Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Fix Los Angeles, and other uniform wishes for 2014

The Bucks' alternate and the Lakers' home uni
Here are some hoped-for changes, mostly in the uniform world, for 2014. Little consideration was given to how likely these changes are.

Promote your alternate, Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Bucks’ wonderful alternate uniform highlights how mediocre their primaries are. Fixing that seems simple: scrap the primaries and replace them with a green and a white uniform in the style of their alternate. Or even use the exact red alternate as the new road uniform.

Get the overhauls right

As mentioned in last week’s post, there’s concern that the Charlotte Hornets will have “aggressive”, and therefore likely unattractive, uniforms when they are released before the 2014-15 season. Hopefully that’s not the case and they let the distinctive teal and purple combo do most of the work for the uniform.

Portland could potentially have new uniforms in 2015 and Toronto’s overhaul should come into effect for 2015-16. We probably won’t see any of those changes in 2014, but let’s hope that any developments heard in 2014 on that front are positive. Fingers crossed that headlines like “Don’t expect big changes to Blazers’ wardrobe” and “Raptors to keep primary logo” appear in 2014. 

Limit the looks

Too many uniforms are worn by teams over a season, whether it’s due to special-event uniforms or multiple alternates. It’d be nice for teams to embrace having just one alternate, if they must have an alternate at all. Also, the NBA doing away with special-event unis like those for Christmas Day would be welcomed.

Tweak the Lakers and Clippers

Many teams could use a slight alteration to their uniforms. But the two LA teams are particularly noteworthy because smallish changes would produce significant improvements.

The Lakers need to draw major inspiration from their ‘80s and ‘90s uniform and ditch the jersey side panels and fix their collar.

The Clippers should depart from all the extraneous gunk on their uniforms – look at the sides and the collar – and embrace a classic look. All that really requires, in addition to the clean collar and sides, is a number font change.  

Floor improvements

The oversized midcourt logo is popular, but hopefully that changes next year. Too often teams are opting for an excessively large logo or word mark when a more Boston Celtics-sized one would be superior.

There are too many solid-colour keyways: having contrasting sides is generally a superior look.

A move away from the multi-coloured wood look in 2014 would also be appreciated.  

Friday, 27 December 2013

Assessing Toronto's discomforting division lead

Image courtesy of Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press.
"We have far more focus on the road than we do at home, and that is a concern," said Dwane Casey, immediately after the Raptors' recent overtime collapse at home to Charlotte.

That buzzer-beating defeat dropped Toronto to 9-14, with a subpar .333 winning percentage at the Air Canada Centre. Although not welcomed by the team's head coach, this steady mediocrity appeared to have fit neatly with GM Masai Ujiri's desire to overhaul the roster and start afresh.

The slip in the standings, however, preceded a pair of plucky victories on a three-game Southwestern swing. An overtime triumph in Dallas combined with blotting Oklahoma City's 13-0 home record copy book allowed the team to "ascend" to the apex of the historically awful Atlantic Division. These performances formed part of a 5-3 stretch since December 8, following the decision to ship costly wingman Rudy Gay to Sacramento for an assortment of expiring contracts and basketball debris (Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, and Chuck Hayes).

At first glance, Ujiri's two-pronged reset -- by removing the cap-clogging deals and offensive inefficiencies of Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay -- signalled a clear intent to reshape the rotation and prioritise ping-pong balls. Yet the exodus of Gay's 18.6 FGA per game has re-allocated a high volume of used-possessions, with early signs of success. Amir Johnson, for example, has relished Rudy's absence by converting 67.1% of his post-trade field goal attempts and generating a +12.1 per 100 possessions. Meanwhile second-year guard Terrence Ross, the immediate candidate to claim the departed Gay's minutes, has drilled 44.2% of his long range attempts en route to 13.2 points per outing.

Despite a losing record and being beneath the expected Pythagorean win-loss ratio of 13-13, Toronto's overall point differential sits at just -4. This has been padded handsomely by a +21 stretch over the eight games since the seven-player transaction, per NBA.com stats. Symbolic of the mismatched collection of roster-fillers -- and the team's not-so-subtle intention to continue to trade its veteran players -- DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have logged an average of 38 and 37 minutes per game, respectively, in this window.

The Raptors' willingness to move the remaining vestiges of the Bryan Colangelo era has been in the public forum since (at least) November 1, when ESPN.com's Marc Stein detailed that "Anyone but [Jonas] Valanciunas," is available in trade conversations. The "anyone but" list likely now includes the aforementioned Amir Johnson, whose continued stellar play has seen his value in league circles rise incrementally. Nevertheless, the front office's predetermined philosophical outlook and the team's unexpected status as division leaders has created an intriguing juxtaposition. If the postseason were to begin tomorrow, Toronto would be destined for a top-four seed and home-court advantage in the first-round, something the city has not been treated to since 2007.

