Less than a year after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Darrelle Revis one of the splashiest acquisitions of the 2013 NFL off-season, the star cornerback is on the move again — this time as a free agent to the New England Patriots.The economics behind Tampa Bay’s desire to divest themselves of Revis were predictably complex, given the league’s byzantine salary-cap rules. But suffice it to say, Revis would have cost the Buccaneers’ front office a lot of money. On the field, though, he will bring a lot of value to New England. Last season, he ranked first among cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ play-by-play-based grading system (this data is behind a paywall), making it the second time he’s led the NFL in that metric over the past three years. (He also finished first in 2011.)But more importantly, Revis’ 2013 contributions extended beyond the stat sheet. Paradoxically, a top-flight cornerback’s statistics — particularly his interceptions — tend to go down as he plays better.Take the great Deion Sanders. According to Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value (a measure of an NFL player’s overall value to his team), Sanders peaked during the 1996 season, when he was named first-team All-Pro while playing every game for the Dallas Cowboys. Yet that same season, he tied his career-low for interceptions in a season (two) — even a broken-down, 37-year-old Sanders had more picks with the Baltimore Ravens in 2004.What was going on? Teams were afraid to throw in Sanders’ direction. He wasn’t accumulating interceptions because he rarely had the chance to do so. The same was true for Revis last season. Despite posting one of the lower interception totals of his career, he was effectively shutting off one half of the field, keeping receivers from getting open and/or scaring the opposing quarterback away from risking a throw in his vicinity.Among qualified cornerbacks, only the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman discouraged opposing passes more than Revis. Teams threw in Sherman’s direction once every 17 snaps. Revis was targeted once every 15 snaps. Only two other CBs, the Atlanta Falcons’ Asante Samuel and the New Orleans Saints’ Keenan Lewis, even cracked the one-in-13 barrier last season. You can’t complete a pass if you don’t attempt it, so a lot of Revis’ value lies in this deterrent factor.All of this isn’t to say that the Buccaneers were wrong to release Revis. They’re a rebuilding team with a new coach, Lovie Smith, and have little use for a veteran soaking up a massive amount of cap room and costing them an extra draft slot. But the Patriots are getting a cornerback who still ranks among the game’s elite.
neil: LOLchris.herring: Not just Hood, either. Zach Collins played his butt off, too, in Game 6 and stepped up in a way I didn’t expect.All this while the Nuggets’ bench did almost nothing on the night.That’s kind of been the story of the entire series, really. neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): The elephant in the room is how eerily similar to last year this is playing out. The Warriors were in the same spot Houston is, down 3-2, with the opponent suffering a key injury. (That time it was Chris Paul who was out, and Golden State stormed back, obviously.)chris.herring: Right.natesilver: At the same time, although Harden disappeared down the stretch run for Game 5 and that wasn’t great, I think Houston gets a little bit too much grief. Beating the KD-less Warriors is still a big feat — remember, they won 73 games without KD! — especially at Oracle Arena.chris.herring: It’s just that Houston had erased a 20-point Warriors lead and taken the lead on the road, with KD out of the picture, and Steph struggling. If you win that game, you’re up 3-2 with a chance to close it at home. They can still do it, but now they have to come back instead of merely going in for the kill.neil: We often talk about the seeming inevitability of Golden State winning these past few years. But if they win again, that fourth quarter will be looked back at as a turning point of sorts, I think. A place where they made their stand as the season could have begun slipping away. Curry even started to get things rolling in that fourth quarter, after a brutal series for the most part.natesilver: I don’t know — the whole game felt like Golden State’s to lose. The first half in particular was wide-open and sloppy, which you’d think was the Warriors’ jam more than Houston’s.chris.herring: Just a couple of really clear things that killed the Rockets. Paul has never shot that poorly in a playoff game. Kevon Looney basically became PJ Tucker for a night, with all the offensive rebounds. The bizarre, fluke play at the end of the game.natesilver: Sometimes I wonder if these analytics-heavy teams don’t emphasize offensive rebounding enough. Of course, they’ve spent way more time looking at the data than I have. But certain types of situations increase offensive rebound percentage more than others, and it can be a hidden source of value.chris.herring: Maybe it was just GSW’s game to take unless the Rockets took it from the Warriors, which goes to Nate’s point about the game having been in Oakland.I’m just really stuck on the “What if?” of that outcome. What if that was the last game at Oracle, potentially, and the Rockets could close this out tonight at home? The hype surrounding tonight would be insane.I guess similar to last year, when Houston had a 3-2 lead but without Paul.neil: It’s worth noting that with KD on the court in the series, the Warriors are +8.8 per 100 possessions; without him, they’re -6.2. So this injury really does add a huge late wrinkle to what was already a mega-interesting series.chris.herring: I know the Warriors have won championships without KD and have even played stretches without him since he joined the team. But I do think it’s interesting that they’d gotten so used to relying on him this postseason.He’d led them in scoring for eight straight games.neil: He also completely changes HOW they play. They run so many more isolations with KD.chris.herring: Even for Steph and Klay, going from that to having to do it all themselves again is a shift.gfoster: Obviously, Curry and Thompson will need to step up on the offensive side to make up for that lost production — and both have been pretty so-so if not bad. But without DeMarcus Cousins and with a thin bench, I wonder how this affects them defensively. How do you think both teams adjust?chris.herring: I would assume the Warriors are going to start Looney without Durant there.You don’t have a ton of options, really.But the Rockets can shade their defense a lot differently without Durant in the mix.natesilver: I guess the one thing about Golden State is that with both KD and Steph out there — and Klay! — there are probably some diminishing returns in terms of being able to get good looks. Meaning, KD won’t hurt quite as much as if they didn’t have another super-high-usage player (Curry) and another super-efficient player (Thompson). Maybe there’s less margin of error against Houston’s defense, though.neil: If the Warriors’ lack of depth was ever going to finally catch up to them, it’s now.natesilver: Yeah, what I really worry about for GSW is the bench units. Curry still doesn’t look exactly right, and if you’re playing him 42 minutes, or whatever, that probably isn’t great.But also not great if you’re playing him 38 minutes and have 10 minutes of a pretty terrible lineup.gfoster: Likewise, Draymond Green gets into foul trouble again, and it’s even more complicated.chris.herring: It’s pretty wild to consider how inevitably we talk of the Warriors winning it all again when an injury like this — one that keeps him out the remainder of the series, but not for the entire playoffs — is so consequential.neil: The flip side, though, is how they still have a good chance to win without a top-five player. Any other team loses a player of KD’s stature and it’s sorta over.natesilver: For the past several seasons, our model has usually had Golden State at about 50 percent to win the championship when the playoffs begin. Sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower. Either way, though, that’s a long way from 100 percent.chris.herring: I’m interested to see how Paul responds tonight. And to see whether Tucker is a pest again the way he was in Game 4.He’s not a big-time offensive player, but Tucker not having to guard KD all game long could open things up for him, too.neil: Tucker, Paul and (weirdly) Austin Rivers seem to be the bellwethers for Houston. When they play well, the Rockets have won. Harden, on the other hand, has been pretty even in production between wins and losses this series.natesilver: Which is usually how it works, Neil. 