Month: September 2019

NHL Sides Take Step Backward In Negotiations To End

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman  was “thoroughly disappointed” in three counter-proposals from the players’ association on Thursday and left the negotiating table pessimistic about a resolution.No new talks have been scheduled, and the possibility of a full hockey regular season is quickly shrinking.“Today is not a good day,” NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said.Thursday’s meetings, according to Bettman, were a “step backward,” while Fehr insists the NHL was only willing to work off its offer from Tuesday, rejecting the players’ three counteroffers.The union offered multiple options in response to the NHL’s offer on Tuesday that called for an 82-game season and a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues between owners and players.Said Blues captain David Backes in a text to ESPN.com: “We feel our newest proposal took a great step toward getting a deal done. It’s too bad the owners don’t feel that way and I fear that we may miss an extended amount of time now.”Bettman said that proposal was the “best that we could do” and added that the two sides are still far apart.“None of the three variations of player share that they gave us even began to approach 50-50, either at all or for some long period of time,” Bettman said.“It’s clear we’re not speaking the same language.”Fehr said two of the union’s proposals would have the players take a fixed amount of revenue, which would turn into an approximate 50-50 split over the term of the deal, provided league revenues continued to grow.The third approach would be a 50-50 split, as long as the league honored all existing contracts at full value.Deputy commissioner Bill Daly contradicted what Fehr said was included in the third proposal, saying in a statement: “The so-called 50-50 deal, plus honoring current contracts proposed by the NHL Players’ Association earlier today is being misrepresented. It is not a 50-50 deal. It is, most likely a 56- to 57-percent deal in Year One and never gets to 50 percent during the proposed five-year term of the agreement.“The proposal contemplates paying the Players approximately $650 million outside of the Players’ Share. In effect, the Union is proposing to change the accounting rules to be able to say ’50-50,’ when in reality it is not. The Union told us that they had not yet ‘run the numbers.’ We did.”Further, Daly told ESPN.com that in the league’s view, none of the three offers from the NHLPA guarantee ever getting to a 50/50 split.Bettman said he was still hopeful the league can have a full season, but time is running out to make that happen.“I am concerned based on the proposal that was made today that things are not progressing,” he said. “To the contrary, I view the proposal made by the players’ association in many ways a step backward.”Bettman said Tuesday the sides would have to reach an agreement by Oct. 25 for a full season to be played. read more

ARod Not Concerned About January Surgery

Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees’ injured third-baseman, said he looks forward to left hip surgery and a healthy return to the lineup.“I’m not concerned,” Rodriguez told The Associated Press. “I’m actually, in many ways, relieved that there’s something tangible that we can go fix.”Rodriguez had surgery on his right hip in 2009, missed about the first month of the season and still finished with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs — plus helped the Yankees win the World Series.This surgery, however, is not the same as the other one. It reportedly will be more complex, since it’ll repair not only a torn labrum but also a bone impingement and a cyst. The surgery is next month because it was determined he needed some time to strengthen the hip first.“I am fully committed to a very hard road back,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve done it before in ’09 and it was a great result, both on a personal level and on a team level, more importantly. I take it as a great challenge and I’m excited for the challenge.”A 14-time All-Star and baseball’s priciest player at $275 million, Rodriguez plans to further discuss the hip situation at a news conference later Saturday afternoon.He batted .120 (3 for 25) with no RBIs in last season’s playoffs, including 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handed pitchers. He originally thought he was having issues with the right hip again — he wasn’t — and it wasn’t until November that the issues within the left hip were detected.Rodriguez finished this past regular season batting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. He now has 647 career homers, fifth-most in baseball history and 13 shy of the No. 4 player on that list, Willie Mays. read more

Adrian Peterson Vikings Lose to Carolina Panthers

Adrian Peterson added to his tough week when the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Carolina Panthers Sunday.Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another TD as his team rolled over the mourning Peterson and the Vikings 35-10.The running back, Peterson averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and finished the game with 62 yards on 10 carries and 21 yards on three receptions. However, the Vikings (1-4) didn’t play the star after halftime.Friday, Peterson learned that his 2-year-old son died in South Dakota after suffering injuries from alleged child abuse. The man involved, Joseph Robert Patterson, was arrested and charged in the case.“It’s tough. It’s a crazy situation,” Peterson said. “Anytime you lose a child, no matter the circumstances, it hurts. I can’t describe it. But I’ve got a good supporting cast.”Said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier: “I thought he handled it as well as you can.” read more

Team USAs World Baseball Classic Championship Didnt Come Easy

DATEROUNDTEAMALL-TIME SRS RANKUSA’S RESULT 3/22FinalPuerto Rico5thW 8-0 Team USA’s path to the championship Team USA finally did it. Buoyed by a tremendous pitching performance from starter Marcus Stroman — who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning — the United States routed Puerto Rico 8-0 in Wednesday night’s title game of the World Baseball Classic, securing America’s first-ever championship at the event.Going from mediocre (they went into 2017 with a 10-10 all-time record in the tournament) to championship worthy wasn’t easy for the U.S. Although the American roster was stacked with major leaguers, the team once again found itself facing elimination after losing to Puerto Rico last Friday. Keeping its tournament hopes alive meant beating the Dominican Republic — the second-best team in WBC history by my calculations,1I used the Simple Rating System to rank every team in WBC history. (and one that had roared back to beat the U.S. a week earlier) — in a do-or-die qualifier, then beating Japan (the greatest team in WBC history) in the semis, and then turning the tables in a rematch with Puerto Rico (who were undefeated and playing as well as any WBC team ever).Talk about a difficult path to a championship: 3/11Round 1Dominican Republic2ndL 7-5 But the U.S. persevered through it all, and now they are WBC champions. And who knows — perhaps the win will even persuade more marquee players to represent America at future World Baseball Classics.Now, if only they could do something about those painfully ’90s-looking uniforms. Share on Facebook OPPONENT 3/18Round 2Dominican Republic2ndW 6-3 3/17Round 2Puerto Rico5thL 6-5 3/12Round 1Canada17thW 8-0 3/15Round 2Venezuela9thW 4-2 The Simple Rating System (SRS) adjusts a team’s per-game run differential for strength of schedule. This SRS ranking uses data from all WBC matches since 2006, with extra weight applied to games in later rounds.Source: Wikipedia 3/10Round 1Colombia11thW 3-2 3/21SemisJapan1stW 2-1 read more

