Monday, 23 June 2014

A look at the average Hornets uniforms

The new Charlotte Hornets uniforms are a bit like the Phoenix Suns’ unis in that they are close to being great, but are ultimately mediocre due to a few problems.

The Hornets' new home uniform

The numbers are too big. It wouldn’t be such an issue if the font wasn’t so unattractively funky and the colours weren’t so flashy, which combine for a sci-fi look. The jersey front in particular is overwhelmed by the numbers. White numbers on the road and alternate unis would’ve quietened them down.

The clean right side is a good look and the striping on the left is ok. To say the asymmetry “makes the uniform unique” is a stretch though.

The waistband logo is acceptable but unnecessary. There are three different non-primary logos on the three uniforms combined, which is excessive. The word mark on the shorts is unsightly and takes away from the simplicity of the right side.

The collars are the strength of the uniforms, with the stripe making them particularly sharp. They’re bold, but not excessively so. The overlap style is similar to that on the original Hornets uniforms, which is a link to the past that doesn’t seem forced.

Designating the teal uniform as the alternate is a concern. The Hornets noted they can wear it “a total of 16-20 times per season, whether at home or on the road”, which suggests excessive use of the alternate is imminent. Being able to wear the popular teal at home more often is a logical argument in support of this move, but ultimately seems like a stretch. It’s not as though a teal uniform is any less legitimate if only worn on the road, or that there won’t be plenty of teal on display at home games without teal uniforms.

These new uniforms came out the way the new logos and word marks, which were released late last year, suggested they would – too charmless, but adequate overall. They are, it’s worth noting, superior to what the Bobcats wore in 2013-14.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Pitfalls of new dawn uniforms

The Philadelphia 76ers plan to change their uniforms prior to the 2015-16 season, according to Interstate 76ers. If that’s true, the changes could be beneficial. But they also could be detrimental, regardless of how the unis look.

The Sixers’ current set is upgradeable. The biggest issue is the trim, which is clunky and doesn’t suit the rest of the uniforms’ simplicity. Even though Philadelphia underwent a major uni change in 2009, a few more tweaks next year could work.

But the real concern is that the Sixers mightn’t be looking to simply make their uniforms a bit better, but instead could be trying to shift their identity. As in, highlight the beginning of a new, successful era by introducing new uniforms. This idea is mentioned in the Interstate 76ers article. Philadelphia might simply want to change their uniforms regardless of on-court success. But the Sixers wanting to distance themselves from losing seasons and promote a new beginning with the aid of new uniforms seems at least possible.

Using unis in that way is approaching them as something easily disposable, which is wrong, and relegates them to the status of slogan-adorned fridge magnets. It also seems silly to think a new uniform would significantly change many people’s perception of a team. Fans would still be excited if the team didn’t have new uniforms but looked poised for success. And there’d still be pessimism if a team with a new wardrobe was inadequately composed – although jersey sales would probably increase. The Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls don’t need new uniforms to distance themselves from the respective injuries of Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose – they need those players to be healthy. It’s the on-court product that changes negative identities, not uniforms.

A uniform change packaged as part of the beginning of success would also seem gimmicky. A team with faith in its acquisitions and fans and a respect for uniforms wouldn’t use unis in such a way. The harder the new uniforms are pushed as part of a new beginning, the less convincing it is that more winning is imminent. Philadelphia fans’ confidence in their team could be weakened by its decision-makers resorting to such tactics.

That’s a lot of consternation about something that mightn’t happen. The Sixers could avoid any fresh start hoopla if they do introduce new gear, or they mightn’t make any changes at all. Given the potential for missteps, there’d be nothing wrong with the latter.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Going with gold in the playoffs

The Indiana Pacers wore their gold alternate uniform at home in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday, which continued a trend in these playoffs. The Pacers have gone with gold for game 1 home games in all three series they’ve played. 
The Pacers and Heat in their alternates

Further driving home the effect, the Heat wore their red alternates in game 1 in Indiana. Wearing an alternate uniform often in the postseason isn't something to be condemned, but it doesn't seem right.