😉 But I agree. This is one of those series where I think basically every game was the deserved outcome, notwithstanding some of the foul controversies in Game 1.neil: Well, my point is that it hasn’t exactly been Harden abnormally taking over games to will Houston to their wins. (To the extent that 35 points per game is just normal for him, haha.)natesilver: I agree, it’s been the entire game plan working. And I don’t think the game plan really worked in Game 5.gfoster: The Trail Blazers and Nuggets will play Game 7 in Denver. Game 7s in the NBA playoffs strongly favor the home team: Nearly 80 percent of them have gone to the home side. How are Portland’s chances of being in that 20 percent group?neil: You would think that number would be even higher in Denver’s favor because the Nuggets have such a strong home-court advantage.natesilver: We actually have Denver at “only” 76 percent, so a bit lower than the historical norm, and we account for the fact that teams at altitude have a bigger home court-advantage. But the home team in Game 7 is by definition the higher seed, and the thing about the Nuggets is that they aren’t as strong as a typical highly seeded team.chris.herring: The Blazers’ chances are wonderful if they can get one more game of bench production like the one they just got in Game 6.neil: Rodney Hood! He knows a new contract is coming. Averaging 16.2 PPG in this series.It was also big for Dame Lillard to get hot from three again like he was against OKC.chris.herring: This tweet blew me the hell away: natesilver: If Zach Collins and Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood are having breakout games … maybe that just means that Denver isn’t very good?chris.herring: The Nuggets haven’t been able to take Nikola Jokic off the court at all.gfoster: I wonder how much fatigue will begin to play a factor, which we have obviously seen in these long series. Dame looks a little gassed no?natesilver: Jokic has also looked gassed at times, except that’s how he always looks so it’s hard to read too much into it.chris.herring: Dame hit some ridiculous shots yesterday — both of the “he’s in a different area code” sort of way, and one where he was falling over and just threw something up and got it go down anyway.natesilver: Did we discuss the four-overtime game? I thought some of the player usage decisions were pretty ridiculous, in terms of teams not incorporating their benches more.neil: Yeah, there were some wild minute totals being recorded in that game. Jokic played 65 minutes!natesilver: Most ever in a playoff game.chris.herring: Yeah. Mike Malone said he needs to trust his bench a bit more.gfoster: C.J. McCollum played 60. Dame played a relatively breezy 58.chris.herring: It’s been tough. Denver’s backup point guard, Monte Morris, who in my opinion was one of the two or three most consistent bench players in the league, has scored 4, 3, 0, 2, 6 and 0 in this series.And trusting a bench that is consistently giving you negative returns whenever Jokic takes a breather … there isn’t time to watch negative returns roll in!It’s the playoffs. Every minute is huge.natesilver: Random aside, but it does seem like teams that are dependent on a PG or a C can have more problems with their depth than a look at their roster might imply. If your star is a SG or SF or maybe a PF, you can slide guys around a lot more and give the team different looks. It’s hard to replace a guy like Jokic, though, in way that’s fluid with your overall gameplan.neil: Yeah, there’s a lot more benefit to versatility in the middle of basketball’s “defensive spectrum” (or whatever we’re calling it).chris.herring: 100 percent, Nate.neil: Both ends call for more specific skills that aren’t as easily replicated when your star needs a breather.natesilver: This is also sort of an interesting problem with on/off statistics. If certain types of players make roster construction harder, and lead to worse lineups when they’re off the floor, a lot of the +/- stats will mistakenly give them credit for that.chris.herring: There was that game to start the playoffs that Denver lost, where Jokic took only nine shots. I was close to writing an entire story about that notion.They’ve done a much better job making sure he’s constantly involved in everything since then. They just have a limited bench.I still wouldn’t like their chances in the next round. But if KD takes a while to come back, at least they’d be playing another thin team in GSW, assuming the Warriors find a way to get one of the next two.gfoster: Moving to the East, Philly staved off elimination and will go back to Canada for Game 7 — and they didn’t get booed (that much) by their home fans, so that’s big. Obviously, this was a big game for Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, but Joel Embiid posting a +40 in 36 minutes while only scoring 17 is absurd.neil: Philly’s Big 3 were amazing in Game 6. They finally got it all together at once.chris.herring: I thought Simmons was the story of the night.natesilver: While Embiid’s +40 stood out in Game 6, I noticed that Simmons has had a positive rating in every Philly win so far in the playoffs and a negative one in every Philly loss.chris.herring: Exactlynatesilver: gfoster (Geoff Foster, sports editor): After a lopsided and — let’s face it — largely uninteresting first round, the second round of the NBA playoffs is delivering on its promise. We have only one team that’s already punched its ticket (Milwaukee). Philadelphia and Portland were each able to force a Game 7 last night with clutch wins at home, but let’s start with the Golden State-Houston series, which resumes with Game 6 in Houston tonight. The extent of the Kevin Durant injury is not totally known, but we do know he is out for the remainder of this series. This possibly devastating news was likely a little bit easier to swallow for Golden State fans considering that many people (including myself) looked at that noncontact injury Wednesday and assumed he injured his Achilles.Does this give Houston a legitimate shot to take this series? Or did they blow a crucial opportunity by not stealing Game 5 when KD went down?chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): Both.If they lose the series, they’re going to kick themselves for what happened in Game 5. But that said, they still have a decent shot to pull the upset. The margin for error is so much less now without KD there. They have to play well enough on offense while hoping that either Steph Curry or Klay Thompson are simply ineffective for a game or two. Steph reached down deep and remembered who he was in that fourth quarter, but it’s not inconceivable to me that Houston takes advantage of this.natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): It absolutely gives them a shot. Golden State was basically the equivalent of half a star player better than the rest of the top tier (Houston, Milwaukee, Toronto). Take that player away, and they’re probably a half-step behind instead. Without KD, they’re underdogs in a neutral-court series against all of those teams. HOWEVER, the Warriors only need to win one of the two remaining games to close out against Houston, and one of those games is at home, so they’re still overall favorites (64 percent favorites, more precisely) to win the series. natesilver: Historically, lots and lots of players have learned to shoot the three, especially recently.neil: Yeah, especially big men, I suppose.chris.herring: I legitimately can’t believe Jason Kidd is still in consideration for jobs when he convinced Giannis (and Jabari Parker) not to shoot threes anymorenatesilver: But with Simmons, his free-throw percentage is pretty bad, and he’s bad on long twos, so that does suggest there might be something structurally wrong with his shot.chris.herring: Anyway, I think the Raptors should be fine at home. The series has showcased a number of swings in either direction. If they keep Simmons out of transition, Kyle Lowry doesn’t lay an offensive egg at home, and Kawhi Leonard is himself, I think they’ll be OKgfoster: Kristaps Porzingis aside, was there a bigger trade deadline move than Toronto getting Marc Gasol? I suppose we could point back to Rodney Hood.chris.herring: Gasol was tailor-made for this series, and the matchup with Embiid. He’s not nearly as talented, but he can hold his own with a player who otherwise would have had a chance to break this series open.