17 April 2013

Build around stars

Sports Illustrated

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about young talent versus experience as they relate to both the BYU football team and the Utah Jazz.

Situation A:

Jake Heaps commits to BYU amid great fanfare. He has a decent freshman season, and experiences a slump in year two, to the extent that the offense looks completely dead with him under center. With only nine touchdowns in five games to his eight interceptions, he was clearly struggling, and the coaching staff made the decision to bring in the more experienced Riley Nelson. Riley wins the 2011 Utah State game thanks to some last-minute heroics, and the short-term benefit is obvious.

Riley starts 16 of the next 17 games and Heaps transfers to Kansas. BYU won about half of these 17 games, though so many were against the likes of Idaho and Weber State it's hard to say the team was even that good.

The Riley Years turn out to be largely regarded as one of the worst periods in BYU football, especially since fans feel like the elite defense was wasted on an offense that couldn't even score a touchdown in some games. BYU is a middling program with no real shot at relevance nationally.

Situation B:

Al Jefferson is an established starting center in the NBA. He averages about 19 and 8 per game, but hasn't ever been on a real winning team in his entire career. The Jazz end up trading for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, both top-five draft picks and widely regarded to have a lot of potential. However, both Derrick and Enes struggle in limited minutes early with the Jazz, clearly not ready to lead the team to wins.

Jazz management make the decision to let Al have the run of the team for two years. Favors and Kanter are definitely bench players, never given major minutes except in the rare case of injury to the starters. The Jazz are a middling program with no real shot at relevance nationally.

Both cases, in my estimation, are examples of management choosing the known, limited value over the potential star talent. And both cases are massive mistakes.

To build a national contender. you need star talent at the core of your team. Miami did this with Wade, and then LeBron and Bosh. The Spurs did it with Duncan. The Lakers did it with Kobe and Shaq. Texas A&M is doing it with Johnny Manziel.

Great teams recognize star talent and make use of it as early and often as they can. They do not latch onto players who may be good, but not great. Smart GM's don't try and build around Luis Scola or Rudy Gay or Josh Smith. These players may be talented, may even make an All-Star team or two, but if they are expected to carry you to a championship, you're in for a world of hurt.

So find the stars. Play the stars. Cast aside the good-but-not-great players that might win you games now, but will never, ever take you to the promised land. Al Jefferson will never be the star on a championship team. Riley Nelson was never going to lead BYU to an undefeated season.

Does that mean Heaps would have? Does it mean Favors and Kanter will? I don't know. But you hitch your cart to the talent as far as it takes you. If it eventually proves itself to be of non-star-quality, start down a different path. But until that point, use it.

BYU gave up on Heaps way too soon. The Jazz have yet to give Favors and Kanter enough room to prove themselves capable or not. Both fell for the trap of wanting to win now rather than be elite later.

Here's hoping Taysom's talent can lift BYU to elite levels. Here's hoping Favors and Kanter are eventually proven stars, and become a fearsome frontcourt in the NBA on both ends of the floor as the Jazz become title contenders.

But if not, it's time to start looking elsewhere for the stars. New ones arrive every year.

15 April 2013

BYU Football thoughts


I attended the BYU Spring Game a couple weeks ago with my Dad and brothers. It was surprisingly warm and we all got a little sunburned, with the exception of my Dad, who wore long sleeves and an Indiana Jones hat. Anyway, it was good to be at LaVell Edwards Stadium again, I became moderately excited for football this fall.

The problem with watching young quarterbacks at BYU is that most of them won't see the field for another 5-7 years, assuming they serve missions. So while it was nice that Tanner Mangum looked good throwing the ball, he won't get play for a looong time.

It seems Taysom Hill is the anointed starter. He didn't participate in full contact plays, but did sling the ball around a bit before the actual game began, and honestly, I wasn't super impressed. He sailed more than a couple passes across the middle, the kind that go over the tight end's head and are easy picks for safeties. I've always thought Hill's arm is strong enough to make the throws he needs to (unlike Max Hall or Riley Nelson), but accuracy was, and still is, a concern.

