A Look At Nene’s Possible Destinations After His Decision To Opt Out Of Denver

This piece is in direct response to a Twitter challenge by Editor-In-Chief of The Big Lead, Jason McIntyre.  Earlier today on his blog, McIntyre suggested six possible destinations for Nene, of which four were completely unrealistic and, as I insinuated to him in a tweet, were “pulled out of his ass.”  As a Nuggets fan, it doesn’t irk me so much that Nene opted out as it does that ignorant basketball fans think that he’d actually take $3 million a year to land on a contender for the next five years.  It’s a classic “I have no idea what goes on west of the Hudson River” view of the sports world and it pisses me off to no end.  It’s highly indicative of his writing style over the years in that he likes to pretend he’s an authority on sports and that his opinion matters when in actuality he’s playing the post-modern version of reaching for sports talk show radio ratings.  Which is exactly why McIntyre actually positing that Nene could actually end up in Dallas, San Antonio, Boston, or Miami drives me insane.  There’s just no way.  If you really want me to break down why it’s impossible for each of those teams, leave me a note in the comments.  I’d be happy to do it.  Additionally let me please note that if this piece has any spelling errors or seems sloppy, my apologies.  I rushed to write it as soon as the challenge was extended and haven’t gotten the chance to edit it properly.

In response to his ignorant evaluation of Nene’s free agency, here’s my list of six actual destinations the Brazilian big man could end up.  In no particular order…

1) The Denver Nuggets.  Hey! Just because he opted out doesn’t mean he’s going to automatically skip town.  I think they’re definitely still the favorite to land him after the lockout is over.  Nene is obviously looking for more years than the regular extension would have offered although I think it’s highly unwise to risk signing under the terms of the new CBA.  It has the potential to severely limit the amount of money he could earn as well as the number of years.  In addition to this, Nene is married to a native Colorado woman and they’re expecting their first child next month.  He’s been quoted as saying he wants to retire a Nugget but he’s also on the record as saying he has major doubts about the direction of the franchise.  I’m crossing my fingers that he stays, but I don’t think anyone could blame him for going elsewhere. 

2) The Golden State Warriors.  It’s no secret the Warriors have been after Nene since last season’s ownership change.  They’ve been starved of competent front court help ever since Biedrins and David Lee landed on what appear to be permanent spots on the injury train.  With a new ownership group that is embracing advanced metrics, Nene is a highly attractive free agent that they will target.  For those who don’t know, he’s one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA and that stat geeks are gaga for his remarkable numbers.  This is made all the more realistic by that same front office saying they’re more than willing to make room for players by dealing either Monta Ellis or Steph Curry rather than McIntyre’s unrealistic idea that a team like the Celtics would move Ray Allen or KG to get Nene.  While it may be possible for the Warriors to keep both Curry and Ellis and make room for him, my guess is they’d move one of the guards for other assets.

3) The Houston Rockets.  Darly Morey has additionally made it no secret that he finds Nene to be an extremely desirable player to have on the roster.  How any knowledgeable fan could manage to forget this fact is beyond me which makes McIntyre’s destinations all the more ridiculous.  Are you noticing a trend in that all the smart front offices want to land him on their team?  Is Nene the elusive “great player” Morey has been searching for all these years?  I doubt it.  But he’d make one hell of a running mate if they were ever able to land a Dwight Howard or a Chris Paul to go with him.  Nene and Scola would team up for an All-South American front court that would feature one of the most formidable offensive duos in the game.  Let’s not talk about their defense though…

4) The New Jersey Nets.  McIntyre was correct in his assumption that the Nets are a realistic destination.  They’re trying to convince Deron Williams to stay and for Dwight Howard to sign next off season.  I can’t think of a better way to do it than by signing one of the three best free agents in this year’s class.  Additionally I think Nene offers far more stability than David West or Tyson Chandler (the other two best options), both of whom have serious injury histories over the course of their careers.  Mikhail Prokhorov in no stranger to spending money either.