(Although it’s fair to point out that Embiid has also had, like, three different illnesses this series, somehow.)natesilver: It’s a pretty high-leverage Game 7 in that whichever team loses isn’t going to feel at all good about its season. Not like, say, Portland, which to be honest can be pretty happy even if they get blown out in Denver.chris.herring: That’s certainly true.neil: And this is the point where both teams’ seasons ended last year, too. So they couldn’t even point to a second-round berth as progress.gfoster: Does Brett Brown keep his job if Philadelphia loses?natesilver: I don’t think so.chris.herring: I’d like to think he *should* be safe with a loss, since the series made it seven games. But the owner has been pretty clear in saying that he wanted to see progress with how all-in the Sixers just went. And losing in the second round again, technically, wouldn’t be progress.natesilver: I know Philly has a bunch of weird fits, but Occam’s razor is that a team with Embiid, Simmons, Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick ought to be VERY good, even with no bench.chris.herring: We talked about it before, but I don’t know if I could blame Brown for not getting more out of a group that hasn’t spent that much time together. Especially with Embiid being less than healthy this series. But I’m also not the one making multimillion-dollar decisions in these trades, hirings and firings.neil: Yeah, even though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they went in a new direction, it would feel a little unfair given the fit and the lack of cohesion.natesilver: I do sort of wonder if they trade Simmons if they lose.gfoster: Does Butler return if they lose?chris.herring: The city of Philadelphia will riot if they don’t bring Butler back.neil: 🔔chris.herring: He’s been fantastic at times, and it’s clear how much he cares about winning. I think the better question is whether they’ll bring Harris back — and if so, at what money.Butler is fascinating because of the mileage he has on his body. But the fans will legitimately be furious if they don’t bring him back.neil: I’m always shocked at how young Butler is. He feels like he’s been around forever.natesilver: Who they would trade Simmons for is a tricky question, because his salary is still pretty low next year. On Twitter the other day, I suggested that an interesting trade might be Simmons straight up for the No. 2 or 3 overall pick, and everyone semed to hate that.chris.herring: A Simmons trade could immediately improve the playoff outlook of the team, but he’s also so young to where it’s very easy to see how and where he could improve. But it’s part of the reason why I’d at least like to see him experimenting with a jumper during games. You really can’t go entire postseasons without so much as even attempting a shot outside the paint. And playing center on a team with Embiid won’t work long-term.natesilver: Because he’s only making like $8 million next year, though, it’s hard to trade him for a veteran talent without having to package him with someone else and messing up your books. So if you could trade him for a young point guard, and actually use Butler as your primary ball handler in a lot of lineups, that might be interesting.chris.herring: It’s easy to say in hindsight, but having Landry Shamet still would have been massive for this team. You also have the question of what to do with a player like Redick — one of your few floor-spacers — once his deal ends this summer.gfoster: Speaking of next season’s plans, I wanted to touch on Boston quickly, who was knocked out this week by Milwaukee (who we haven’t even mentioned). What is going to happen with that team? Does Kyrie Irving stay?neil: What a miserable end to the series (and probably his Celtics career) for Kyrie.chris.herring: I just want to reiterate here: I think Milwaukee can, and probably will, win the whole thing this year.The Bucks haven’t gotten quite enough credit for taking care of business. We wrote the piece about the Celtics having shut down Giannis in Game 1 — and then didn’t mention them again. The Bucks have been impressive as hell.neil: If the Rockets hold court at home in Game 6, the Bucks will be the only team to advance in less than seven games. (And they did it in five.) Although idk how much that says about the Celtics.chris.herring: But Kyrie … who knows with this guy?natesilver: Good news, New York: Kyrie Irving is now officially enough of a headcase to play for the Knicks!neil: LOL, Nate.chris.herring: I don’t think you can go as far as to say that Kyrie burned bridges with the Celtics. But there were so many odd moments where he seemed to be talking about his teammates and what all they needed to do when it wasn’t clear that Kyrie had the stature to say those things.What I mean by that: If you aren’t all the way in, and you waffle on the idea of being somewhere long-term, it looks weird if you readily critique your younger teammates, who probably feel just as invested, if not more invested, as you are. So it was interesting to see Terry Rozier say that he felt he dealt with BS all season. It was interesting to see Jaylen Brown’s many faces on the bench as their season was winding down.natesilver: It’s still hard to see him coming back. I mean, he hasn’t been that subtle about conveying his intentions. Which doesn’t mean he couldn’t change his mind later.chris.herring: It was interesting to hear Al Horford admit that the Bucks reminded him of his 60-win Hawks team, but with a legitimate superstar. And it was interesting to watch Kyrie have a horrible shooting series in which he said he should just take more shots to shoot himself out of the slump.Yeah. I think he’s gone. Knick fans had to be ecstatic at how that all played out.natesilver: It’s also not clear how much Boston wants him back. Certainly the fans have turned on him. His teammates don’t love him. He doesn’t provide that much value relative to the max contract. I’m pretty bullish on Kyrie, but he’s not a huge bargain.chris.herring: Aside from wanting to make up for whatever this season was, I don’t know why Kyrie would return to Boston at this point if he feels over the whole situation.gfoster: I think Kyrie’s status in Boston is contingent on whether the Celtics pursue Anthony Davis, right? Wouldn’t he stay in that scenario?chris.herring: I never understood why he committed to staying as the season was starting. But the fact that he did, if he doesn’t actually want to be there, doesn’t mean he should still follow through with it. I think they’ll likely pursue Davis regardless of Irving.natesilver: Mayyybee not, Geoff? A lot of the other teams that Kyrie might go to could also put together a decent offer for AD.chris.herring: The challenge there is if Irving is gone/leaving, you would have a pretty bare cupboard to entice Davis to stay. Because he’ll be a free agent pretty soon, too.natesilver: By this point next week, we’ll know who has the No. 1 overall pick, too.chris.herring: That was the risk the Celtics waged by trading for Irving in the first place. (They gave up a banged-up Isaiah Thomas, so it wasn’t a huge risk. But still.)This risk would likely involve Jayson Tatum and other important pieces. You’d have to make sure Davis wanted to be there before pulling that trigger, I’d think.natesilver: If push comes absolutely to shove, the Celtics still have Tatum and Brown on cheap deals, a ton of extra draft picks and a good coaching/scouting/analytics staff.So that’s a fair bit of assets to fall back on. It might make you a little more risk-averse, even though Danny Ainge has a reputation as a gambler.gfoster: So under the new lottery rules, the Knicks, Cavs and Suns each have a 14 percent chance at landing Zion Williamson. The Bulls are 12.5 percent, Atlanta 10 percent, Wizards 9 percent.natesilver: Which is the most annoying scenario? That he ends up in Cleveland, maybe?gfoster: Yes. Has to be.neil: Yet ANOTHER Cavs No. 1 pick would be hilarious.gfoster: It’s like when the Edmonton Oilers won the lottery in four out of six years. (hockey reference!!)chris.herring: Maybe I’m too much of a purist? The idea of them winning a fourth lotto in such a tight window would be insane (and maybe depressing on some level, because it feels like incompetent ownership would be gifted with a star yet again). But I also think it would make the Cavs interesting. That said: If he goes to the Hawks, that would be kind of fascinating — perhaps the most interesting fit of the teams with a realistic chance.neil: Trae Young + Zion, let’s GOOOOOO.chris.herring: If he goes to the Knicks, the hype will be like something I’ve never seen in my lifetime. Especially with the KD/Kyrie rumors having been out there, too.gfoster: I do like the idea of Ja Morant on the Knicks.natesilver: Would you trade him for Anthony Davis, though?chris.herring: Will give a lot of voice to the idea of the Knicks swapping the No. 1 pick for a Davis package or somethingnatesilver: WOULD YOU DO IT, CHRIS, IF YOU’RE THE KNICKS?!?gfoster: All-caps questions need answers.chris.herring: LOL.neil: Yeah, I feel like the bottom part of this chat has just been Nate angling to get AD, KD and Kyrie on the Knicks.chris.herring: If I had a really strong sense that I was going to get Durant and/or Kyrie, I would be fine with that. If it was just Davis, and no pieces around him, no. I don’t trust the Knicks enough to truly build it from the ground up, with a single star player in place.Hopefully that makes sense and won’t get me stoned by the Knick fans who read this.natesilver: I’m reading Knicks message boards where people are like “Mitchell Robinson is too good to trade for Anthony Davis.”chris.herring: He’s not. But man, it would be great to hold on to him if you could.Especially if you’re giving them Zion/the first pick. Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina, you’d feel more comfortable giving away.natesilver: Yeah, I think Zion for Davis is at least fair value for New Orleans, considering that he really just has one year left on the contract. So if the Knicks are giving up a bunch of other stuff too, I start to not like the trade.gfoster: All right, the lottery is Tuesday, so next week we will have more developments to discuss in this weekly 2018-19 Playoffs/Wild Knicks Speculation chat. Enjoy the conclusion of the second round!Check out our latest NBA predictions. chris.herring: Simmons had 21 points in Game 6, but had only managed 33 TOTAL in Games 2-5.natesilver: I guess that isn’t hugely surprising, but still — Simmons is one of the ultimate “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” players.neil: And one narrative of these playoffs has been about whether Simmons truly fits into Philly’s group, especially long-term. He’s been under a LOT of scrutiny and criticism.chris.herring: I think it’s somewhat unlikely that he has a repeat performance in Game 7 on the road. But even if they can get 15 or so from him on halfway efficient shooting, it’s massive.We know what he is for now.natesilver: I was sorta-kinda persuaded by the argument that his natural position is as a stretch center.chris.herring: But I think that’s part of what works against him in these playoffs: If you keep him and Philly out of transition, he’s going to struggle to score, and he’s going to clog the paint in that dunker’s spotI really loved that story, too, Nate — and was going to find a reason to post it in here.neil: “A bigger and more athletic version of Draymond Green with more scoring ability”chris.herring: And in a way, that’s what he did yesterday.natesilver: I think he’s become a bit underrated at this point. Like, even if you concede the argument that he and Embiid are a bad fit together, if I’m one of the 29 other GMs, I’d be looking for a way to buy low on Simmons.chris.herring: He scored off a couple putbacks. And he scored on fastbreaks. Your challenge is that you can game-plan him during the playoffs as an opposing defense.The fact that he isn’t a jump-shooting threat whatsoever — like, we KNOW he’s not going to shoot — makes him different in that sense than a Draymond, or a Giannis Antetokounmpo. It puts more pressure on the other guys to find ways to score while playing defenses that take advantage of that.But he’s still really, really good.natesilver: If Simmons shot a Giannis number of threes, could he shoot at Giannis’s percentage? It’s not that high a bar to clear.chris.herring: Nah, I’ve watched him warm up several times before. Whereas most NBA players, at any position, can knock down a handful of threes without much trouble, it doesn’t come natural for Simmons at all.natesilver: Hahachris.herring: You’re more likely to see him miss five or six triples in a row than you are to see him hit three or four out of 10 when he’s warming up wide-open.natesilver: Do you buy the theory that he’s shooting with the wrong hand?chris.herring: I think it’s a real possibility, yes. When you watch him shoot with his right hand, it looks more natural than with his left.And I said it on Twitter recently: I think Giannis will be a league-average shooter from three next year.neil: Is perimeter shooting a skill that a player can learn to at least be competent at with enough work? I guess Giannis is a weird comparison point because his best 3-point percentage in a season was still the 34.7 percent he hit as a 19-year-old rookie.
On these lists you’ll find all the old standbys but probably some surprises, too. Kyle Lowry’s performance last year put him the 97th percentile, well within the mark we’d expect to find for the best player on a championship-caliber team. The Toronto Raptors team around him just wasn’t up to that level.You’ll also notice that four members of the San Antonio Spurs appear on these lists, while just one member of the Miami Heat does: LeBron James. The Heat were something of an outlier last season as Dwyane Wade, the team’s second-best player, had an SPM that placed him in the 82nd percentile, more than a standard deviation less than the average second-best player on finals teams. In fact the average SPM percentile rank of the Heat’s three best players last season — James, Wade and Mario Chalmers — was just 82. On only six of the 40 finals teams in this sample did the three players have a lower average mark. By comparison, the average SPM percentile rank of the Spurs’ three best players last season was 92nd.Which brings us to the 2004 Pistons, the championship team often acknowledged as lacking a transcendent star. But this perception is a misconception. No players on the team were dominant individual scorers, sure, but the Pistons’ best players performed at levels of elite stardom. Their three best players that season — Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups — had SPM marks that placed them in the 95th, 95th and 92nd percentiles, respectively. In fact, the average of the trio’s SPM percentiles that season ranks higher than that of all but five of the 40 teams in this sample. The 2004 Pistons may have been starless in terms of the subjective ways we define the term, but by objective measures of performance, they had as much star power as nearly any championship-caliber team of the last 20 years.This should bring hope to teams like the Warriors, Grizzlies, Raptors and Wizards. We may not see Andrew Bogut, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry or John Wall as the kind of stars who can help lead a team to the finals. But each has been at or near that level of production in the past. If the teams around them can provide the necessary support, the fact that they aren’t dominating scorers or sneaker-selling heroes won’t stop them from winning championships. You need stars to win championships. It’s one of the oldest pieces of NBA conventional wisdom, and every year it’s validated as another star leads his team to the title. So far this year the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards may hold some of the top spots in each conference while seemingly lacking the celestial requirements for championship contention. But at some point they’ll be overtaken by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs or Los Angeles Clippers.It’s an idea that gains more credence every time an NBA analyst trots it out. Bill Simmons asks, “Can you win an NBA Championship if Carmelo Anthony is your best player?” Jeff Caplan wonders if a team “lacking a legit superstar” like the Grizzlies or the Indiana Pacers can really win it all. NBA.com roundtables lead off with questions like, “Can a team win it all nowadays without an MVP-type superstar?” The starless 2004 Detroit Pistons are often acknowledged as the exception that proves the rule.What we do know for sure is that it takes an elite team performance to win a championship, and elite teams are usually (but not always) driven by elite players. The problem is that there is no objective definition of what makes somebody a suitable enough star to win championships. Dwyane Wade didn’t have the experience to lead his team to a title … until he did just that in the 2006 NBA Finals. After his playoff struggles in 2006 and 2007, Dirk Nowitzki clearly couldn’t help his team break through … until he did in the 2011 finals. Often we don’t recognize the players who meet our imagined championship threshold until the second before they cross it.But the data — the data holds some answers. We can use it to look at the rosters of teams that made the finals and better understand just how good their best players were. Using Statistical Plus-Minus — an estimated measure of a player’s value in points per 100 possessions relative to the league average — I looked at where each finals player ranked, relative to the league, in the season his team made the finals.The table at left covers the past 20 seasons and shows the average, minimum and maximum SPM percentile for the first, second and third-best players on finals teams.That bottom row is not the fabled 2004 Pistons. It’s the 1999 New York Knicks, who made their way to the finals as an eight seed during the lockout-shortened season. Only two other finals teams over the past 20 seasons had their best player rank below the 90th percentile in SPM — the 2010 Boston Celtics and the 2000 Indiana Pacers.So the best teams are indeed almost always driven by the best players. But who are those players? Let’s use last season as an example. The table below shows SPM percentile ranks from 2013-14. The table is color-coded, separating the players into two groups: those who are within one standard deviation of the average for the best players on NBA Finals teams for the 1994-95 through 2013-14 seasons, and those who just missed the cut.1Percentile ranks are for players who played at least 115 minutes, a pool of about 200 players per season.