A couple days later, Hill gave an interview on a local sports radio station and actually impressed me quite a bit. He spoke about how the quarterback running plays where the QB is trying to find holes between the tackles are gone, and now any running he'll do will be outside the tackles, towards the sidelines and away from giant defensive linemen and linebackers. The coaches have introduced him to the art of sliding to avoid taking a big hit. He wants to throw deep post routes to Apo and Hoffman. His confidence level is very high, and he feels like he can dominate anyone, just like he did in high school.

So we'll see. I expect Taysom to be a major upgrade from where this team was last season, but will he approach Johnny Manziel levels? I doubt it, but if Taysom can be smart about using his legs to keep defenses honest, while using his arm to keep defenses honest, we could see some great things from him.

Anae's return is fine, I guess. I think he's a better OC than Doman by a long shot, but Anae's insistence that he could out-execute every team he played when he was first at BYU frustrated me to no end. I hope his time under Rich Rodriguez, known creative playcaller, has given him a bit of a unpredictable factor. If opposing defenses aren't quite sure what to expect from BYU this year, I'll take it was a win.

Jake Heaps tore it up in the Kansas Spring game last week, throwing for 257 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. Disclaimers: it was a spring game. Kansas' pass defense has been really bad the last couple of years. Still, if Heaps turns out to be a good-to-great quarterback, my frustration with Bronco for choosing Riley over him will no know bounds.

I'm very glad KVN is back for his senior season, and expect good things from the defense again. A tough schedule combined with an upgraded offense and a minorly downgraded defense (fare thee well, Ziggy) means somewhere between a 7-9 win season.

11 April 2013

NBA thoughts for April

ESPN photo

Some of what's been bouncing around my head the last few weeks:

-For starters, Grantland's Zach Lowe is my new favorite NBA writer. This guy rocks, and it seems like he watches every game, every night. His use of stats combined with strategy makes him a must read, whether he's analyzing the league's recent trend towards complex defense and how offenses are coping, or perfectly understanding what it is about the Jazz that makes them so unlikable to their fans these days. If you like basketball, you'll like Lowe.

-About the aforementioned Jazz, I really only care about this team to the extent that Hayward, Favors and Kanter are improving. Jefferson does not play defense and cannot be the focal point of a championship-contending team. Mo Williams is a shoot-first point guard who, likewise, will never be a starter on a championship team. In fact, let's break the team down, player by player.

1. Jefferson: Defense is terrible. Offense not nearly enough to offset it.

2. Mo Williams: Shooting guard in a point guard's body.

3. Marvin Williams: Useless to the extreme. Can't shoot, can't drive, doesn't pass, doesn't really defend well.

4. Kanter: Legitimate stud who can barely break 15 minutes per game. Given starter's minutes, he's dominated. 

5. Favors: Offense is raw, defense is light years ahead of Jefferson. Favors enforces his will on others in the paint, and the league is taking notice. Only 21, I expect him to get much better.

6. Hayward: Somehow he makes tall and lurpy work. Nice shooting stroke from 3, defends like a maniac, passes and rebounds reasonably well, and is fun to watch on the fast break. I don't know if he'll ever be a 20-5-5 kinda guy, but it wouldn't shock me.

7. Evans: Amazing athletically, utterly lost on defense and offense. I believe better coaching could turn him into an often solid, sometimes dominant guy. 

8. Tinsley: Often terrible, sometimes good. Never getting any better than he is now.

9. Millsap: An amazing 6th Man of the Year candidate if he came off the bench. He is best used dominating other teams' second units. Starting, his effectiveness is lessened. 

10. Foye: Broke the Jazz record for 3-pointers in a season this year, and he's actually shooting better from the 3-point line than on field goals overall for 2012-2013. Gotta keep him around if just for that, but I wish he gave the Jazz anything else in his 27 minutes per game.

11. Burks: Has shown some flashes, but I'm not sold he'll be a solid NBA player just yet. Lately can't even seem to get time on the floor at all.

12. Carroll: Fantastic Adam Keefe. Hustle, energy, garbage points, he gives the Jazz all of it. Gotta keep him around just because every team needs a Keefe. 

13: Earl Watson: A fine backup point guard. Keep the ship steady, don't turn the ball over, don't do anything crazy. I can take him or leave him.

So, to sum up, I'd like the Jazz to keep Kanter, Favors, Hayward, Millsap (as a sixth man), Foye, Carroll and maybe Burks and Evans. That gives the Jazz a few of roster spots to fill, though this summer's free agent class is pretty sparse. 