5) The Indiana Pacers.  Ditto on McIntyre being correct here as well.    They have lots of cap room to sign him and could feature him at his natural position of power forward (next to Roy Hibbert). This would make the Pacers an extremely fun/competitive team to watch next year and if  status and perceptions didn’t matter in the modern NBA, Indiana might be the front runner to land him.  Although the move makes sense on a basketball level, would Nene really leave Colorado for…Indiana?  I’m not saying Denver offers a night life which he’d miss dearly but you can’t beat the views/scenery in the Mile High City and again his wife is from Colorado, after all.  I would be shocked to see a player of his caliber sign with the Pacers.

6) The New Orleans.  If they’re unable to keep David West they could just as quickly turn around and offer that same money to Nene, who instantly would become a regular all-star candidate each year if paired next to Chris Paul.  It’s scary to think of what those two could achieve with each other.  Paul damn near won the Western conference the one year he had a healthy Tyson Chandler playing center.  A healthy Nene who’s far more skilled offensively?  That’s quite terrifying actually.

And there you have it basketball fans.  That’s my realistic retort to McIntyre’s ridiculous post and one that I hope leaves you all more informed after having finished it.

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Good Morning Generation

Earlier this week Bill Simmons’ new Grantland site ran a piece by Wired editor Jonah Lehrer which basically tried to provide an intelligent critique of the modern sabermetrics movement.  Needless to say the piece crashed and burned and was so instantly dissected by the statistical community that it has seemingly disappeared from the record on the site (it took me about ten minutes to find it on there this morning).  After having read the piece I have to admit I didn’t absorb just how idiotic the article was at first and actually passed it on to fellow site contributor Eddie as a joke about Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey (I often like to poke fun at his home town team and how Morey, although entirely successful at finding uncaptured value and stockpiling assets, cannot manage to land the elusive superstar he always talks about). 

I did find it very thought-provoking though, especially after re-reading it.  First of all,this isn’t just an idea that Lehrer holds.  You can bet your ass that Bill Simmons is behind the idea, if only just a little bit, and that he put his stamp of approval on the piece (he is the editor-in-chief, afterall).  He’s hinted several times over the past couple months on his podcasts that he’s growing increasingly wary with advanced stats in basketball and I have no doubt that this was his brainchild.  I instantly had a couple of questions though.  Why are people still so apprehensive to advanced stats?  Second of all, is there an intelligent criticism to be had out there of sabermetrics?  I haven’t run across one yet that wasn’t instantly annihilated by people far smarter than I can ever hope to be.  But it has to exist, no?

I don’t want to dwell too much on just exactly what was wrong with the article but I’ll summarize it by saying that it had all of the usual hallmarks of a piece ignorantly trying to tackle the sabermetric movement.  First, the author never sought out a single voice from the advanced stat side of the argument off of whom he could have bounced his criticisms.  This would be like me developing a theory about the birth of stars in extreme gravity situations and never once thinking to get in contact with an astronomer, and then publishing it.  Second, the biggest mistake of all, he made broad sweeping assumptions about every sabermetrician who ever lived and how they’re “missing the point of it all” by getting too wrapped up in the numbers.  This is a classic argument of sabermetrics, harbored in ignorance and fear, which basically implies that stat geeks aren’t as big of fans as the average Joes out there and that they miss out on the emotions of games because they never played the actual sports which they’re watching.  Which is of course like saying all black athletes are faster than all white athletes–extreme ignorance. 

And, finally, he made the cardinal sin of going with the David Eckstein argument in describing the value of JJ Barea to the Dallas Mavericks.  For those who don’t know, the Eckstein argument is one of the biggest inside jokes in all of sabermetrics.  It originated when the people in baseball who were so originally apprehensive to the Moneyball teachings all too often pointed to David Eckstein to back up how the stat geeks could never capture the value of a guy like him.  Eckstein was “all hustle” and “all heart,” how could the nerds ever try to measure intangibles like that with an equation?!?  Big mistake.  There is quite possibly nothing the nerds like to feed off of more than the lobbing of the David Eckstein pitch.