The Case For Russell Westbrook MVP

Russell Westbrook is the MVP. You are likely already familiar with Westbrook’s claim to the award because every conversation that suggests someone else is the MVP must do the work of explaining why it is not, obviously, Westbrook.Westbrook’s case for MVP is self-evident. His season-long triple-double is a historic accomplishment, and its grandeur only grows when adjusted to account for the way the game is played today. Here are the top seasons for the triple-double stats sorted by John Hollinger’s Versatility Index, which shows how good players are at those three metrics, combined1Versatility Index is the geometric mean of points, rebounds and assists per 100 possessions., which adjusts for pace: Source: NBA.com SEASONPLAYERPOSS. PER GAMEPTSREBOUNDSASSISTSVERSATILITY INDEX Versatility index is the geometric mean of points, rebounds and assists (per 100 possessions).Source: basketball-reference.com 4’14-’15Westbrook95.741.110.612.517.6 3’15-’16Westbrook96.733.911.315.118.0 LeBron James126+15.140.667.332.124.6 Jimmy Butler141+12.831.563.041.329.4 … 34’61-’62Robertson124.926.710.89.914.2 PER 100 POSSESSIONS 1’16-’17Westbrook97.844.815.114.721.5 James55.152.3+2.840.937.2+3.7 DeAndre Jordan105+3.21.968.818.723.4 5’04-’05Garnett89.131.419.18.016.9 Isaiah Thomas163+18.225.065.446.026.4 2-PT SHOT PERCENTAGE3-PT SHOT PERCENTAGE Kawhi Leonard137+24.023.055.440.428.5 Source: NBA.com PLAYERCRUNCH TIMENET RATINGASSIST %TS %USAGE %PIE DeMar DeRozan139+16.128.854.842.926.1 PLAYERTEAMMATES’ WIDE-OPEN 3-PT % James42.4 Source: NBA.com Top NBA players by involvement during crunch time In general, the more possessions a player uses,2Plays on which a player takes a shot, draws a shooting foul or commits a turnover. the less efficient his personal offense becomes. You can see the frontier of exceptional player seasons forming a rough diagonal, sloping down from Kevin Durant’s 2016-17 in the upper left to Westbrook’s in the lower right. Generally, that’s the frontier of achievement for maximizing efficiency and usage, and anything that breaks past the outer rim is in the running for the best season in NBA history. Curry’s 2015-16 was more or less unprecedented, but was followed up quickly by Isaiah Thomas and Harden this season, each putting up absurd efficiency numbers with what have traditionally been extremely high usage rates. Then there’s Russell Westbrook.While a glance at the advanced stats (55.4 true shooting; 41.7 usage percentage) will give you the gist of the relationship — less efficient, more usage — they mask just how far out of the norm Westbrook has been. He has bucked the trend that’s afflicted super-high-usage NBA players for as long as the league has existed: Westbrook’s usage has exploded … and his efficiency hasn’t really changed. As a challenge to the basic makeup of NBA efficiency trends, Westbrook’s season is just as much of an aberration as Curry’s 2015-16.This is the final entry in our series making the case for five NBA MVP candidates. We’ve also made the cases for James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James and Stephen Curry. Also, check out our NBA predictions.That said, just because Westbrook’s season has been impressive does not necessarily make it useful or valuable. And while it’s undeniably hard to do what Westbrook has done, it’s been an open question how much value there is in his tirelessly filling up the box score while also eating up possessions. Players such as Curry and Harden, who shake up the ratio by adding efficiency to a standard-issue star player workload, are far easier to evaluate. But a player who can take on limitless responsibility with seeming immunity to defensive attention is a dangerous tool in situations where good possessions are hard to come by, even if he isn’t the most efficient guy on the floor. We’ve seen Westbrook deliver in those situations this season.An unstoppable, moderately efficient forceWestbrook has been laboring under LeBron-esque playoff demands all season long as the late-game anchor for a severely offensively handicapped team.Westbrook’s crunch-time numbers this season are comical. We’ll define “crunch time” here as the last five minutes of a game (or overtime) in which neither team has a lead greater than five points. In those situations, Westbrook has been unstoppable. His already absurd usage percentage jumps from “just” 41.7 to 62.3. (Sixty-two point three!!!)Something else interesting happens to Westbrook during crunch time: As his usage goes up, so does his efficiency. His true shooting percentage creeps up to 56.9, and his assist percentage goes to 58.3. While he’s on the court in crunch time, the Thunder is outscoring opponents by 21.7 points per 100 possessions (up from +12.5 overall). In fact, Westbrook’s work rate late in games is so prolific that he produces as much value as entire teams. No, really.We know this thanks to a little-noticed stat on the NBA’s stats site called Player Impact Estimate, or PIE. PIE is the share of all box score activity in a game (so points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks) with deductions for negative stats (turnovers, missed shots, personal fouls). The average for a player should be about 103Since there are 10 players on the court., and the average for a team about 50.4Since each team makes up half the players. It’s an especially useful stat when used in tandem with net rating, because you can then see both how well a player is doing individually (the PIE rating) as well as how well the team is performing overall (the net rating).5Net rating is just a team’s scoring differential per 100 possessions.Anyway, Westbrook’s PIE in crunch time is 40.3, meaning he accounts for about 40 percent of both teams’ combined activity all on his own — a greater share of game stats in his clutch minutes than five teams6The Pistons, Heat, Lakers, Nets and Suns. collect as a whole. The Thunder as a team has a 61.4 PIE in crunch time, fourth in the league, which tracks more or less with its 19.9 net rating, which ranks second overall. Westbrook58.2%48.6%+9.633.1%31.4%+1.7 Harden62.652.5+10.134.037.6-3.6 A player totally unfettered from the effect of a defense is dangerous all game long, but a particular nightmare late in games.Team composition mattersOK, so Westbrook can get his whenever he wants to get his. No one really doubts this. But Westbrook’s ability to get his teammates quality shots is a lingering question because Westbrook is not Curry, who distorts the parameters of the game without even touching the ball. Curry’s teammates find better shots and make more of them without Curry ever having to generate a traditional assist. But Westbrook’s teammates … let’s just say not even Curry could charm Andre Roberson into hitting his wide-open 3s.The Thunder roster is not quite as bereft of talent as it’s sometimes made out to be — Steven Adams is a very good center, and Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo and a few young players like Domas Sabonis all have their uses. But the team’s players are the worst long-range shooters in the league.This is made clear when we separate out the team’s doomed long range shots. 