Happy Anniversary

By Kevin Pelton
For Hoopsworld.com
Jan. 15, 2004

It is alternately hard for me to believe that it has been a full year since I began writing my "Page 23" column for Hoopsworld.com and for me to believe it's been just a year. (You might say the first is my opinion during basketball games, the second during class.)

Either way, here it is, 365 days since I posted my first column for my second stint at Hoopsworld, "Darius Miles - At the Crossroads". In a literal sense, I have come full circle a year later. That column was about a 6-9 player for the Cleveland Cavaliers who entered the NBA out of high school as a lottery pick. My most recent column, published just today, is about a 6-8 player for the Cleveland Cavaliers who entered the NBA out of high school as a lottery pick. Eerie, isn't it?

In addition to the objective I mentioned during the introduction for my first column, getting more non-spam e-mail, there were three reasons in particular I began writing this column: To practice writing columns, particularly player profiles; to share my insane theories about the NBA; and to spread the gospel of statistics.

A year later, I feel good on all three counts. I think I've done a good job of balancing statistical columns and those that approach the game from a more subjective angle, especially improving the latter. The Pelton center axiom, my belief in NCAA players in the draft, and my opinion that cap space is not the way to go in rebuilding are all on the record, for better or worse. Lastly, over the last year, I believe I have helped spread my message about the value of statistical analysis in the NBA to many new sources.

The response to this column has generally been mixed. Not everyone is ready for or interested in the kind of analysis I provide. Others, as I've bemoaned, were merely upset that my opinions reflected poorly on players or teams they like. Still, this column has its fans -- both of you -- and that I occasionally hit the mark is reflected by the supportive e-mails I have received.

It has been quite a wild year for NBA fans on and off the court. Gary Payton was traded before joining Karl Malone to form a Hall of Fame lineup in Los Angeles. Tim Duncan repeated as MVP and led his team to a second championship. Tracy McGrady finished one of the greatest offensive seasons in NBA history and failed to build on it. The NBA's past, Michael Jordan, made, at long last, his exit. And the NBA's future, James, made his long-awaited debut. Kobe Bryant's reputation was tarnished, while David Robinson cemented his legacy with a second championship ring. The Celtics, Mavericks, Warriors, and Raptors all completely overhauled their cores, while the Nuggets got one where there previously was none.

It was also a fine year for statistical analysis. Arguably the biggest blow was struck in an entirely different sport, baseball, with the publication of Michael Lewis' phenomenal Moneyball. Rest assured that NBA teams, many of them, have read Moneyball, and it's gotten them to thinking about how they can use statistical analysis like the Oakland A's have. Dean Oliver's Basketball on Paper joined John Hollinger's Pro Basketball Prospectus to give us a pair of analytical books on the market -- about two more than there were two years ago.

In addition to this column, a couple of important Web sites devoted to NBA statistical analysis sprung up. HoopsAnalyst.com provided more original commentary, while 82games.com provided enough raw data to study for days at a time.

I'd like to thank the people who have helped make this column possible, notably Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler and my boss with the Sonics, who has been kind enough to allow me to take on this role in addition to my work for the team. I'd also like to thank everyone who has taken the time to give me feedback and help make this column better. Here's to another great 12 months!

Mea Culpa

To conclude my anniversary column, I'd like to do the clichéd thing and admit the most important mistakes I've made over the last year. I'm not referring to typos or grammatical mistakes -- we don't have all week -- but instead horribly incorrect predictions about the NBA, like . . . you'll see.

In my second column, evaluating players who could be dealt at the trade deadline (none of the nine players I discussed actually was dealt), I praised Philadelphia center Todd MacCulloch, concluding in my byline, "When (I become) an NBA GM, (I) will trade for Todd MacCulloch." I mentioned concern about MacCulloch's feet, but I obviously wasn't concerned enough. It now looks like MacCulloch may never play again because of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder.

Here's a particularly egregious gaffe. In my column statistically evaluating how "one-dimensional" players were, I said of Sacramento Kings small forward Peja Stojakovic, "This is why I have a hard time believing Stojakovic was an All-Star." Stojakovic struggled during the first half of last season, but there's now a very legitimate argument that he is the best small forward in the game.

If there's anything I regret writing in this column, it's this line about Bryant. "Off the court, there's little to criticize Bryant for," I wrote in February. "He's kept his nose clean and steered clear of the troubles which have cropped up for so many professional athletes." Uh, no. I also threw my MVP support behind Bryant, something I would change just months later.

In my column "Fixing the CBA", I wondered why players can't voluntarily renegotiate their contracts downward. The reason for this, which escaped me at the time, is actually fairly simple -- teams could try to make their players miserable in the hopes they would accept less money. I have a counter-argument, in that teams can currently try to force a buyout, but I should have thought of this angle.

I was wrong about Kirk Hinrich. When previewing the NBA Draft, I argued based on his senior-year statistics that Hinrich would be hard-pressed to play the point, ignoring that he had played the position earlier in his college career. Hinrich is turning the ball over a ton (2.8 topg), but he's also handing out 5.5 assists and has done a solid job defensively.

Throughout the summer, I maintained that Stephen Jackson was getting a raw deal from the market. Whether his numbers were really padded by playing with Tim Duncan, we'll never know, but Jackson has been pretty abysmal this season, shooting barely over 40% and sporting an assist/turnover ratio right at one.

In picking "10 Breakout Players" for this season, I made a mistake by paying too much attention to others' opinions. I've never been a particular fan of Spurs swingman Hedo Turkoglu, but I picked him anyway. Lo and behold, he's had a mediocre season. I'm also kicking myself for putting Sacramento center Brad Miller lower than I would have anyway in my listing of the top ten centers. Eddy Curry has also struggled to build on his outstanding second half in 2002-03, and Melvin Ely hasn't gotten any playing time in L.A. and hasn't played well when he has had the chance. That column wasn't a shining moment.

We could spend most of the day breaking down my mistakes in my preview column. The teams I dramatically overrated included Dallas, Phoenix, Chicago and Orlando. Put Utah, Milwaukee, Denver, and New Orleans on the underrated list. A lot of the reason teams were on the second list were individual players I underrated, like Carlos Arroyo, Andre Miller, Voshon Lenard, and Baron Davis. My bad.

My most recent major mistake: Jumping on the Udonis Haslem bandwagon too quickly. I still think Haslem can find a role in the league, but he's spent all month on the injured list and was playing poorly before that.

Kevin Pelton is an intern for the Seattle SuperSonics and is responsible for original content on Supersonics.com. He writes "Page 23" for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached via e-mail at kpelton@sonicscentral.com.