Dont Give the Stanley Cup to the Kings Just Yet

If you read the North American sports media — Sportsnet, CBC, THN, USA Today, CBS, ESPN — you’ve heard that Henrik Lundqvist may as well go on vacation; this year’s Stanley Cup already belongs to the Los Angeles Kings. My quick scan showed 12 of 14 hockey media types picking the Kings to beat the New York Rangers in the NHL playoffs’ final round, which begin on Wednesday, and it’s easy to see why. The Kings have a recent track record of success (a Cup in 2012 and a conference finals appearance in 2013). They come from the stronger conference — the West won 246 games and lost 202 against the East this year — and to get to the finals they had to beat teams that had 111, 116 and 107 points this season. Quite different from the Rangers’ playoff run, which included struggles to beat flawed teams and scrapping against backup goaltenders.Except it isn’t that simple, and not just because hockey is a sport disproportionately fueled by luck. The Rangers have a case to make — even on paper. The stats give them a real shot.Let’s start with shooting percentage, where the teams are evenly matched. Both New York and LA struggled this year: The Rangers’ 6.7 percent at 5-on-5 ranked 28th in the league and the Kings’ 6.6 percent was 29th. That’s not a big enough gap to make a difference, because shooting (and save percentages) in hockey are prone to large fluctuations. Given that the teams took about 2,000 shots, that 0.1 percentage point difference represents just two goals, and it’s easy to see how some random bounces could explain it.That’s not to say that shooting percentage is completely meaningless. Pulling our estimates of a team’s shooting skill two-thirds of the way towards the mean helps account for the impact of random chance. If the Rangers and Kings had huge differences that might tell us something about their differing skill. But they only had a margin of 0.1 percentage points this year and 0.8 over the last three years. Between the change in personnel and systems over time and the limitations of multiyear analysis, the Kings and Rangers are close enough that it’s hard to be confident that either team has an edge in shooting percentage.But there are differences to be found among the less top-level stats. Much of today’s advanced stat analysis begins with studying teams’ shot differential as an indicator of their ability to control play. In this regard, the Kings do have a clear edge; indeed, over the last few years they’ve been the best puck-possession team in the league.The Kings outshot their opponents 57 percent to 43 percent during 5-on-5 play this year,1In this piece, “shots” will be taken to include both shots on goal and shots that miss the net, the measure proposed by Matt Fenwick. excluding situations where the score was close enough that teams sat back to protect a lead.2Focusing on situations where the score is close was first popularized by hockey stat pioneer Tore Purdy, more commonly known as JLikens. Purdy recently died at the age of only 28, a tragic loss. He wrote the piece about estimating team shooting talent that I linked above. He’ll be missed. They led the NHL, but the Rangers weren’t too far behind, outshooting their opponents 54 percent to 46 percent. From these two figures, we might expect the Kings to get something like 51.5 percent of the shots against the Rangers; when we include the somewhat tougher opponents they faced this year, we might revise our estimate upwards a bit to something closer to 52 percent.3The Kings’ average opponent got 49.91 percent of the shots, just a little bit higher than the Rangers’ average opponent (49.77 percent). That simple 0.14 point difference probably underestimates the competition — just as the Kings’ shot differential underrates them by not factoring in the strength of the opponents they faced, this metric also underrates their opponents slightly for the same reason. Since there are lots of things we can’t account for (specific matchups, who’s currently nursing an injury, etc.), our projected matchup can never be accurate to three decimal places. I’ve been rounding these figures off in most places, which means that we don’t need to plow through the arithmetic of exactly how much of an effect it has; the Kings’ likely share of shots against the Rangers will round to 52 percent in the end.But that was the regular season, and it’s worth testing whether anything has changed in the playoffs. That means looking at a smaller sample of data — 20 games instead of 82 — which makes it important not to let any stat go to waste. So instead of outright excluding the lead-protecting situations from our analysis (the common way of doing it), let’s include them and correct for the impact of score effects.4To do that, I used a methodology I developed a couple of years ago. It’s a small but important difference, especially when dealing with a sample size this small.By this method, the Kings’ adjusted shot differential in the playoffs was about 52 percent to 48 percent, very similar to the Rangers’ 51-49. However, the Kings were dominant against much tougher competition; they held their opponents about 5 points below those teams’ season averages, whereas the Rangers held their opponents just a fraction of a point below theirs. Once we correct for that, we again end up estimating that the Kings will get about 52 percent of the shots over the series, or maybe as high as 53 percent. That represents a clear edge, if not an overwhelming one.So far, so Kings. But there’s also special teams play to take into account. The Rangers drew 32 more penalties than they took in the regular season, whereas the Kings took 12 more penalties than they drew. The Rangers had a higher power play conversion percentage and a better penalty kill percentage,5They also had better shot rates in both situations, which is an important component of predicting future performance. so we should expect the them to have more and better power plays than the Kings in the long run — even if the actual results of this short series will be dominated by random chance.Finally, it’s possible that it’s all going to come down to goaltending — this is hockey, after all — and the Rangers have a clear advantage there. This was the fifth straight year that Henrik Lundqvist posted a save percentage higher than 92 percent, and his save percentage has been higher than Jonathan Quick’s in every year of Quick’s career. Obviously, over a short series either goalie can get hot and turn the tide, but goalie streaks are almost entirely unpredictable and all we can do in advance is note which goalie is more talented. In this case, it’s clearly Lundqvist. The question is just how big of an advantage he gives the Rangers.In other words, Lundqvist is the fulcrum. If we expect the Kings to get 52 to 53 percent of the shots and expect Lundqvist and Quick to match their average save percentages over the last three years, that leads to a draw at even strength. Other components — special teams, shooting and perhaps fatigue — are all pretty small factors, but also seem to work in the Rangers’ favor.Ignore the pundits — this thing’s closer to a toss-up than a blowout. read more