2’16-’17Harden100.038.410.714.818.3 PLAYEROFF PASSES FROM PLAYEROTHER SHOTSDIFFOFF PASSES FROM PLAYEROTHER SHOTSDIFF Curry40.0 Anthony Davis163-2.78.351.736.124.8 Harden38.3 The best pace-adjusted triple-double seasons Nevertheless, clucking about the righteousness of one MVP candidate over another inevitably returns to an epistemological debate about “value.” And there are a variety of cases to be made for players who had less outstanding, but perhaps more “valuable,” seasons than Westbrook did. James Harden moved to point guard and turned in a season that was two parts Steve Nash, one part Corey Maggette, and his Houston Rockets have faint yet plausible finals hopes. LeBron James had the best statistical season of his career at age 32, in his 14th year in the league. And Kawhi Leonard squeezed 61 wins out of a depleted San Antonio Spurs roster on which Dewayne Dedmon has a reasonable claim to being the second-best player. Each of those players’ teams has a far greater chance than Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder of making the finals and winning a championship.But what if a player is uniquely valuable when the stakes are highest? We’ve seen an example of this before: LeBron James during the 2015 Finals. During that series, James took two games against the ascendent Warriors basically all by himself. James led all players in points, rebounds and assists, and did so while carrying a true shooting percentage of 47.7 and a usage percentage of 39.3. It was a marvelous series for James despite his poor efficiency, in part because his efficiency remained basically in proportion to what’s expected of the most efficient stars despite an altogether absurd workload.Russell Westbrook has done over 82 games what James did for six. He has scrambled our sense of what game-altering dominance looks like in the age of advanced stats, and he’s done it largely without the benefit of the most important tool of the modern game: reliable 3-point shooting, from himself or his team. Westbrook’s success this season has argued convincingly that top-end efficiency isn’t an absolute requirement for success in today’s NBA, so long as you can make up for a dip in quality with sheer force of quantity.Efficiency is not a vacuumAmong a certain part of the advanced stats-minded crowd, Westbrook is easy to dismiss as an outdated, high-usage, low-efficiency volume shooter in an NBA that has moved beyond ball hogs. This makes sense if you view the split between Westbrook and high-efficiency players like Harden as a proxy battle in some broader war for the aesthetics of basketball. On one side you have the game played as a brutal, Pat Riley-style combat sport, and on the other the spread-’em-out game of the Rockets or Warriors. But Westbrook is defying the norms of efficiency, too. He’s just doing it in his own way.Take a look at this chart showing usage percentage and true shooting percentage, which originally ran in an article by my colleague Ben Morris, in which he made the case for Steph Curry as the MVP: How teammates shoot after passes from their stars Russell Westbrook148 min+21.758.3%56.9%62.3%40.3 When a Westbrook pass leads to a 2-point shot, his teammates are shooting 58.2 percent; when they take 2-pointers not directly following a pass from Westbrook, they shoot 48.6 percent. This is a massive difference, but also a logical one: Players shoot better when their point guard sets them up for shots.Things go downhill quickly once OKC ventures out beyond the arc. There, Westbrook passes lead to makes on only 33 percent of attempts; without Westbrook passing to them, his teammates make 31.4 percent. Both numbers are staggeringly bad. The Thunder simply don’t have players who can shoot NBA 3-pointers. Westbrook30.9% Curry58.555.5+3.041.835.6+6.2 STATS DURING CRUNCH TIME Leonard47.249.6-2.443.838.3+5.5 As a team, the Thunder were a bit above average at creating wide-open 3s (meaning the nearest defender was six or more feet away). Getting open 3s is good! Except, they shot 32.4 percent on those wide-open looks, good for dead last in the league. Westbrook himself shot 40 percent, which means the rest of the team shot 30.9 percent. Again, on wide-open 3s. No defender within six feet. Thirty point nine percent. A tabletop cactus could shoot 30 percent with the defense out to lunch.So while Westbrook does not have as profound an effect on his teammates’ shooting as his peers, this is hard to pin on Westbrook himself when he’s holding the bag for an Oklahoma City front office running back the ’93 Knicks.“Stat hogging” is not a phenomenonOne final line of suspicion about Westbrook’s stat line revolves around the notion that the numbers are inflated by methods unnatural to the game. One of those allegations: that Westbrook’s teammates let him collect rebounds to help stuff the stat sheets.But it’s not that simple. For one thing, stars have always received preferential treatment on cheap rebounds. There’s an old story about Rockets players getting gassed up when Yao Ming finally began to yap at teammates who tried to scoot in on missed free throw rebounds — generally the easiest to collect — because those are reserved for the star big man, and the NBA runs on hierarchy. And Kevin Love made a habit of grabbing the ball at the ends of quarters, just after the buzzer sounded, and doing a quick turn, point and grin in the direction of the scorer’s table trying to get credit for the board.7These anecdotes came from Bill Simmons interviews that are lost to history after Grantland was shut down.The Thunder also aren’t as blatant about giving Westbook rebounds as they’re made out to be. Yes, it’s conspicuous that Westbrook is pulling in 8.5 uncontested rebounds per game, up from 5.9 a season ago. But we can track how often teammates give up a rebound so that a nearby teammate can pick up the ball: It’s a stat called deferred rebound chances. This season, the number of the Thunder’s deferred chances has decreased to 16.8 per game from a league-high 17.7 a season ago. What’s changed? Well, the 6.6 uncontested rebounds per game Kevin Durant collected in 2015-16 needed to be redistributed somewhere.Unlike shooting or passing, rebounding suffers from severe diminishing returns. There are only so many rebound opportunities, and only so many bodies needed to corral them. Oklahoma City finished first in overall rebound rate, and third in defensive rebound rate. The Thunder have decided to use this surplus of rebounding to leak extra bodies out into the break, knowing their point guard can collect the rebound and start the break. In other words, the Thunder have made a conscious effort to let Westbrook get the rebounds because they think it helps them win, not just because they wanted Westbrook to hoard triple-doubles. The Thunder are fifth in percent of points scored via transition, so it’s working out for them.But there’s a downside: This strategy often leads to Westbrook playing abysmal defense as he hunts for the rebound — the number of shots he contests is dismal, and by far the lowest among league leaders in defensive rebounds, though they are more or less in the same range as those contested by Harden and LeBron. But then, Westbrook has never been a great defender, and it makes a certain amount of sense to have him sacrifice already questionable defensive attention in service of the offense, especially since the defense manages just fine (10th in efficiency) without him. That’s not an ideal outcome, of course. In a perfect world, Westbrook would be more engaged defensively, and have teammates with shooting range that extends beyond the college 3-point line. But the Thunder’s willingness to let Russell be Russell is its own sort of progress.For years now, we’ve been hearing about how evolutionary players such as Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis or even Steph Curry were set to move the NBA game forward. That has largely turned out to be true: Offense in the league has improved at record rates, primarily because players and front offices have maximized efficiency at every opportunity. The league has found a way to squeeze more production out of more specialized players. And that works just fine as a general rule. But Russell Westbrook’s season proves that’s not the only way to remake the NBA in your image. Shaving away minor imperfections in pursuit of the ideal less-for-more ratio isn’t necessary if you come equipped with a never-ending supply of more. Stephen Curry90+10.827.361.836.123.3 Which stars have teammates who can shoot? James Harden133-3.040.055.651.021.5 Leonard41.4 read more