Thus, the organisation is left in somewhat of a precarious position. The Atlantic Division, with an aggregate record of 49-70 and a point differential of -577 on the season, may just be atrocious enough that the Raptors could reshuffle their pieces and still earn a playoff berth. Moving Gay has done nothing but make the team better as a whole, and while shipping DeRozan and/or Lowry for future assets may move the needle in the lottery direction, there are no guarantees that it wholly eliminates the team from postseason contention. With Rajon Rondo yet to register a minute of playing time for the Celtics in 2013-14, the Nets' Brook Lopez recently ruled out for the entire season with a broken foot, Philadelphia having failed to win a game in regulation after November 8, and the Knicks playing persistently repugnant basketball, Toronto is situated atop the division standings by near-default. There doesn't appear to be another non-Raptors transaction or organisational shake-up capable of altering the landscape of the Atlantic on the horizon, either.

The Raptors place 15th in the league for +/- per 100 possessions through 26 games at -0.2, and are on the fringes of the NBA's top ten for their defense. Dwane Casey's squad have a Defensive Rating of 101.9, tied with Houston for 10th spot in the rankings. The primary problems for this team, though, emanate from the other side of the ball. So long as DeMar DeRozan continues to source 32.2% of his scoring from the midrange area with a usage rate of 26.6%, the team will carry a limited offensive ceiling. DeRozan is also firing an average of 3.5 trebles per contest, while only connecting on 31.9% of his deep attempts. To further the Raptors' identity quandary, the 6"7 slasher has played well enough to help sustain the team's level of competitiveness, but is perhaps not performing to the extent that his value is skyrocketing in the minds of opposing scouts.

Toronto have thus far confronted the sixth-toughest basketball calendar, with a Strength of Schedule (SOS) mark of .520, according to ESPN's Hollinger statistics. In the context of their winning aspirations, the Raptors begin a home-and-home matchup with New York tonight, while preparing for road tussles with Chicago, Miami, and Indiana in the next ten days.

As the trade deadline approaches and the Raptors push through a raft of Eastern Conference bouts, one can only hope that the black clouds will be removed from above the listless play of the Atlantic Division outfits.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

New Hornets logos aggressive but harmless

The Hornets' new primary logo
The logos and word mark for next season’s Charlotte Hornets are unfortunately modern but acceptable nonetheless.

The colours of the primary logo, even the grey, look sharp. The generically-aggressive demeanour of the hornet is a negative and the basketball for his body seems forced.

The word mark takes up too much room on the logo and obscures the hornet too much. It’s reminiscent of the New England Patriots' word mark and the Minnesota Vikings' number font. It looks like it’ll age quickly.

The C-shaped hornet secondary is similar to the Atlanta Hawks alternate. A simplified version of the primary probably would’ve been superior.

The modernized Hugo secondary looks good. It would’ve been better, though, had they retained Hugo dribbling a basketball and kept his stripes. Hopefully next season’s Hornets don’t do away with stripes on the jersey trim too. The 'H' on the updated Hugo’s body also looks a bit off.

The ‘C’ alternate is likeably simple and, along with the Hugo secondary, is the best part of the new Hornets look. It’ll also provide the Hornets with a link to their Bobcats days.

The other four logos are unimpressive, but they might only be used in rare or specific instances, anyway.

These logos and word mark, along with the press release to announce them, suggest that the new uniforms could suffer from trying to be fearsome.

The release referred to the hornet in the primary logo as “aggressive-looking” and “ready to attack”.

“We developed a logo that physically depicted the characteristics and DNA of the type of team we want on the court, as well as those of hornets and the city of Charlotte,” said Bobcats Sports and Entertainment President and COO Fred Whitfield.

That kind of talk suggests that flawed uniforms – the unis are expected to be released in the summer – could follow. Scoop collars, coloured waistbands and restraint aren’t synonymous with aggression.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas Day uniforms more than unsightly

The 2013 NBA Christmas Day uniforms are concerning for more than their ugliness. They’re representative of more importance being placed on difference than attractiveness and tradition.

The ten uniforms feature a trio of gimmicks: the jerseys are sleeved, there are logos instead of word marks and numbers on the jersey front, and the logos are metallic. This consistent approach should result in all ten teams looking unfortunately loud.

The sleeves and hockey-style jersey fronts are wacky but would probably be acceptable if they were the extent of the riskiness. Alas, the awful metallic look brings the uniforms right down.

The prominence of silver means team colours are being forsaken for a look that isn’t even particularly Christmassy. If you’re going to wear colours that aren’t your own, there should be a good reason and the substitution colours should be relevant. That’s not the case here.