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One Way James Hardens Scoring Streak Is More Impressive Than Wilts

Houston Rockets guard James Harden has been busy this season redefining just how much offense a single player can create. As we near the NBA All-Star break, Harden has scored at least 30 points in an absurd 30 consecutive games and counting, which, according to Basketball-Reference.com, is the second-longest streak in league history. Harden’s streak trails only Wilt Chamberlain’s 65-game run from the 1961-62 season — a season in which Wilt happened to set the NBA record by scoring 50.4 points per game. The way Harden has been filling up the scoresheet, Chamberlain comes up as a frequent comparison, continually amazing for those of us who never thought we’d get to see numbers like Wilt’s in today’s game. But what might be most remarkable about Harden is the way he’s different from Chamberlain — specifically, how his one-man show has changed his team’s offense.A big reason that Chamberlain keeps popping up is that it’s difficult to find a modern analogue for what Harden is doing. Harden currently has a usage rate of 40.2 percent, meaning he has taken a shot (or turned the ball over) on roughly two out of every five Houston plays when he’s on the court. And when he isn’t trying to score himself, Harden has also assisted on 40.3 percent of teammate baskets. The only other qualified season in NBA history to break those 40/40 thresholds belonged to Russell Westbrook in 2016-17 — and Westbrook was much less efficient that season than Harden has been this year, averaging 6.8 fewer points per 100 possessions on plays he had a hand in ending.To get a sense of just how far Harden is pushing the boundaries of productivity, here’s a breakdown of all qualified seasons since 1976-77 by possession rate1The share of total on-court team possessions a player had a hand in ending, via shots, turnovers, assists and rebounds. versus offensive efficiency. (The outermost points up and to the right are the best combinations of workload and efficiency.) With 118.6 points produced per 100 possessions on a possession rate of 40.5 percent, Harden is currently having the greatest high-usage offensive season in modern history. From a team perspective, those numbers mean that Houston is funneling nearly half of its possessions through a player who is personally averaging nearly 2 more points per 100 possessions than the league’s most efficient team (the Warriors, at 117.0). So in theory, this should be a very good thing for his team’s scoring rate, which in turn should lead to more and more wins.And in Harden’s case, that appears to be true. Since Harden’s streak began, he is averaging 122 points per 100 possessions with a usage rate of 42.8 percent, both numbers up from the 114 and 37.3 percent marks he had before the streak, respectively. And over the same span, Houston’s teamwide offensive efficiency has zoomed up from 111.2 points per 100 before the streak (sixth-best in the NBA) to 116.9 (second-best) ever since, with his Rockets’ on/off-court offensive efficiency split (+5.8 points per 100) staying roughly the same before the streak and after. Houston is also 21-9 over the streak, after starting the season 12-14. Of course, the recent return of former All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who missed 18 games during Harden’s streak, has buoyed the Rockets as well — but in general it’s safe to say that Harden’s tear has had a very positive effect on Houston’s efficiency and overall record.Why is that notable, though? Isn’t that simply the logical result of having a highly efficient player dominate his team’s possessions? You might think so, but in a dynamic sport such as basketball, things are often more complicated than they may appear. And the best example of this could be Chamberlain.Chamberlain’s career was unwittingly one of history’s most fascinating laboratories for basketball experimentation, in large part because he was the NBA’s most extreme statistical outlier ever. Wilt led the league in scoring in each of his first six seasons, with a staggering scoring average of 40.6 points per game over that span; he also led the league in field goal percentage in three of those campaigns, making 50.7 percent of his shots in total (at a time when the NBA average was around 42 percent). With such a high volume of efficient shots, you might expect that Wilt was like Harden, leading his teams to tremendously efficient offensive performances.But you’d be wrong. Shockingly, Chamberlain’s Warriors struggled to