This Is Rory McIlroys Masters To Lose

“Rory is in a great place right now,” said James Jankowski, a specialist putting coach who is currently working with players on the European Tour.Behind blistering tee shots and gorgeous iron play, McIlroy had one of the best starts to a career in modern golf history. But for years, it has felt like he is being held back by one club: his putter.Inexplicably, the same guy who made driving greens on par-4s feel ordinary could also five-putt at Pebble Beach. “If Rory McIlroy could only putt well,” The Telegraph’s James Corrigan wrote last year, “he would win every week.” Indeed, one of the sport’s most gifted ball-strikers finished the past three seasons 97th, 159th, and tied for 135th in strokes gained per round with the putter. What’s perhaps most remarkable this season, then, is that McIlroy ranks 57th in the metric.He’s sinking 92.9 percent of his putts from 5 feet, which ranks sixth on the tour and is a full 12.2 percentage points higher than last season. He hadn’t ranked higher than 92nd in the metric in the past three seasons. Inside of 10 feet, he’s draining 88.3 percent of his putts, tied for 56th on tour, after finishing 64th last year. He ranked outside of the top 130 in the metric in 2016 and 2017.“Mentally, he seems to be better (this year),” Jankowski said of the man who once screamed, “Who can’t putt?!” at a fan. “Making more important putts and seeming more relaxed about the outcome.”And while those numbers could certainly dip as McIlroy tallies more rounds, he has never putted this well relative to the field at this juncture of the season. And in terms of total true strokes gained, he is doing better than any previous winners had from Jan. 1 until the Masters started. 2013Rory McIlroy13+0.52+1.41T25 2017-0.10+0.18+0.50+1.10+1.65 2014Rory McIlroy12-0.15+2.10T8 True strokes Gained Per Round 2010-0.16+0.01+0.45+0.83+1.41 2009-0.30-0.02+0.37+0.45+1.42 2015Rory McIlroy10+0.26+2.294 2014Bubba Watson16+0.30+2.251 2008Trevor Immelman20-0.91+0.011 2013-0.02+0.06+0.57+0.74+1.04 2006Phil Mickelson23+0.55+2.841 2016Danny Willett8+0.64+1.461 2012Bubba Watson23-0.34+2.151 Source: Data Golf 2019+0.40+0.42+0.97+1.51+2.83 Rory is outdoing himself this yearTrue strokes gained per round in different areas for Rory McIlroy, 2009-19 2005Tiger Woods21+0.20+2.871 2013Adam Scott12+0.18+2.431 2009Angel Cabrera14-0.34+0.171 2019Rory McIlroy23+0.41+3.48? YearPlayerRounds measuredPuttingTotalMasters Finish 2017Rory McIlroy8+0.02+3.02T7 2016-0.15+0.26+0.61+1.38+2.24 2011-0.12-0.09+0.57+1.05+1.94 2010Phil Mickelson25-0.08+1.521 2015+0.02+0.28+0.70+1.27+2.38 SeasonPuttingAround GreenApproachOff The TeeTotal 2010Rory McIlroy10-0.69+0.95CUT McIlroy is in better form than previous Masters winnersHighest true strokes gained per round from Jan. 1 through the start of the Masters for previous Masters winners and Rory McIlroy, 2007-19 2018Patrick Reed23+0.18+1.181 Major-championship season tees off this weekend in Augusta, Georgia, so settle in for some high-definition azaleas, a sweet-sounding Jim Nantz overture and a musky aura of self-importance.The 2019 Masters is not short on juicy questions. In pursuit of his first major victory in more than 11 years, is Tiger Woods about to have a green jacket for every day of the work week? Can Dustin Johnson add the Masters to his list of vanquished tournaments after posting three consecutive top-10 finishes at Augusta?1Johnson didn’t play in the 2017 Masters after falling down a staircase. Could this year’s winning putt possibly elicit a more tepid reaction from the gallery than Patrick Reed’s did in 2018?But there is one debate that can be shuttered before it attracts oxygen: The hottest player on the planet is Rory McIlroy, the pint-sized Irishman with bionic power off the tee. No one on any tour is playing better golf than McIlroy.2He leads the PGA Tour in total strokes gained, strokes gained tee-to-green and strokes gained off the tee, among other valuable metrics. In eight starts this season, McIlroy has a tour-leading seven top-10 finishes, including a win at the Players Championship. Bettors are aware, installing 8-1 odds, the shortest of any player, for the 15-time PGA Tour event champion.A win at Augusta National would make McIlroy just the fourth player in golf’s modern era to complete a career grand slam before turning 30, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group.3Joining Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Bobby Jones completed an in-season grand slam in 1930 at age 28, but that was before the first Masters, when the U.S. and British amateur tournaments joined the open events in both countries as the four majors. And there’s reason to believe this week represents the best opportunity the 29-year-old has had to capture the green jacket that has eluded him.By true strokes gained, which adjusts regular strokes gained for field strength,4True strokes gained appraises the number of strokes better or worse a golfer was in a given round than the average PGA Tour professional in a given season. McIlroy is playing the best golf of his career this season, picking up an average of 2.83 strokes on the field — nearly one full stroke better than his 2018 performance and even more exceptional than his 2014 campaign (+2.56), when he won three tournaments, including two majors. 