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Tom Carkeek - October 29, 2014

Welcome, boys and girls (wait - is that sexist?), to the latest edition of Stupid Human Football Tricks.

We refer, of course, to Sunday's abjectly brainless clown moves by Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston.

Neither of the foolish maneuvers directly affected the outcomes, as the Bills rolled over the hapless Jets 43-23 while the Bears extended their descent into irrelevance with a 51-23 surrender to the Patriots. But both:

* Were eerily reminiscent of similar dopey plays by other knuckleheads.

* Were met with only mild disdain by the coaching staff.

* Reeked of the toxic, look-at-me narcissism that increasingly defines sports at all levels.

Watkins' self-absorption brought to mind one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history, when Don Beebe of the Bills hustled down the field to knock the ball from hot-dogging Leon Lett and prevent the Cowboys from scoring a record-setting touchdown.

On his first reception of the game, Watkins caught a pass and broke free of the coverage but decided that a breathtaking 89-yard touchdown wouldn't garner quite enough individual attention. So, at about the 20-yard line, he slowed his pace, thrust his right arm toward the stands in a notice-me-right-now pose and, predictably, was tripped up at the 5. He got just what he deserved.

Houston's self-indictment called up an incident from Week 3 of this season, when Lions... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - October 28, 2014

The NBA instituted the 3-point shot for the 1979-1980 season, following the lead of the defunct ABA. At first, the shot gained traction slowly. NBA teams still averaged only 2.4 3-point attempts per game by the 1983-1984 season. However, after recognizing that 3-pointers as a whole yielded more points per shot than most 2- pointers, 3-point shooting increased and recently accelerated to a record 21.9 shots per team per game last season. 

Unfortunately, some people view the preference for 3-point shooting as a mandate.

Several commentators recently lambasted new Lakers coach Byron Scott because the Lakers took few 3-pointers in preseason games. In an SB Nation piece, the writers implied that Scott stupidly ignores modern offensive strategy to the detriment of his team. 

I suspect that Scott simply knows better than to apply the 3-point dogma to his poor 3-point shooting team. At the time in the preseason of the Scott critiques, the Lakers ranked last in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage with a pathetic 26.9 percent average. Shooting more 3’s would have resulted mainly in more missed shots.

More importantly, Scott might have figured out a broader truth, that data do not favor the 3-point dogma even as a general strategy.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the higher efficiency of the 3-point shot does not necessarily mean that teams will routinely benefit from shooting more of them. A concerted effort to take more... read more »

Tom Carkeek - October 24, 2014

If you've been consumed with wondering why the U.S. is deploying up to 4,000 troops to combat Ebola but zero to fight ISIS, you might have missed the biggest sports story of the week.

Bulletin: The Cowboys released Michael Sam from their practice squad.

But even if you were unaware of the initial reports, you surely saw the news conference that Jerry Jones called to announce that the NFL's first openly gay draftee had been cut. No, wait, Jones called that news conference last month to announce Sam's signing, not his release.

OK, then, certainly you saw plastered all over television Sam's big smooch with his boyfriend in consolation after the Cowboys had dumped him. No, that's right, TV flooded us with those images when Sam was drafted, recognizing that the greedy, insensitive, backward NFL had finally been forced to do the right thing.

But even if you avoided all that, you no doubt read on sports websites everywhere the detailed analyses of why Sam - a fine but undersized edge rusher in college who doesn't have a true position as a pro - just can't cut it in the NFL. Oh, yeah, good point: Actually, nobody has written that story this week.

These really are confusing times.

After all, just two short months ago, ESPN was running in a Zapruder-like loop of a play on which Sam, then trying to make the St. Louis Rams, sacked Browns rookie Johnny Manziel. The only questions, apparently, were whether Sam was better than Reggie White and how... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - October 22, 2014

The San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals so easily in Game 1 of the World Series that Royals manager Ned Yost won’t even be blamed for it. That’s ironic - during the Royals' eight-game sweep to the American League pennant, fans and media commonly suggested that they won in spite of Yost. Doug Padilla at ESPN.com wrote, “Everything unconventional that Yost tried, his team overcame.” Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune harshly described him as a “very bad manager” and a “bumbling idiot” who would be played by Steve Carell if anyone made a movie of the 2014 Royals.

Much of the recent Yost criticism attacked his old-school analytics-adverse style that emphasizes sacrifice bunts and stolen bases. That aspect of the criticism seems unfair.

To state the obvious, a successful steal always helps. Sabermetricians never suggested that teams refrain from stealing bases. They did emphasize the previously underestimated harm that comes from being thrown out stealing. Depending on the overall level of offense for the league, they found that teams must steal successfully around 65 to 70 percent of the time to break even in terms of the overall result. 

Kansas City led Major League Baseball in steals this season and did so with a success rate about 81 percent during both the regular season and the postseason as yet. That’s all good, above break-even rate. No problem there for Yost.

Yost has been criticized even more for sacrifice bunting, with four against the Oakland Athletics... read more »