The derby for Japanese baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani has nearly reached its long-awaited conclusion, after the pitching-and-hitting phenom narrowed his list of preferred teams down to seven. (Notably, the list doesn’t include either the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox — Ohtani is reportedly leaning toward smaller-market and/or West Coast clubs.) If MLB’s best two-way player since Babe Ruth1Or at least Wes Ferrell. is on his way, we’ll know soon which uniform he’ll wear while revolutionizing the game.On the field, scouts are sold on Ohtani’s potential (if not his durability) as a top pitcher, as well as his speed and raw power as a hitter. And the statistical projections think he’ll be very good no matter what position he plays. According to the ZiPS system, developed by ESPN’s Dan Szymborski, both Ohtani’s ERA and his on-base-plus-slugging projections figure to be about 20 percent better than league average2Relative to park and league. over his next five seasons in the big leagues. For context’s sake, only 58 hitters and 79 pitchers met either of those qualifications over the preceding five seasons. Ohtani has the potential to hit both benchmarks.Of course, there’s also a lot of uncertainty around Ohtani’s projection to the American game, as is always the case with players whose backgrounds are in the different flavor of baseball being played in Japan. To get a sense for which other players from Japan had numbers similar to Ohtani’s, I looked at Clay Davenport’s translated Japanese-league statistics for native-born players with at least 700 MLB plate appearances or 200 innings pitched. (Specifically, I used the peak-adjusted version of Davenport’s stats, which accounts for a player’s age and tries to peg how good he’ll be in his prime.)3Davenport’s 2017 numbers are not updated yet for Ohtani, but I estimated the adjustment using Davenport’s 2016 data and Ohtani’s statistics at Baseball-Reference.com. I then ran Bill James’s Similarity Scores for each set of statistics — after converting them all to a per-season format — to give us the pitchers and hitters whose body of work most resembled Ohtani’s before arriving in America. Kenta Maeda3.804.1131202254.4126.96.36.19956 Hideki Matsui.82217.1.28732420651065.843967 K. Kawakami4.321.8131202224.415.42.41.0859 NAMEERAWARWLSVIPERASO/9BB/9HR/9SIMILARITY Peak-adjusted statistics take into account a player’s age and project his numbers to a player’s prime seasons. The per-season adjustment converts all numbers to 600 plate appearances.Sources: ClayDavenport.com, Baseball-Reference.com Kazuhiro Sasaki3.143.96535963.8188.8.131.5284 As for Ohtani’s batting stats, only two hitters — fellow outfielders Hideki Matsui and Kosuke Fukudome — stand out as being highly similar to their younger counterpart, and they also represent two potentially divergent paths for Ohtani’s performance at the plate. After a 10-year MLB career spent mostly with the Yankees, Matsui ended up being the greatest Japanese power hitter ever to play in the U.S. (and the second-best position player, behind future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki). Ohtani’s power stats in Japan were every bit as impressive as Matsui’s were before he arrived stateside; in terms of translated stats, the former has the latter beat on home runs and doubles per 600 plate appearances, in addition to slugging percentage and OPS. But it’s important to note that Fukudome’s numbers weren’t too far behind, and his MLB career is largely viewed as a disappointment.It’s also worth pointing out that few hitters who profile as powerfully as Ohtani have even tried to make the leap from Japan to the major leagues. Japanese position players have more frequently been cast from a similar mold as Ichiro, whose game was based around speed and hitting for average, not blasting monster home runs. (At least, not outside of batting practice.) So on the batting side, Ohtani will be exploring territory still somewhat uncharted by past Japanese prospects — a matter made even more complicated by scouts’ assessments that his swing needs shortening and concerns that he won’t be able to make the proper adjustments unless he gets a lot of reps against MLB-caliber pitching.But even if he ends up being more like a mashup of Matsuzaka and Fukudome than Darvish and Matsui, Ohtani would still have plenty of value because of the unique dual role he could fill. A league-average pitcher in 150 innings plus an average hitter with 100 plate appearances would be worth 1.8 wins above replacement (1.5 with his arm and 0.3 with his bat).4Ohtani might get around 55 plate appearances in the course of throwing 150 innings as a starting pitcher, so this assumes he’d also get a few extra PAs a week as a fielder or pinch-hitter. Those stats alone would fetch nearly $20 million on the free agent market — and that’s without even considering the ways in which Ohtani might “break” the very framework of WAR itself.Systems like WAR are designed to judge the value of pitchers’ batting relative to other pitchers, so the total offensive WAR for pitchers in a given season adds up to about zero. (Because pitchers tend to be horrible hitters, this essentially means the per-inning position adjustment for pitchers is astronomical compared even with that of catchers, the nonpitching position that gets the biggest positional boost.) If he spends a decent chunk of time in the field and/or proves to be a solid hitter, Ohtani could force the curators of WAR at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs to do some mathematical gymnastics, weighting his position adjustment and offensive production for the plate appearances he gets at pitcher and in the field. Or maybe they’ll just calculate two separate versions of batting WAR for Ohtani — one that treats him like a pitcher and another that considers him a position player. Either way, WAR wasn’t designed with a player like Ohtani in mind.There’s also the added benefit of Ohtani’s bat off the bench as a pinch-hitter or a designated hitter on days he isn’t starting, which would give his team extra roster flexibility. This was previously discussed when considering the ways in which FiveThirtyEight favorite Ben Zobrist frees up roster space by playing a bunch of different positions; when studying the matter, Baseball Prospectus’s Russell Carleton found that Zobrist’s versatility probably earned his then-team, the Tampa Bay Rays, a couple of extra runs per year. The value of converting a pitcher’s roster spot into a functional hitter/position-player on some of his off-days is probably even greater, and it might play into the decision of which league Ohtani ultimately ends up joining.In the American League, Ohtani would presumably play DH to save the wear and tear on his body in between starts, though the intrinsic value of a DH is the lowest of any position (therefore raising the bar for his hitting production), and he wouldn’t get in any extra trips to the plate on days he was pitching. In the National League, Ohtani could hit for himself during starts, make better use of his above-average fielding skills on off-days and need less impressive hitting stats to produce value. (Plus, if he ever came out of the bullpen, he could even be the rare reliever who stays in the game when his lineup slot comes up.) For those reasons, it does seem like the NL would offer more opportunities for Ohtani’s unique repertoire of skills to add value.But that’s all speculation at this point. The truth is, the MLB hasn’t seen a two-way player like this since the days of Wes Ferrell and Red Ruffing, each of whom played most of their careers before World War II. Baseball has gotten so specialized that it’s been assumed that no pitcher — not even the Carlos Zambranos, Mike Hamptons or Madison Bumgarners of the world — would ever be a viable regular hitter again. But Ohtani could prove all that wrong if his translated numbers, well, translate. No matter where he ends up signing, it’s going to be ridiculously entertaining to watch it all play out. So Taguchi.7172.6.2572554388910.650858 Koji Uehara2.6613.1131132174.065.91.61.2893 Kenji Johjima.7216.1.2802931439668.750736 Yu Darvish3.4219.2171102503.7184.108.40.20649 H. Iwakuma3.4214.2131302324.345.02.40.8865 Masato Yoshii4.626.299111654.5220.127.116.1141 Kosuke Fukudome.7544.3.2853410117611810.830947 Who will Shohei Ohtani pitch like?Translated, peak-adjusted per-season Central and Pacific League statistics for Japanese-born pitchers with at least 200 MLB innings pitched Takashi Saito2.349.5101161894.618.104.22.16827 Kazuhisa Ishii4.440.8101101944.822.214.171.1249 Tsuyoshi Shinjo.6683.3.23724711371139.651850 Kazuo Matsui.7015.4.28826108409133.754843 Hideki Okajima3.094.7554914.8126.96.36.1990 Akinori Iwamura.7204.8.273248125912610.764831 S. Hasegawa3.707.9111402255.253.92.91.1789 Shohei Ohtani——18902183.348.13.00.61000 Hiroki Kuroda3.4522.1121302224.8188.8.131.521 Ohtani’s pitching numbers bore a strong resemblance to those of Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, two of the most highly touted — and successful — Japanese imports of the past decade. Of course, they might also represent the best case scenarios for how Ohtani’s career will play out on the mound; for example, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s track record was only slightly more dissimilar, and he ended up being pretty average over his time in MLB. And the matter of Ohtani’s durability can’t be dismissed — these numbers are projected to a full season of work, but Ohtani never pitched more than 160⅔ innings in a season