2011Rory McIlroy8-0.87+1.36T15 2012+0.14+0.31+1.19+1.23+2.49 Source: Data Golf 2018Rory McIlroy15+0.62+1.81T5 2015Jordan Spieth27+0.84+2.551 2011Charl Schwartzel16+0.67+1.491 2009Rory McIlroy12+0.14+1.93T20 2012Rory McIlroy8+0.27+3.24T40 2007Zach Johnson20+0.98+1.281 2004Phil Mickelson23+0.37+2.931 2018+0.15+0.38+0.51+0.91+1.92 2017Sergio Garcia12-0.56+2.231 Strokes Gained 2014+0.36+0.08+0.78+1.52+2.56 2016Rory McIlroy14+0.44+2.12T10 But that will be tested this weekend. Augusta’s sloping bentgrass greens boast nightmare-inducing undulation. Former and current players have described playing on them as “very intimidating,” “the most difficult” and “Mickey Mouse, miniature golf.” Legendary golfer Ernie Els once six-putted to start the tournament and later intimated that he might soon quit the sport. Last year, two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson sent an eagle putt into a greenside bunker. “It embarrasses you,” Charles Coody, who won the tournament in 1971, told Sports Illustrated. “Sometimes you do stuff where you want to walk off and hide.”McIlroy would have been forgiven if he had done just that last year. Trailing Reed by three strokes entering the final round, he logged a 2-over-par 74 and was irrelevant by the back nine. Not trusting his putter, McIlroy told reporters, “made a big difference.”5Nearly half of McIlroy’s 10 highest total-putt performances at majors have come at Augusta.McIlroy is on record, though, not putting too much stock in putting — particularly at the Masters. “At Augusta, you don’t need to putt great,” McIlroy said last year. “You need to not waste any shots.” He isn’t alone with that hypothesis — and there’s more evidence pointing to that conclusion.6Draining shots on the green obviously doesn’t hurt a player’s chances, considering that strokes gained while putting drives 35.8 percent of score variation on tour, more than any other shot category, according to research conducted by Data Golf. Mark Broadie, who pioneered the strokes-gained metrics, found that Augusta has the highest three-putt rate of any stop on tour.7From every distance, pros are 80 percent more likely to need three putts to finish at Augusta, Broadie found. However, Broadie also noted that because the greens are so well manicured, players also sink more putts inside of 10 feet at Augusta than anywhere else. The issue, then, is sticking approach shots within a reasonable distance of the flagstick to limit lag putts and mitigate long-range misreads. McIlroy has been doing just that, picking up 0.97 true strokes gained on approach shots, the second best mark of his career. Additionally, if he maintained his current numbers, McIlroy would set a new career best in three-putt avoidance (1.98 percent of putts). The past 15 champions were picking up 0.18 strokes on the field with the putter entering tournament week. McIlroy is picking up strokes at more than twice that rate.Away from the green, precision from the tee box is valuable, to be sure, but the Masters layout doesn’t exactly do any favors for McIlroy’s preternatural power. His 263.2 yards per drive at the Masters is well below his tee-shot averages in recent seasons and his historical averages at golf’s other marquee events. Although he bashes par-5s like you’d expect, he struggles on par-4s, where on average he’s plus-3.6, according to Golf Stats.Rory’s hot start this season has plenty of observers excited, though it’s not at all rare for McIlroy to surge out of the gate. When his past 11 seasons are compared with the pre-Masters performances of the past 15 Masters champions, McIlroy holds the top three marks in true strokes gained entering the tournament. But his 2019 performance has been prodigious.That McIlroy’s sensational play is setting him up for a potential historic win is made all the more riveting by the baggage he carries into the Georgia pines. In 2011, the then-21-year-old held a four-stroke lead after 54 holes before stumbling to the finish line with a final-round 80, giving him a 15th-place finish. It was the highest closing round by a 54-hole leader in 56 years and is still tied for the fourth-highest round of McIlroy’s professional career. “Rory needs to fly very quickly to Northern Ireland,” broadcaster Nick Faldo said as McIlroy tapped in the final bogey of the day. “And I’m sure that his whole country will give him a big hug.”But eight years later, is this finally when he puts it all together and earns the time-honored tradition of an uncomfortable post-victory interview in Butler Cabin?“The Masters has now become the biggest golf tournament in the world, and I’m comfortable saying that,” McIlroy said last year. “I don’t care about the U.S. Open or the Open Championship, it is the biggest tournament in the world. It is the most amount of eyeballs, the most amount of hype. The most amount of everything is at Augusta.” read more