even break league average in efficiency during his seasons with the club, despite the enormous amount of high-percentage scoring Chamberlain did by himself. It wasn’t until Chamberlain switched teams and started scoring less — passing to his teammates more — that his clubs began breaking offensive records.To better understand the sometimes-counterintuitive effect a single scorer can have on his team’s offense, I reached out to Ben Taylor, author of the book “Thinking Basketball,” who was one of the first researchers to notice this phenomenon in Chamberlain’s numbers. “The arc of [Wilt’s] career is very, very unique,” he said. “Not only do some people consider him the best player ever precisely because of these raw stats, but he goes through many different coaches, they put him in many different situations, and specifically Alex Hannum comes along with this great idea — like, ‘Hey, Wilt, what if you just didn’t shoot that much anymore?’ — and he does this, and the team becomes incredible.”Chamberlain’s 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons with Philadelphia present the most fascinating test case. According to Taylor’s research, Chamberlain’s own personal scoring attempts in 1966 were much more efficient (averaging about 1.09 points per possession) than those of his teammates when they tried to score (0.94), and the 76ers had a mediocre offense with Chamberlain scoring 33.5 points per game. If anything, that makes it sound like Chamberlain should have shot the ball even more — but instead, Hannum persuaded Chamberlain to spread the ball around the following season. His teammates, basically the same cast of characters, averaged more points per attempt (1.01) on more shots per game, while Wilt himself was far more efficient (1.27 points per attempt!) when scoring “only” 24.1 points per game. The result was a championship for Philadelphia and one of history’s greatest offenses.Chamberlain’s less-is-more experience is indicative of other one-man shows from throughout NBA history, Taylor said. “You can see it with other high-usage players in a modern setting. I think the classic examples are 1987 [Michael] Jordan, 2006 Kobe [Bryant], guys like that — they’re doing a similar thing, and again you don’t have anywhere near a top-shelf offense.”But Harden has been able to break that mold by playing differently than other one-man offenses from the past. “Harden’s not the best example of one of these high-usage all time scorers,” Taylor said. “He’s a little weird in that he’s more like Steve Nash — he’s passing and dominating the offense to also set up teammates, and so you have a huge ‘creation’ player. … The stark difference between [Harden and Wilt] is that Wilt, when he was scoring, was more like a black hole, and Harden is just running everything.”The idea that Harden is what Taylor called a “Scoring Nash” is eye-opening. Playing in a similar (if not exactly identical) system to the one Nash orchestrated for four years under coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden has evolved the role of distributor to include an even greater level of player choice. If one of Nash’s great strengths was drawing defensive attention as a means of setting others up for easy shots, Harden can also use the threat of the pass as a means of giving himself more space to shoot. As a result, Harden has an “offensive load” — Taylor’s metric for measuring direct involvement via scoring or passing within an offense — of 66 percent, compared with Nash’s single-season high of 51 percent under D’Antoni in 2007.Pass-heavy initiators like Harden don’t always elevate otherwise mediocre offenses to greatness. For instance, Westbrook — who in 2017 set the NBA record for single-season usage rate (just ahead of Harden’s rate this year) — was the centerpiece of a barely average scoring attack that year, despite his record offensive load of 74 percent. But a disproportionate share of history’s greatest offenses were led by players such as Harden, Nash, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and even Golden State’s Stephen Curry — players who stretched defenses into oblivion with the interplay between their passing and scoring.That’s why Harden’s admittedly impressive scoring streak is only one part of the puzzle that has helped vault the Rockets back near the top of the Western Conference’s contender list. By playing more like the Chamberlain of 1967 than 1962, Harden isn’t just helping the team with his own statistics — he’s also making the players around him better.Check out our latest NBA predictions. read more