But why is there continued apprehension in the sports world?  How could someone like Lehrer, a Rhodes scholar (re-read that: A RHODES freaking SCHOLAR), so miss out on the basic tenants of the sabermetrics teaching?  How could someone like Bill Simmons, who I willingly admit probably has more knowledge than 99.9% of basketball fans, still be skeptical of what advanced stats have to offer?  Is there some kind of weird middle-school-playground-hierarchy dynamic going on here where the jocks and the bullies, out of some deep sense of insecurity, refuse to entertain the thought that nerds could know more about sports than them?  Is it at all possible that the stat geeks really are missing something of the broader scope of things, that team chemistry is the one true metric above all others and that achieving this should be the ultimate goal of team sports in America?  How can you really answer any of those questions?

Can’t we all just agree that sabermetrics provide a ridiculously valuable contribution to sports which we didn’t have before and leave it at that?   Why do people still fall into the trap of trying to discount them, most especially after never having tried to make an effort to understand them in the first place?

What Lehrer so inherently missed, like most critics of advanced stats, is his idea that they rely too heavily on numbers only and miss the bigger picture.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth and goes against every basic Moneyball teaching that we have (as the nerds often preach: sample size, sample size, sample size).  It was the advanced stat nerds who originally were pleading with everyone else to stop getting wrapped up so much in single statistics like RBIs or Wins, stats which a batter or a pitcher really have little control over.  Lehrer also tries to insist that the Mavs are an excellent example of a team not using advanced stats when he couldn’t be farther from the truth there either.  The Mavs might use them more than any other franchise in American professional sports and JJ Barea’s value didn’t come because he is the basketball equivalent of David Eckstein, it came because there were several advanced metrics telling the Dallas coaching staff that there was value which Barea could capture and bring to his team while on the floor.

So what, if any, criticisms of advanced stats are there?

I for one know many of my own misgivings with them.  I think of one the basic mistakes anyone makes with sabermetrics when first learning about them is that they’re an instant “quick-fix” to all the problems of an organization, as if the use of advanced stats was some magic elixir that delivered championships after one small application.  I fell into this mistake this year in fantasy baseball, placing way too much value on OBP and OPS (thanks a lot Aubrey Huff!) when fantasy doesn’t actually measure either of those metrics.  But that’s not a criticism of advanced stats, that’s an indictment on my understanding of advanced stats.  Perhaps the reason for many people’s harsh reactions is that they feel betrayed when they at first keep an open mind about them and then get pissed off when they don’t deliver short term results like world titles or fantasy championships. 

Another misgiving I have though is again the Houston Rocket example.  In a sport like basketball, even Morey is willing to admit that you can’t win a title unless you have one of the ten or twenty best players in the league on your team.  No matter how many second rounders he turns into serviceable rotation players, no matter how many draft picks he stockpiles, the Rockets are never going to be better than a .500ish  club until they land a Dwight Howard or a Chris Paul.  That’s a fact.  Morey can preach patience and long-term results all he wants, but the simple fact is he’s no closer to an NBA championship than laughing stock Minnesota GM David Kahn is.  And yet, the former is praised as a genius who is revolutionizing the game of basketball, while the latter is thought to be one of the worst front office guys in the history of American professional sports.

If there’s any criticism to be had of the sabermetric movement, is it fair to say they didn’t do enough to temper the hype surrounding their marketing?  That they got so caught up in going “mainstream” that they didn’y work hard enough educating the masses in advanced stats 101?  I can think of nothing else by which to criticize them.  I was definitely one of the several ignorants who instantly believed after reading the Michael Lewis New York Times piece that Daryl Morey was a genius who was totally going to own the NBA for the next couple decades.  That hasn’t even come close to coming true.  But is it fair to lob that criticism at them?  And again, I don’t think it’s Morey’s fault that this was my interpretation of the article.  It’s not like he was the author or was quoted as saying he was going to dominate the NBA for the next two decades.  So who am I to say that a group of people shouldn’t be allotted their moment in the spotlight, especially after years of being scorned by the mainstream sports world?  Who am I to criticize a world that I’ve only begun to understand?

Stat geeks, you win again. 

I’m spending the rest of the day on Fan Graphs.

Generation Y, where it’s really hard to root for Maria Sharapova with Sasha Vujacic cheering her on from the box.  Thanks for ruining a good thing Sahsa, ya jerk.

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