Significant Digits For Wednesday July 29 2015

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news.1 coachThat’s the number of female coaches in the NFL after Jen Welter was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coaching intern. The NBA also has one female assistant coach, while MLB and MLS have no female coaches. As my colleague Leah Libresco tweeted: “We were going to graph the share of female coaches in men’s sports, but the bars were too small to see.” [FiveThirtyEight]4 jokesConan O’Brien is being sued for stealing jokes from Twitter. A man who says he was a longtime writer for Jay Leno claims an airline joke (wow, I’m laughing already) as well as jokes about Tom Brady, Caitlyn Jenner and the Washington Monument were pilfered from his feed and used on O’Brien’s show. Conan’s production company believes the suit is without merit. Coco, I’m gonna do you a solid: I’m tweeting a joke right now, just for you. I waive all rights, please feel free to use it in tonight’s monologue. [The Hollywood Reporter]8 farmsI’ve got my tent firmly pitched in the pro-cilantro camp, but my allegiance is being tested. The FDA has banned some cilantro imported from Mexico after investigators discovered “human feces and toilet paper in and around growing fields.” Eight of the 11 farms and packing houses investigated in the Mexican state of Puebla had “objectionable conditions” and five were linked to hundreds of outbreaks in the U.S. of cyclosporiasis. [CNN]15 percentShare of Americans who do not use the Internet. They must be so happy. [Pew Research Center]63.5 percentHomeownership in the U.S. is at a 48-year low. The seasonally adjusted homeownership rate is now 63.5 percent, down from pre-recession highs of above 69 percent. Both the homeowner and rental vacancy rates, however, have also fallen. This means a tight housing market — to which I can anecdotally attest, having recently hunted for an apartment — and a possible boon to the economy in ensuing construction. [The Wall Street Journal]200 to 400 feetAmazon has proposed that some prime (get it?) airspace, from 200 to 400 feet off the ground, be reserved for high-speed drones. The company has visions of one day delivering its packages by drone. [The Guardian]10,000 textsTom Brady’s four-game “Deflate-gate” suspension has been upheld by the NFL. In a statement on the decision, the league said Brady had destroyed his cellphone, despite investigators’ requests to access it. The phone had been used to exchange 10,000 text messages over four months — or just more than 80 texts a day. Even still, Brady’s got nothing on the 18 to 24 set — those kids send and receive more than 125 texts a day! [The Washington Post]$50,000 in bunny careAfter 103 rabbits were seized from her home, a Brooklyn woman has been ordered to pay $50,000 for their care. The bunnies had become celebrities in their neighborhood. [New York Post]$2 million a yearYou have to pay about $1,500 to license the song “Happy Birthday.” Yeah, that “Happy Birthday.” Two filmmakers upset by that fact have uncovered evidence that they say negates Warner/Chappell Music’s 1935 copyright and puts the song in the public domain. The copyright has at some points netted its owners about $2 million a year. [Ars Technica]304 million core usersTwitter’s stock price slumped more than 11 percent Tuesday, after slower than expected growth in its average monthly users. The company said it now has 304 million “core users.” That’s up from 302 million last quarter, but the growth was the slowest since the company went public. [Reuters]Don’t worry, Walt Hickey’s return is nigh. But today, for those of you who a) use the Internet and b) are on Twitter, if the significance of a digit moves you, please tweet it to me @Ollie. And have a super Wednesday!If you haven’t already, you really need to sign up for the Significant Digits newsletter — be the first to learn about the numbers behind the news. read more