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Ohio State football By The Numbers

While Ohio State football won’t be in position to clinch the Big Ten’s Leaders Division championship, it’s safe to say their path to the title goes through Happy Valley and the Penn State Nittany Lions. The No. 9-ranked Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) travel to play Penn State (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa., where more than 106,000 are expected to attend. OSU and PSU are undefeated in Big Ten play and enter Saturday’s game after rousing victories this past weekend. OSU fought back in the closing seconds of its game against Purdue to force overtime and eventually win, 29-22, with starting sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller sidelined with an injury. PSU, left for dead by some pundits after beginning the season 0-2, stretched its current winning streak to five games with a 38-14 rout of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday. PSU coach Bill O’Brien has returned the program to on-field respectability in the first season following late, former coach Joe Paterno’s firing. The two programs are banned from postseason play this season, with PSU’s ban continuing for the three seasons to follow due to NCAA sanctions stemming from former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing children in team facilities. Both remain eligible for the Leaders Division crown, though, and the victor on Saturday will be well-positioned to win divisional bragging rights as the 2012 college football season enters its home stretch. Offense  If OSU’s first four Big Ten games are any indicator, both Miller and redshirt junior quarterback Kenny Guiton are going to see action in Saturday’s game against PSU. When Miller’s on the field, he’s simply dominant, having run for 959 yards and 10 scores while throwing for 1,384 yards and 11 touchdowns. The problem is that Miller isn’t always on the field – he’s been forced from each of the Buckeyes’ Big Ten games this season for various amounts of time due to injury. Guiton’s proven himself to be a serviceable back-up, though – he’s completed 12-of-21 attempts this season for 128 yards and a touchdown and an interception. Perhaps most notably, Guiton also proved himself to be cool under pressure, having led the Buckeyes back from a 22-14 deficit with 47 seconds to play against Purdue to an eventual overtime win. For Penn State’s part, senior quarterback Matt McGloin, a former walk-on, has emerged as one of the elite passers in the conference. What the Nittany Lions lack in a rushing attack – their leading running back, redshirt junior Zach Zwinak, has 369 yards on the season – McGloin makes up for in the passing game. The Scranton, Pa. native has 1,788 yards through the air to go along with 14 passing touchdowns. Defense For all of OSU’s defensive struggles, the unit showed improvement last week against Purdue, allowing just 13 points to the Boilermakers’ offense (the other Purdue scores came on a 100-yard kickoff return and a safety). OSU senior Zach Boren has provided a spark at the linebacker position for the Buckeyes and has tallied 14 tackles in two games since jumping to defense from the fullback position. The Nittany Lions’ defense is stout and is the 13th in the nation with only 15.71 points per game allowed. PSU also only allows more than 322.7 yards per game – that’s 22nd best in America. The Nittany Lions also boast a potential all-Big Ten linebacker in redshirt senior Michael Mauti, who has accumulated 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three interceptions. Mauti, PSU’s emotional leader, will likely steer the PSU defense on the field and stoke the Beaver Stadium “White Out” crowd as well. Special Teams On paper, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions don’t pose a great threat on kick and punt returns. OSU has the only return for a touchdown between the two squads – a punt return by OSU junior Corey Brown against Nebraska. There’s only marginal separation between the teams when it comes to return yardages as well, though OSU holds the edge in punt and kickoff returns. For perhaps the first time all season, OSU has an edge when it comes to kicking field goals. Buckeyes junior kicker Drew Basil is 3-of-5 on field goal tries this season. Basil’s season-long is 35 yards and he clanked a 50-yard try off the upright in the north end zone at Ohio Stadium last weekend. Through no fault of his own, Basil simply hasn’t had many opportunities this season. PSU sophomore kicker Sam Ficken is a different story. Ficken is 4-of-11 on field goal tries this season, has a long of 34 yards and missed four attempts during a 17-16 Sept. 8 loss at Virginia. Since that loss, O’Brien has used his kicker sparingly and has trotted Ficken out for only two field goals longer than 40 yards, and the kicker missed both (a 47-yard miss against Illinois and a 43-yarder against Iowa). read more