in Japan, and he was limited to 25⅓ innings in 2017 because of various injuries. However, my old colleague Ben Lindbergh has shown that Japanese pitchers tend to age better (and hold onto more of their value) than comparable MLB pitchers, reputation be damned. And in general, the pitchers on the list above that graded as more similar to Ohtani ended up having the better major-league careers. Statistically speaking, there’s little to quibble with in Ohtani’s pitching résumé. Who will Shohei Ohtani hit like?Translated, peak-adjusted per-season Central and Pacific League statistics for Japanese-born hitters with at least 700 MLB plate appearances NAMEOPSWARAVG2B3BHRBBSOSBOPSSIMILARITY Shohei Ohtani——.29542423561326.8781000 Masahiro Tanaka3.5612.7171112563.7184.108.40.20648 MLB CAREERTRANSLATED JAPANESE STATS Hideo Nomo4.2423.9161402644.3220.127.116.1172 Hideki Irabu5.153.4111122024.318.104.22.16859 Norichika Aoki.7389.9.2972175616621.765917 M. Kawasaki.6091.7.27416112417129.676788 D. Matsuzaka4.459.0161202433.922.214.171.12419 Tomo Ohka4.2611.04701095.7126.96.36.19973 MLB CAREERTRANSLATED JAPANESE STATS Ichiro Suzuki.75958.9.33227710515027.856921 H. Takahashi3.991.3101121964.8188.8.131.5207 Akinori Otsuka2.446.06327793.079.72.90.8928 Tadahito Iguchi.7396.5.251226124712225.688788 Peak-adjusted statistics take into account a player’s age and project his numbers to a player’s prime seasons. The per-season adjustment converts all numbers to 68 games + starts.Sources: ClayDavenport.com, Baseball-Reference.com
Culpepper2000MINSmith • Kleinsasser • Moss • Carter • Davis226 Cassel2008NEFaulk • Morris • Welker • Moss • Gaffney220 Stabler1973OAKHubbard • Smith • Siani • Biletnikoff • Moore209 New QBYrTmSkill PlayersWtd. A.V. Hogeboom1984DALDorsett • Springs • Hill • Cosbie • Renfro240 Sanchez2009NYJJones • Greene • Cotchery • Keller • Edwards188 *Weighted Approximate Value equals a player’s AV from the previous season multiplied by three, plus his AV from two seasons ago multiplied by two, plus his AV from three seasons ago. A team’s total above is the sum of the weighted AV numbers for all of its primary non-QB skill players.Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com With seconds left in the first half of the Kansas City Chiefs’ preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons last Friday, new starting QB Patrick Mahomes showed once again why KC felt comfortable dropping longtime starter Alex Smith in favor of the talented 22-year-old they took 10th overall in 2017. White1980DALDorsett • Newhouse • Hill • Pearson • DuPree264 Rivers2006SDTomlinson • Turner • Gates • Parker • McCardell291 Mahomes2018KCHunt • Ware • Kelce • Watkins • Hill221 King2000TAMDunn • Alstott • Johnson • Green • Moore234 Rypien1989WASByner • Riggs • Monk • Sanders • Clark235 Woodley1980MIANathan • Williams • Moore • Harris • Cefalo208 Phipps1972CLEKelly • Scott • Pitts • Morin • Hooker226 Manning2005NYGBarber • Finn • Burress • Shockey • Toomer210 Roethlisberger2004PITStaley • Bettis • Ward • Burress • Randle El235 Fitzpatrick2008CINBenson • Perry • H’mandzadeh • Johnson • Kelly202 Staubach1971DALGarrison • Thomas • Hayes • Alworth • Ditka211 Just how impressive was that bomb from Mahomes to Tyreek Hill? As Yahoo’s Michael David Smith noted, Mahomes’s pass traveled further through the air — 68.6 yards, according to the NFL’s NextGen Stats — than any touchdown pass did during the entire 2017 NFL season.1That’s impressive even though the 2017 stats include very little of Aaron Rodgers, king of the deep TD strike. So there’s no questioning Mahomes’s arm. And perhaps more importantly, he’ll be surrounded by plenty of supporting talent that will help him ease into his new role — maybe more of this talent than any other quarterback this decade. But does this ideal situation mean Mahomes is destined to make KC fans forget about Smith — and cure the Chiefs’ chronic postseason problems?Certainly, Mahomes will demonstrate a very different style of play than Smith did. During Smith’s seasons at the helm in Kansas City (2013-17), only Tom Brady had a lower interception percentage,2Among the 39 NFL passers with at least 800 attempts over that span. and nobody topped Smith on the percentage of passes he threw that ended up at or behind the line of scrimmage. Although Smith did begin to stretch the field more as a deep passer over his time in KC, he was mostly defined as an extremely accurate short-range passer who kept the Chiefs’ offense on schedule and didn’t make mistakes. Mahomes, by contrast, carries the “gunslinger” label for a reason: In the his one full start last season, 40 percent of his passes traveled at least 10 yards downfield, which would have ranked fourth in the league if he’d played enough to qualify. Mahomes also throws plenty of interceptions: In addition to the one he tossed during his lone NFL start (thereby increasing KC’s total picks thrown by quarterbacks by 20 percent), he also threw 25 in his final two seasons at Texas Tech,3Where, it should be mentioned, he also averaged a ridiculous 4,853 passing yards and 39 touchdowns over those two seasons. and struggled with turnovers during training camp as well.Fortunately, Mahomes will have an incredible arsenal of weapons to choose from when he’s running Andy Reid’s offense this year. At running back, KC boasts a pair of prolific rushers from the past few seasons in Kareem Hunt — who ran for 1,327 yards as a rookie in 2017 — and Spencer Ware, who missed all of 2017 with injury but notched 921 yards on the ground in 2016. Mahomes will also be throwing to wideouts Hill (1,183 receiving yards in 2017) and newcomer Sammy Watkins, who battled injuries in recent years but had 1,047 yards through the air in 2015. Finally, Mahomes can also go to Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce, who has racked up at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of the past two seasons — and is widely considered one of the best two TEs in the league, along with Rob Gronkowski.In other words, there’s a reason ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked Kansas City’s non-QB skill players as the best offensive arsenal in the league heading into the season. And in fact, if we zoom out beyond 2018 and look at NFL history, few first-time starters have ever been surrounded by a better group of skill-position talent than Mahomes will have at his disposal this season.To measure this, I went back to the 1970 NFL-AFL merger and tracked each team’s top two running backs and top three receivers (whether wide receivers or tight ends) for each season using Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value metric, which assigns each player a numerical value roughly corresponding to his statistical productivity that year.4It’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison with this season’s Chiefs, since I used end-of-season numbers for past seasons, and we obviously don’t yet know for sure who the Chiefs’ leading skill-position players will be this season. But using the players who are atop the depth chart heading into the season gives us a reasonable best guess. For those core groups of primary offensive skill players, I added up a weighted sum of their AV over the previous three seasons,5Where — somewhat arbitrarily — AV from the season before gets a multiplier of three, AV the season before that gets a multiplier of two and AV from three years ago gets a multiplier of one. to get a sense for how productive the group had been in the handful of seasons leading up to the one in question. Finally, I filtered for teams whose quarterback was in his first season as an NFL primary QB,6Meaning he led the team in attempts and started at least 10 games that season. to look for situations comparable to the one Mahomes currently finds himself in.After tallying up all the skill-position AV, here are the top supporting casts a new starter has gotten to play with since the merger: Gannon1990MINWalker • Fenney • Carter • Jones • Jordan220 Batch1998DETSanders • Vardell • Morton • Moore • Crowell258 Leinart2006ARIJames • Arrington • Boldin • Fitzgerald • Johnson235 Ponder2011MINPeterson • Gerhart • Harvin • Shiancoe • Jenkins204 George1990INDBentley • Dickerson • Hester • Brooks • Morgan203 Hipple1981DETSims • Bussey • Scott • Thompson • Hill185 Campbell2007WASPortis • Betts • Cooley • Moss • Randle El231 Leftwich2003JAXTaylor • Edwards • Smith • Edwards • Brady204 Evans1980CHIPayton • Harper • Scott • Watts • Baschnagel197 The Chiefs have set Mahomes up for successAmong quarterbacks in their first season as a primary QB, those whose primary supporting cast (2 RBs and 3 WRs or TEs) produced the most weighted Approximate Value* in the previous three seasons, 1970-2018 Although Kansas City’s talented group isn’t quite the most gifted core that a young QB has ever had to work with, it is close — ranking 12th-best since 1970 and the best this decade. In terms of what it might mean for the Chiefs, the rest of the teams on this list ended up posting an average of 8.9 wins per 16 games — just a tick below the average of 9.0 wins posted under their old QB — with the new QB generating exactly the same value (10.5 AV) as his predecessor had done in the role the year before. So if history is any indicator, Chiefs fans may not feel much of a drop-off from Smith to Mahomes, despite the latter’s inexperience.The only real concern around KC’s offense (which scored the sixth-most points of any team last year) might be the state of the team’s offensive line, which ranked among the middle of the pack in pass protection last year and has been up-and-down during the preseason thus far. But even there, Mahomes is in comparatively good hands. If we run the same exercise as above, but for Kansas City’s O-line instead of its skill players, Mahomes’s blocking support ranks 15th among first-time primary QBs since 1970. It’s not exactly the road-grading machine that Dak Prescott had in front of him when he broke in as Cowboys starter in 2016, but the KC line isn’t without talent — including 2017 second-team All-Pro Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle and former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher on the left side.All told, you’d have to go back to Tampa Bay Bucs QB Shaun King in 2000 to find a first-time primary signal-caller who got more support from both his skill-position teammates and his offensive line than Mahomes figures to get this season. And while King was little more than a stopgap starter for Tampa, Mahomes is lined up to be the Chiefs’ answer under center for the long haul. With ample talent around Mahomes to help smooth away any rough patches, don’t be surprised if his career as KC’s quarterback gets off to a fast start. And it had better — because if it doesn’t, neither Reid nor his young starter will have many places to lay the blame.