Ohio State mens basketball hoping lessons from practice carry over vs Northwestern

OSU redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson (32) during a game against Maryland on Jan. 31 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU lost 66-61. Credit: Muyao Shen | Asst. Photo EditorOf all the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s games this season, its matchup against Northwestern on the road on Jan. 6 might best encapsulate the issues plaguing it. On that evening, redshirt sophomore Kam Williams came off the bench to ignite the otherwise struggling Buckeyes en route to a 65-56 victory. The guard had 21 points on 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. The next-highest scorer was redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson, who had 12 points. And besides Williams’ career-high performance from downtown, no other Buckeye made a 3-pointer. What the game showed about the whole season is a lack of consistent performances, resulting in a continuous reliance on a new unsung hero nearly every night to rescue the team. Against Indiana and Rutgers, it was freshman guard JaQuan Lyle. Sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop propelled the team with a 22-point burst against Penn State. The first game versus Maryland it was no one, then sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate shouldered the load in the rematch.  Thompson took his turn in the victory over Illinois on Jan. 28 when he scored a team-high 16 points. It’s not that scoring by committee is necessarily a bad thing for a basketball team. In some ways, it’s a plus for the Buckeyes that they have myriad players who can step up and score. But the lack of a go-to scorer to count on through thick and thin is seeing its effects on the Buckeyes. It perhaps might explain why one night OSU looks like a threat to challenge for a Big Ten title and on others, a team destined for the National Invitational Tournament. OSU coach Thad Matta acknowledged that a lack of steadiness has hampered his team, but as the Buckeyes get ready to welcome Northwestern for a rematch Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center, he said he’s hoping for a change.  “We’ve talked about everybody coming in being dialed in, being focused, whether you’re in the game or out of the game,” he said Monday. “Whatever we’ve got to do to get that consistent effort across the board is what we’re after.”That unwavering performance might happen against the Wildcats, the coach said, if what has been displayed at practice lately shows itself come tip-off. In practice, a litany of roster combinations have been used. None of them have had any “rhyme or reason,” Matta said. These random practice assignments are done in an attempt to bring as much hustle, energy and effort as possible instead of just having the starters practice against the bench. “These guys have worked their tails off,” Matta said. “I want to see the carryover from what we’ve been doing in practice.” If those things do carry over, Tate said he thinks the Buckeyes are in good position beyond just their game against the Wildcats. The 6-foot-4 sophomore said OSU hasn’t hit its stride quite yet, but if it does soon, it will have positive trajectory heading into postseason play.“We’re sitting right in that middle area of the Big Ten,” Tate said. “(Tuesday) versus Northwestern is a start, we could start a win streak, get some momentum going into these last couple weeks.”No loveAfter scoring in double figures in 12 of OSU’s first 15 games, including five performances of 18 points or more, junior forward Marc Loving seems to have lost his shooting stroke. In the Buckeyes’ last nine games, the Toledo native is averaging just 9.2 points a game, including six consecutive games of below 36 percent shooting. While speaking to the media Monday afternoon, Loving was noticeably dejected, consistently allowing Tate to answer a bulk of the questions. When he did speak, his answers were terse, his tone subdued. “The ball just isn’t going in the rim,” Loving said when asked to explain his struggles. “I feel like I’m taking decent shots, the ball just isn’t going down.” Matta offered a little more explanation for why he thinks his team’s most veteran player has been underperforming as of late. The coach said he thinks Loving has a propensity to carry mistakes with him. Rather than leaving a missed shot or turnover in the rear-view mirror, Loving continues to focus on them, he said, therefore clogging up his mind and making it difficult to break out of the slump. “He’s worked very hard the past few days,” Matta said, later adding, “I’m hoping, as a junior, he understands the ramifications of how well we need him to play.” Northwestern notesNorthwestern (16-8, 4-7) comes to Columbus feeling good after it curtailed its five-game losing skid on Thursday against Minnesota in emphatic fashion.The Wildcats throttled the Golden Gophers 82-58 to get back on the winning track for the first time since Jan. 12. Coach Chris Collins’ squad is powered by strong guard play from sophomore Bryant McIntosh and redshirt senior Tre Demps. They both average 14.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest. The duo likes to shoot a lot of 3-pointers, with more than 40 percent of Northwestern’s attempts coming from the two. McIntosh, who also distributes 6.6 assists per game, connects at a higher clip — 38 percent to Demps’ 28.“We’re definitely going to have to guard the 3-point line,” Matta said. A different wrinkle about the Wildcats this time around compared to the first meeting this season is that they will have senior center Alex Olah back on the floor. The 7-footer missed the Jan. 6 game, but since returning from injury, he’s shown flashes of the player who posted three 20-plus point performances early on. Matta said OSU will have to account for Olah’s presence on the floor, meaning Thompson and freshman center Daniel Giddens will be instrumental in the Buckeyes picking up the season sweep. Sometimes when a team has beaten an opponent already, the victor can relax heading into the rematch instead of placing the same importance on the game. Tate admitted this can happen at times, but he said the Buckeyes understand how crucial Tuesday’s tilt is.“We’ve got to come out with the same fire that we would any other team,” Tate said. “This one is vital in my opinion.”Up nextAfter taking on the Wildcats, the Buckeyes are slated to head east to Piscataway, New Jersey, to square off against Rutgers. OSU toppled the Scarlet Knights 94-68 on Jan. 13. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday. read more