What I'd like to see is the Jazz jettison Jefferson, keep Millsap around as long as he agrees to come off the bench, and start the youth movement for real. Start Kanter, Favors and Hayward. Give Evans a lot of minutes, while focusing on teaching him where to be and why. I guess start Foye at the 2, then find a journeyman point guard who is pass-first and can shoot reasonably well. I'd like to see Jose Calderon or Shawn Livingston. If NBA history has taught us anything, an elite, high-paid point guard is no guarantee of a championship. 

Ideally, Kanter and Favors turn into a dominant 1-2 punch in the paint, much like Memphis have in Gasol and Randolph (pre injury), with Foye and Hayward raining threes and an established point guard directing traffic. I'd watch that team. Sure, they'd probably be in the lottery next year, but if they can turn that pick into a solid player, I'll take it along with the player development we'd see.

-It's the Heat's championship to lose this summer. LeBron is playing as well as anyone in the last 15 years, and the team as a whole is on the same page and really clicking, both on offense and defense. I can't see anyone beating them four times in seven games.

-That the Lakers are fighting desperately for their playoff lives is pretty great. Just a few months after assembling their vaunted Super Team of Kobe, Dwight, Pau and Nash, they are facing a likely first-round drubbing at the hands of the Thunder. Reasons:

1. Dwight has been hurt most of the season, and is clearly not the guy he was in Orlando when he was winning Defensive Player of the Year awards. 

2. Nash is also hurt, and struggling in an offense where he doesn't dominate the ball. Without the Phoenix witch doctors to cure his ailments, and playing with someone who also needs to dominate the ball, I don't see Nash improving with the Lakers any time soon. If ever.

3. Pau is a head case. Mere weeks after killing it in the Olympics for his native country of Spain, abusing Team USA down low and being a man among boys, he's only played 46 games this season and is being told to put his big boy pants on by Kobe, I don't think the Lakers can expect much out of him anytime soon.

4. Kobe has stopped playing defense. Lowe has outlined this impressively well.

Either way, the Lakers kinda stink and I am enjoying it immensely. 

That's it. I plan on doing an NBA Playoff Preview once the matchups are set. Until then, go young, Jazz, and die in a fire, Lakers.

10 April 2013

Leave Watterson alone!

For those who are unfamiliar

Salon.com posted a feature discussing Bill Watterson a couple days ago. As I've mentioned before, Calvin and Hobbes is a major influence in my life, so any time I can read about it or its creator, I'm there. The feature's author, Liv Combe, focuses on Watterson's decision to avoid the public eye almost entirely since he ended C&H in 1995.

The term “recluse” seems like a dirty word, a slur — “private” or “introverted” seem much fairer ways to describe someone than a word that suggests agoraphobia — but that’s how many would describe artists ranging from Emily Dickinson to Marcel Proust, Harper Lee to J.D. Salinger.

I'd been aware that Watterson doesn't ever give interviews, doesn't go to comic conventions, doesn't license his intellectual property to movie studios or toy manufacturers. But I'd never really thought about what that meant for him.

Watterson's sense of principle and integrity is such that the image of the tens of millions of dollars he would earn by selling out was overshadowed by the idea of allowing others, motivated solely by greed, to be involved in the creative process for Calvin and Hobbes.

“I’m convinced that licensing would sell out the soul of ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’” Watterson said in the same article. “The world of a comic strip is much more fragile that most people realize. Once you’ve given up its integrity, that’s it. I want to make sure that never happens.”

Some fans do not quite understand this, or are unaware of it, and will drive past his home, or try to find him at a library he probably frequents. However, this documentary film maker is completely on board and didn't even attempt to contact Watterson in making a film about the strip.

How rare an individual is Bill Watterson? I have to say I greatly admire his lack of greed, his foresight, and his ability to stick to his guns decades after making a difficult decision. If you have time, I recommend reading the commencement address he gave to his alma mater, Kenyon, back in 1990.

Finally, an online comment someone made about the feature:

It says a great deal about the morality and obsessions of our times that we treat as odd a man who, in an age of attention and cash mega-whores, has staunchly maintained his ethical stance and only wishes to be left alone to enjoy his life out of the spotlight.

Well said. Fight on, Bill.