It may be long overdue, but it appears that the NFL has finally learned to stop worrying and love the two-point conversion. Or at least that’s the leaguewide trend through four weeks in 2018.Three full seasons have passed since the league moved its extra-point distance to the 15-yard-line, making kickers boot the ball 33 yards for a PAT instead of the old, nearly automatic 20-yard distance. But head coaches seem to be embracing the trade-off between kicking and going for two more than ever this season. After they eschewed the extra point 14 times on Sunday, coaches have now gone for it after 11.8 percent of their touchdowns so far,1Through Sunday’s games. which (according to Pro-Football-Reference.com) is the highest rate for the first four weeks of any NFL season since the 1970 AFL merger.That continues a trend that has been generally building since that 2015 rule change, and it reverses a slight downturn from 2017: Perhaps this is partly a knee-jerk reaction to the special-teams carnage on display in Week 2, when NFL kickers missed 19 total kicks between field goals and extra points. (Although it should be noted that, on the whole, kickers have made 95.3 percent of their extra-point tries this season, which is right in line with the past couple years — and an improvement over their 94.4 percent mark from 2015, the first year at the new distance.)But maybe a better explanation is the fact that two-point conversions are working really, really well so far this year. When teams go for two, they’ve gotten into the end zone 63.2 percent of the time, which easily tops the success rates from any other season since 2006.2The first season of ESPN’s detailed play-by-play data. Remember that if the baseline accuracy rate for a regular extra-point is roughly 95 percent, a two-point conversion needs to succeed only 47.5 percent of the time to break even. So at 63 percent, the decision to go for two practically becomes a no-brainer!Of course, sustaining that 63 percent conversion rate will be pretty much impossible going forward. Prior to 2018, the league hadn’t even cracked 50 percent in any season since 2012. But the way in which teams are finding the end zone on conversions might offer some path toward sustainability. Two-point passes are being converted at a rate of 56 percent, up from their post-2005 average of 45 percent. And an even bigger leap has happened on runs, albeit in a small sample of 11 plays: 82 percent of two-point rushing attempts have found paydirt this year, way up from the historical average of 54 percent.Statheads have been saying for years that running in short-yardage situations is more effective than passing, and teams across the league have been proving that decisively this season, whether lined up on the 2-yard line after a touchdown or just in the course of regular play. In what Football Outsiders defines as “power” situations — third or fourth down, with 2 or fewer yards to go — runners are picking up the first down (or touchdown) 75 percent of the time this year, 6 percentage points more than their previous high going back to 2006. And although they haven’t figured into many two-point conversions yet in 2018,3Dallas’s Dak Prescott is the only QB to try a two-point run this year. quarterbacks are driving much of that short-yardage success, picking up the first down more than 96 percent of the time when rushing in power situations this season. (Some teams, like the Saints with Taysom Hill, are employing certain QBs as rushing specialists, which could add intrigue to conversion tries down the line.)Throw in gadget plays like Cleveland’s co-opted “Philly Special” during the Browns’ Week 3 win over the Jets, and teams may be only scratching the surface of their potential on two-point conversions early this season. After a few years of tinkering under the new rules — and perhaps a newfound willingness to accept perceived risks, following the influence of aggressive play-callers such as the Eagles’ Doug Pederson — coaches are finally starting to see the benefits that a second point after a TD can bring. Who knows? Maybe it won’t be long before we have to retrain ourselves to count in increments of eight, not seven, while doing the mental math of football.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
Maybe Corey “Philly” Brown just needed his coach’s permission. Three days after Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said – only half kidding – that the junior wide receiver is “allowed to make a guy miss,” Brown answered Meyer’s call with one of the biggest plays in Ohio State’s biggest victory of the 2012 season. Brown returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown roughly five minutes into the third quarter, putting OSU up, 49-31, against Nebraska Saturday night at Ohio Stadium. The highlight-reel worthy play all but sealed the now-No. 8-ranked Buckeyes’ 63-38 win against the then-No. 21-ranked Huskers. At the same time, the touchdown showcased the skills Meyer has wanted to see from his should-be playmaker all season. “The thing I’m looking for from Philly is, we need some explosiveness in this offense,” Meyer said last Wednesday. After going down on contact and failing to run past defenses through five games, Brown said he was pleased with the “explosiveness” he displayed during the return. He deferred credit to his teammates after the game, though. “Basically they made the perfect blocking and made it easy for me,” Brown said. “The blocking was so good all I saw was me and the punter. I knew I had to make just one person miss and change the game.” Brown said he knew he had to make a play as he jogged onto the field and prepared himself for the return. Not just because Meyer had been imploring him to, but due to the way the game had been hanging in the balance. OSU was up 11 points at the time, but the Buckeyes had not yet had a lead bigger than two scores. Nebraska’s offense – after scoring with relative ease through two-and-a-half quarters – just had its first three-and-out possession of the second half. Brown said he saw an opportunity to change the way the game was flowing, as did his coaches. “Going out there, I knew I had to make a play. (OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton) was in my ear, he was in my face, telling me I had to change the game,” Brown said. After the game, Meyer and many other OSU players claimed Brown’s return, along with the interception sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby returned for a touchdown in the first quarter, were the plays of the day. “We do a ceremony after the game (and) let some guys talk who performed well, and every one of them to a man said that,” Meyer said of the praise Brown received from his teammates. Brown’s performance Saturday night didn’t just include the special teams touchdown. He had three catches for 35 yards and was the only Buckeyes wide receiver with a reception. On OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller’s 72-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, it was a block from Brown that sprung the OSU sophomore quarterback. “Philly Brown probably turned (the game around),” Miller said. Yet again though, Brown gave credit to his teammates before accepting any praise of his own. “We had a couple punts leading up to (Miller’s run), and having someone like Braxton to excite the crowd – because the crowd kind of got out of it and everything – having someone like Braxton to be able to make a play like that, (to) get us into the game, being able to score was good,” Brown said. While Brown has trouble accepting praise from the media, he will gladly accept praise from his head coach with a smile. “It’s always good to be one of (Meyer’s) guys,” Brown said. “He told me he loved me, I told him I love him, I appreciate him. He’s turning most of the wide receivers’ careers around, basically.” Brown has been arguably the most consistent wide receiver on OSU’s roster. He has 35 catches on the season, the most on the team. The junior said he’s grown tremendously since the start of the season and that he is “learning now” every day. Still, Brown said he knows there is plenty of room to improve, with Meyer’s call for more broken tackles near the top of his things to do list. “I’ve just got to get better using my vision, speed and obviously, like (Meyer) said, break some tackles,” Brown said.