There’s no reason why teams playing on Christmas should be wearing special uniforms. The All-Star game – a special occasion that calls for new uniforms each year – provides enough opportunity for the NBA to release funky unis to be worn in a high-profile setting.

That’s where the real concern lies. The Christmas gear is an example of the NBA not having enough respect for limiting the number of uniforms and placing too much importance on doing uniforms differently. The look and existence of the Christmas unis makes it clear that teams looking traditionally good – which means not wearing disposable uniforms – isn’t a high-enough priority. 

With attractiveness and tradition being undervalued, the resistance to advertisements on uniforms is compromised. The door to zany and unattractive innovations and teams wearing six unis during the regular season is opened, too.

It mightn’t seem like a big deal because these are just one-off uniforms. But the fact that one-off uniforms exist for such an occasion is part of the problem.   

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A look at basketball use in logos

The Bucks' logo from 1968-93
Basketballs are an overly-common feature of NBA team logos.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea, but the basketball appears to be an uninspired throw-in in too many logos.

Equipment is also a common feature of MLB logos, but is less popular with NFL and NHL logos.

Basketballs are a tempting element to include given how they can easily fit a logo. A basketball is simple and recognizable, works big or small and is easy to interact with for mascots in the logo. Baseballs are similar.

Just because a basketball's easy to include doesn’t mean it should be included. It has to add something.

The argument that a basketball in the logo makes it clear the team plays basketball seems like a poor excuse.

There are instances of a basketball doing more than letting the uninitiated know what sport the team plays. Here are some examples of a basketball benefitting a logo.

Milwaukee Bucks, 1968-93

The pose and expression of the buck, the sweater and the spin marks surrounding the ball are all top-notch. The buck’s carefree confidence is uncommon among mascots on NBA logos nowadays.   

Seattle SuperSonics, 1975-95

An example of a basketball working as a logo outline. The semi-circle shape and colours help a lot, as does Seattle having something to make its skyline distinctive.

Utah Jazz, 1979-96

The word mark is fantastic, and UTAH fits nicely above JAZZ. The colours also work well. But the centrepiece and strongest element is the basketball note: it’s relevant, simple and appealing.

Washington Wizards, 2011-present

The wizard isn’t just holding the ball. It looks as though he’s got it hovering over his finger, or he’s just released a finger roll. The colours and the W formed by his beard are other highlights. The second basketball, the crescent-shaped one, is unnecessary.

Anaheim Amigos, 1967/68 (ABA)

It’s not a great logo given the word mark is just ok and the colours are bland. But the hat on a basketball is likeable, even if the ball itself looks poor. 

Improved perimeter play has sparked the Spurs' solid D

Spurs guard Tony Parker checking Golden State wingman Harrison Barnes.
If you don't know, now you know: the Spurs sit 2nd in the league's Defensive Rating rankings. San Antonio trails only it's Saturday opponents -- the Indiana Pacers -- for it's ball-stopping prowess.

With Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter manning the paint, it's almost expected that the team should boast a defensive unit good enough for a top ten standing. The notion that a Duncan-Splitter combo will strangle the interior slashes of the opponent is not a new one. In sixty games of sharing the floor in 2012-13, the pair (when measured as a two-man lineup) restricted opposing FG% to 41.4%, and generated a handsome Defensive Rating of 92.7. An unquestionably elite performance. Given the tall timber's penchant for roaming in the restricted area, then, what is required to propel the team as a whole to the next echelon of defensive dominance?

It starts with a collective commitment from the rest of the roster. A little tinkering to the rotation and a couple of new faces don't hurt, either. Last season, San Antonio were proud owners of a number of key defensive indicators that the majority of NBA teams would kill to achieve. Whether it was keeping Opp. FG% to 42.9% in their 58 wins, placing third in the Association for defensive rebound percentage at 74.9% (behind only Golden State and Houston), or fourth for opposition True Shooting %'s at a paltry 51.6% (courtesy of HoopData.com). Recently, "Pounding The Rock" paid homage to the Spurs' propensity to defy and withstand the hallmarks of opposing offenses, and detailed the growing reputation of Danny Green as a "3-and-D" wingman. But what about Tony Parker -- far from being regarded as a defensive menace -- and the removal of 22 minutes of Gary Neal from the nightly lineup?*