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Football Runpass option driving Ohio State offense

Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) hands the ball off to freshman running back J.K. Dobbins (2) during the Ohio State- Oklahoma game on Sep. 9. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorA week after dropping just 16 points on an Oklahoma defense that gave up 14 points to Tulane a week later, Ohio State handled Army with ease, putting up 38 points and 586 total yards.Unlike in the Buckeyes’ season-opening 49-21 win against Indiana that included seven three-and-outs and two touchdowns of 50-plus yards, their offense relied on elongated, methodical drives. Against Army, Ohio State seemed to revert more to its previous identity, driving its offense more with a strong ground attack and shorter passes than attempting to force big plays through deep passes.Redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett said using passes at or behind the line of scrimmage and option plays are critical to the success of the offense. They put defenses on alert. “With run-pass options, you really can’t just be heavy loaded whether it be run or pass. You can’t have guys sink on the pass; you can’t have guys loaded in the box,” Barrett said. “On those plays, you get both. You have to be prepared for both. You have to be disciplined with your eyes.”Deploying the run-pass option gives Barrett three options on the play: keeping the ball, handing it off or passing. This play gives the team a weapon against defenses that prevents opposing teams from making assumptions based on any given play.Ohio State redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) throws a pass to junior wide receiver Terry McLaurin (83) in the first quarter of the 2017 OSU- Army game on Sep. 16. OSU won 38-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorThough Barrett has received a bevy of criticism in the season’s first three games, with a crescendo coming after the loss to Oklahoma, he has accounted for more career touchdowns than anyone else in the history of the Big Ten. “[Barrett is] a solid, adequate runner,” co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “He’s a solid, adequate passer that can put them both together. And when both things get working, he makes your offense complete.”Though Barrett and the offense have succeeded with run-pass options and short passes, they still want to find a way to include deep shots down the field into the offense. In order to do that, Ohio State believes it must draw the linebackers out wider and the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to open up space downfield.“We want to stretch the defense horizontally because that opens up our inside zone and our over the top shots, makes defenses come down,” wideout Terry McLaurin said.For an offense that often discussed increasing the proficiency of its deep-ball capabilities during the offseason, this might seem illogical. But given Barrett’s propensity to overthrow open receivers down the field, or receivers dropping passes or failing to reel in contested passes, Ohio State has had to move away from its vertical passing game.In the first half of the Army game, the only two times the offense stalled occurred when the offense strayed further from its identity, attempting to force deep passes while in Army territory. The results were a punt from Army’s 33-yard line and a field goal from Army’s 16-yard line. Each of the previous two plays before the respective kicks were failed pass attempts of 15-plus yards.Regardless of the failed drives, Ohio State averaged 8.5 yards per play versus the Black Knights, compared to 5.1 yards against Oklahoma and 6.9 versus Indiana.“We got the ball out in space to our fast playmakers in the slot,” McLaurin said. “We blocked well on the edge and you saw, we took a couple of downfield shot and that opened up because we stretched the defense horizontally.”Given Saturday’s game against UNLV, a team that has given up 416.5 yards per game, and matchups with Rutgers and Maryland on the horizon, the Buckeyes have time to mold the offense to a style it desires.“We’re focused on building on what we did last week, our horizontal game, taking some vertical shots, some complements,” McLaurin said. “And I feel like that’s what’s going to help us get better when we start getting into Big Ten play.” read more

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BBC Worldwide the commercial arm of British publi

first_imgBBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of British public broadcaster the BBC, has launched its online streaming service iPlayer in Canada.This marks the 16th international launch of the service, which has also launched in countries including Australia and across Scandinavia. The service will initially be available as a subscription service on the Apple iPad as an application. Full access will cost C$8.99 (€6.55) a month, although there will be some content available for free.Series available on the service include Spooks, Eastenders, Top Gear, Doctor Who and Blue Planet. 
“We’re proud to be building on the successful launch of this App by introducing it to Canada,” said Jana Bennett, BBC Worldwide president of worldwide networks and global iPlayer. “It will open up the opportunity for a whole new audience to enjoy the best moments from seventy years of brilliant BBC programs, wherever and whenever they want.”last_img read more

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