Mens basketball Ohio State – Marshall preview

Kam Williams (15) shoots the ball during the Buckeyes home opener against North Carolina Central. The Buckeyes won 69-63. Ashley Nelson | Sports DirectorWhen the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Marshall Thundering Herd on Friday night, only one team will remain unbeaten after 40 minutes. It will be one of OSU’s tougher tests in the early part of the season, as the Buckeyes look to move to 6-0 before a game with No. 7 Virginia on Wednesday. OSU has earned two quality wins over Navy and Providence through the first five games, so securing another solid victory against Marshall could help keep the morale high, and help propel OSU through some upcoming challenging games, both out of conference and within the Big Ten. Marshall, a 4-0 team from Conference USA, is OSU’s final game in the Global Sports Invitational. In the unbracketed event, both teams have wins over North Carolina Central, Western Carolina and Jackson State. The Buckeyes and the Herd each took care of NC Central and Western Carolina, but it was Jackson State that made the distinction. Jackson State was the most recent win for both Marshall and Ohio State, but while OSU took care of business on Wednesday with a 30-point win, Marshall was in a tight game, only edging the Tigers by 10 points, after trailing at half. However, OSU coach Thad Matta said that Marshall’s athleticism will bring challenges for his team. Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni has experience in the NBA with his brother Mike D’Antoni, coaching in Phoenix and New York.“They’re wide open,” Matta said. “That’s their style … They got a heckuva point guard and guys that can flat out shoot the basketball.”For Ohio State, the key to the game will be keeping Marshall’s offensive productivity to a minimum. While the Buckeyes have yet to eclipse 80 points in a game, the Herd have exceeded that mark in all but one game. OSU has been a fairly stout defense, holding opposing teams to just 56.6 points per game and 42.5 in the past two games. The Buckeyes should be the toughest test for Marshall so far, and if the Herd can find a way to produce offensively like it has all year, there could be a shootout brewing.The Buckeyes strong-suit is their defense, but their offense has not been particularly bad this year, either. OSU averages 73 points per game and is led by junior forward Jae’Sean Tate who scores 13.2 points per game. Sophomore point guard JaQuan Lyle is coming off a double-double against Jackson State in which he had 11 assists. Redshirt junior guard Kam Williams and senior Marc Loving had 15 and 19 points, respectively last game. The Herd are led by junior guard Jon Elmore who averages 19 points per game. Marshall will be without starter Ryan Taylor because of a suspension after being ejected from his last game against Jackson State. Taylor averages 8.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop is still questionable to play. He suffered a sprained ankle against Providence on Nov. 17 and sat out the last two games. read more

Commentary Gus Johnsons departure leaves void in tournament coverage

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament never will be the same. No, it’s not because Connecticut and Butler made James Naismith spin in his grave with an unprecedentedly awful championship game. Nor is it because of further expansion. After failing to agree on a new contract with CBS, Gus Johnson will no longer call tournament games for the network. So, for the foreseeable future, the tournament will lack the voice that captured the frenzied nature of each game. Imagine if Jim Nantz called Ron Lewis’ shot against Xavier in 2007. As we transitioned to commercial, we would’ve been hit with some unbearable pun, such as “a three for Ron and overtime for all — the Musketeers and Buckeyes after this.” Yes, we’ll still get our dose of Johnson during Big Ten play, as he still is expected to do basketball for Big Ten Network. No one can turn each play in an Iowa-Northwestern game exciting quite like he can. Big Ten fans won’t lack his pizzazz, but most of the nation will — on the big tournament stage. He called NCAA Tournament games for 16 years, but now his presence will be replaced by guys like Tim Brando, who unleashed this gem of a call after Butler’s Matt Howard beat Old Dominion with a buzzer-beating tip-in: “Butler … did it again!” Clearly, there are few who can capture the moment quite like Johnson can. Traditionalists might prefer an understated announcer, in the Pat Summerall mold. Yet, it’s hard to mimic his voice and simultaneously speak so eloquently with such few words. Summerall and Johnson are on opposite ends of the spectrum — really. Most announcers try to strike a balance between the two … unless you’re Joe Buck, who is in a class of his own. He always sounds like he just found out his dog died right before going on air. Johnson reactions are more genuine than most. Sports fans tend to get excited when they see a remarkable play in a tense moment, and Johnson’s announcing style mimics this. Take his call of OSU’s Matt Sylvester’s game-winner against an undefeated Illinois in 2005. After he hit the shot, Johnson screamed uncontrollably, much like Buckeye fans. This informal style apparently is appealing to the Internet savvy. In March, someone created an online soundboard for Johnson, capturing his best bytes, including “here comes the pain” or “he’s got getting-away-from-the-cops speed.” CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell conducted an informal poll on Twitter, which showed that two of every three people say Johnson gets them to watch a game they normally wouldn’t watch. Apparently Johnson’s stronghold in the social media realm is something that CBS, which caters to its viewers’ median age of 55, doesn’t understand. As the lead college football announcer for Fox, Johnson may be taking a step forward in his eyes. Still, the entertainment value of the NCAA Tournament takes a clear step backward with his absence. read more