lease ending in less than 2 months, I just received the lease extension paperwork today. Not that I was going to renew the lease, but they actually raised the rent! That surprised me. Or maybe they were expecting some negotiating.

NYU Talk

Went to an NYU talk by Professor Robert Engle, a nobel prize winning economist. The talk on global stability and long run risks was horrible, but at least I got a good nap out of it. He was not very well organized, the talk was very superficial, with him mostly saying things like, "there's risk here, here, and here" without actually identifying what those risks were. In the end, he sounded like any other theoretical economist in that nothing he said had real world applications and his view on the markets and such were not very practical.

NCAA Tourney

What a fantastic tournament it's been. I haven't filled out a bracket in 5 years and had been losing interest, but this year has been full of great moments. There's still both a Cinderella (Butler) and a villain (Duke), so there should still be some good drama left.


A terrifically entertaining season will only get better in the playoffs. My NBA bet of the decade didn't work out, but I think that was more a reflection of the parity in the Western Conference. With teams like Memphis and Houston playing very well but still not making the playoffs, the remaining teams are sure to provide lots of entertaining games. I still want to keep a close eye on the Spurs as I don't think they will roll over against the Lakers.