Sure, offseason manoeuvring and substituting the likes of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres in to replace Neal and DeJuan Blair may seem minor and inconsequential to the casual onlooker. Not quite. It is actually difficult to adequately describe just how much of a defensive albatross Gary Neal was for San Antonio, in 2013 especially. Neal was one of the team's chief defensive liabilities, mustering an individual Defensive Rating of 101.4 over his 68 regular season appearances. Spurs fans will remember Neal's rise from obscurity and his role as a streaky shooter (with a clutch performance or two along the way). Don't let that distract you from his identity as the definition of a one-way player, though. Look, Belinelli himself is not exactly a brick wall on the defensive end. Nonetheless, it's worth looking at how the team has fared when the Italian gunslinger has been plugged in alongside rotation bigs. For example, through seventeen games together, the Splitter-Belinelli tandem has earned a Defensive Rating of 81.5. We're crippled by the reality of a small sample size here, but this mark is currently the Spurs' best of any combo that has logged greater than 100 minutes together on the season. It's a figure that's overwhelmingly weighted by the stature of Splitter and is certain to balloon back out toward a more reflective and sustainable number. Belinelli, however, has (thus far) given honest, near league-average D and has avoided the sieve-like play that proved costly for the team with Neal on the floor.

Stepping away from the team's bench help for a second, if we know that three of the Spurs' five starters can more than hold their own when called upon on D, where do Parker and Danny Green stand as a backcourt playing heavy minutes? According to basketball-reference.com, Tony Parker managed 2.3 Defensive Win Shares (defined as "an estimated number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense") in 2012-13, roughly middle of the pack on the San Antonio roster. So far this season, the Parker-Green unit has been a stingy one, helping to hold the opposition to 40.4% on field goal attempts, while Tony Parker ranks 11th in the league for individual defensive efficiency (of players who have played a minimum of 10 games, and average at least 20 minutes per outing). Even if a lot of these glittery numbers snap back to reality -- in one way or another -- the progress of Parker on the other side of the ball deserves recognition. It's the one component of his game that has always been the critic's choice: accountability and consistency on D. As much as anything, this is a Point Guard-driven league, and Tony has amassed these numbers having already battled Ty Lawson, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving, to name a few. Meanwhile Green, who is frustratingly prone to the occasional defensive lapse or gamble, still comes in at fourth in the NBA's individual defensive rankings.

Key factors help to comprise these measures: the quality of opponents, the makeup of the Spurs' units on the floor, injuries, personnel etc. Yet, we're nearly a quarter of the way through the 82-game grind. There is enough available evidence to support the incremental improvement of Parker's defensive efforts. He has boosted his own Defensive Rating from 97.6 this past year to 92.2 through seventeen early-season bouts. Expect Parker's individual stats to gravitate and regress closer towards those of last season, but if he can continue his recent output on the perimeter, he -- and San Antonio as a team -- will be richly rewarded for his sustained advances.

* Neal also registered an average of nearly nineteen minutes per contest in the postseason for the Spurs in 2012-13.

Statistics used are from NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise specified.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The case for coloured socks

The Lakers with striped socks
Adding sleeves to jerseys is one way to give NBA uniforms more room for creativity. It mightn’t be the best way.

There’s not much to an NBA uniform; it’s generally a singlet and shorts. There are no helmets or caps, no long-sleeved shirts or pants, no gloves, no stirrups and no belts.

Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Knicks’ road blues don’t look like they’re missing anything, for example, and the Celtics’ home whites aren’t begging for a green cap.

But having more to work with could theoretically lead to a better uniform. While it mightn’t be the motivation behind them, the new sleeved jerseys give teams more space for originality and differentiation.

The sleeves can house player numbers, for example, as will be done with the Christmas Day jerseys. They also give room for stripes, a patch or an alternate logo.

But sleeves still feel unnatural and too unnecessary to be justified. A better option for adding more to a uniform could be socks.

Teams used to wear long socks with team-coloured stripes. While a return to those socks could be a good look, it’s likely a little too farfetched to expect all NBA players to wear knee-highs.

Regarding farfetched: if the NBA were really interested in altering its approach to socks, it would have done something by now. But still, the idea of sock changes is worth considering.

Instead of the old style, teams could wear regular-length – or knee-high for those so inclined – coloured socks. Picture Golden State wearing yellow socks or New Orleans with red ones with their respective blue road uniforms.

Dallas could have a star on their socks. The Nuggets could use their crossed picks alternate logo and the Jazz could put their basketball note logo on theirs.

Washington could go with red, white and blue stripes.

There are of course potential problems. For it to best work, particularly with logos, the NBA logo would have to be removed from the visible part of the sock, something that seems particularly unlikely for the league to embrace. Plus the good work of striped socks could be undone by a player scrunching them down while playing.

It’d be mildly risky and it’s certainly unnecessary. With headbands and shooting sleeves commonplace, adding coloured socks to the mix could be overkill.

Socks are, however, more of an essential part of an NBA wardrobe than sleeves. Making them team-specific could be a subtler but superior choice than the sleeve option for giving teams more material to make their own.