Senior center Ashley Adams (33) takes a shot during a game against Michigan State Jan. 26 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU lost, 82-68.Credit: Kaily Cunningham / Multimedia editorAlthough the Ohio State women’s basketball team lost its last game, the Buckeyes are still standing tall.The roller coaster ride that has been the team’s 2013-14 season is set to make its next stop in West Lafayette, Ind., to take on the No. 25 Purdue Boilermakers (15-7, 5-5) Thursday.The Buckeyes (14-11, 4-5) are coming off of a loss against Wisconsin Sunday, a game from which coach Kevin McGuff said he would like to move forward.“We just have to get back to practice,” McGuff said Wednesday. “That is our formula. We practice well, prepare well, we will play well. Hopefully, we can do that.”Despite the poor performance against the Badgers, OSU is still projected to be one of the “last four in” to the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament according to ESPN’s Bracketology.With a road game against a ranked team looming, McGuff said he does not like to put too much emphasis on projections or a particular game.“I do not ever look at that stuff until we are done playing,” McGuff said concerning the ESPN projections. “What happens when you start saying ‘This is a huge game because…’ then you get to the next game and it is not as big.”OSU redshirt-junior guard Amy Scullion said the win against the Boilermakers in their first meeting was a result of consistent offense and inspired defense.“We played well, we played hard, we made shots,” Scullion said. “That is a big thing for us. When our offense is clicking, it seems like our defense is a lot better.”Fellow Buckeye, junior guard Raven Ferguson, who has led the Buckeyes in scoring three out of the last four games, said the problem for OSU has been a lack of focus.“We need to focus on the finish and finish plays,” Ferguson said. “We just need to play harder as a team.”The Boilermakers will likely be without their leading scorer, redshirt-senior guard KK Houser, who tore her ACL in a loss at Michigan State Sunday. Houser scored a game-high 26 points on 9-20 shooting in Purdue’s loss to OSU Jan. 2.“(Purdue is) going to try and win for her,” McGuff said about Houser’s injury. “I think you will see an incredibly inspired effort (from Purdue) Thursday night.”The Boilermakers rely heavily on their three point shooting ability, as they shoot 38.7 percent from beyond the arc, good for second in the Big Ten. McGuff said he will stress the importance of defending the arc to his team.“They shoot it great,” McGuff said. “They can really light people up from the three point line. We are going to have our hands full defensively. We will need a great effort on that end of the floor.”Although the Boilermakers shoot well from deep, they are not a very big team, and roster lists their tallest player as redshirt-junior center Camille Redmon who stands at 6 feet 4 inches.The Buckeyes seem to excel against smaller teams as they blew out an Illinois team, 90-64, Jan. 30 whose tallest player stands at 6 feet 3 inches.OSU senior center Ashley Adams and redshirt-freshman center Lisa Blair both stand taller than 6 feet 5 inches.“I think that when we play smaller teams, we get our post players involved early and that kind of builds confidence for the team,” Scullion said. “Those are easy buckets for us and I think we build off of that.”The Buckeyes are set to tip off with the Boilermakers Thursday at 7 p.m.
OSU sophomore defender Austin Bergstrom pushes the ball up the pitch during a game against Akron Sept. 24 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU lost 3-1.Credit: Ben Jackson / For The LanternComing off two wins against ranked teams, the Ohio State men’s soccer team’s focus was to not fall into a trap against a supposedly weaker squad.“If your aspirations are to go farther and compete maybe for a Big Ten championship or hopefully gain an NCAA Tournament bid, if you believe you can do that, you cannot let down against a team like Oakland,” OSU coach John Bluem said Monday.Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, a let down is exactly what happened.OSU (4-4-3, 2-1-0) fell to Oakland (3-5-1) in Rochester, Mich., by a final score of 1-0 Wednesday evening.The Grizzlies struck in the first half when senior forward Joey Tinnion received a pass off a misplay by OSU and put it past OSU redshirt-senior goalkeeper Alex Ivanov for the game’s lone score. The goal was Tinnion’s second of the season.The Buckeyes had their chances throughout the game, but were unable to get anything on the board.OSU took 12 shots, but only two of those were shot on goal. Overall, Oakland outshot OSU, 13-12, including a 4-2 advantage in shots on the mark.OSU’s slow day on offense came days after a six-shot-on-target, three-goal game against Michigan State last Saturday.Oakland has now won three straight games after beginning the season with five consecutive losses and a draw.The loss was the first for the Buckeyes against the Grizzlies in 14 all-time meetings. OSU was previously 11-0-2 in the series, including a 4-0 victory in Columbus last season.Before the game, OSU had found itself at No. 13 in the NCAA RPI rankings on top of receiving four votes in the coaches poll coming off its two wins against ranked opponents.The Buckeyes’ next shot to get back to their winning ways is set to come at home when they host No. 10 Indiana on Sunday. That game is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Ohio State football redshirt junior defensive end Darius Slade has transferred from the program, and defensive tackle Dylan Thompson is no longer on scholarship, coach Urban Meyer announced Monday.Rated as high as the No. 30 strong-side defensive end by 247Sports as a senior in high school, Slade missed all of the 2016 season after suffering a lower leg injury in camp last fall. Thompson, a four-star high school prospect, has battled injuries during his college career. He redshirted the 2014 season after a knee injury in fall camp, and had a quiet 2015 campaign due to his rehabilitation.“He’s not on scholarship right now,” Meyer said. “He was ineligible last year so he’s to be determined.”Ohio State is now under the NCAA’s 85-scholarship limit for the 2017 season.