An alternate should generally be worn infrequently. Excessive alternate wearing makes both the primaries and the alternate less special. If teams didn’t overwear their alternates, it’d be more noteworthy when they did play in them, meaning there might be less desire for nickname games, Christmas uniforms and other such folly. So wearing them often, whether in the regular season or playoffs, is unwise.

On top of that, alternates don’t fit the occasion of the playoffs. Playoff games are distinctive – maybe not as much as in the NFL or other postseasons with fewer games, but they’re uniquely important nonetheless. It seems right to wear primaries – the uniforms that are essential for every team and are worn the most during the regular season – at such times.

In the case of the Pacers, who have worn all three of their uniforms this postseason, their movement towards their alternate could be connected to their gold-clad fans. Hopefully the decision to wear gold wasn’t dictated by a desire to have the players match the colour of the crowd, whose giveaway shirts were understandably gold, which is more distinctive than blue or white. But the Pacers have also worn gold on the road these playoffs, so maybe they’re just fond of it.

There are factors that support the alternate prominence. If a third uniform deserves to exist in the first place, as is the case with Indiana, then it’s unreasonable to consider it unacceptable for the playoffs. Although alternates carry a waft of needlessness, they aren’t really less legitimate than primaries. Some team individuality is good, too: having everyone stick to a rigid no-alternates policy in the playoffs would be unwelcome.

The Pacers’ gold uniform is also the best in their current set. It has issues – the side stripes are unsightly, the collar is iffy and the two logos on the shorts are excessive – but compared to what the Pacers wore in their previous seasons of reaching the East finals in the NBA (1993-94, 1994-95, 1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-00, 2003-04, 2012-13), it’s great. Indiana wearing their alternate multiple times in the playoffs might seem a bit off, but at least that third uniform is an improvement on the one worn in their pinstriped days.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Who could follow Atlanta by reviving old logo

The Atlanta Hawks’ new secondary logo doesn’t belong. The revised version of their 1972-95 logo isn’t a natural fit with their current primary, which is staying put, and doesn’t gel with the Hawks’ generally busy look.

But it is a good logo, albeit mildly inferior to the original version. It’s now easier to recognise the hawk, thanks to the neck detail, the curvier beak and the meaner eye. Those changes slightly subtract from the strongpoints of the original: its simplicity and vagueness. The Hawks emphasised how the
The new Hawks secondary logo
old logo could be confused for something else by referring to it as the “Pac” logo. This potential for misinterpretation was part of the logo’s appeal.

It’s still attractive though, and maybe more simplicity will do Atlanta good. Being a secondary logo that was just introduced, it’s tough to tell how prominently it’ll be used: it might end up largely unseen apart from fan merchandise.

There aren’t many other NBA teams that are good candidates for a similar logo restoration. Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee and Minnesota all have primary logos from their past that could be returned with minimal or no tweaking. But those four teams would benefit much more from an overhaul to accompany the logo resurrection, as opposed to just adding an old logo to the fray, like Atlanta did.

The two teams best suited to following Atlanta are Philadelphia and Phoenix. The 76ers could return their 1963-77 primary as a secondary logo. It’s an obvious fit with their current logos. Importantly, it’s simple, which would be a nice alternative to the annoyingly clunky primary they use now.

The Suns could bring back a slightly altered version of their 1968-92 secondary. It’s a slightly random but charmingly simple logo that could fit their current look with some tweaking of the font and colours. As a bonus, it could replace Phoenix’s current, unsightly secondaries. Like the Hawks’ new secondary – but unlike the 76ers suggestion above – this Suns logo wouldn’t really fit with the team’s uniforms. But with so many potential locations for secondaries, that’s no problem.  

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A look at teal uniforms

Here are four teal uniforms worthy of discussion despite not reaching great heights of attractiveness.

Charlotte Hornets, 1996-2002 road

This is messy. The colour, waistband striping and jersey-only pinstripes make the uniform loud, but the side striping does the real damage by overwhelming everything else.  The absence of the white trim their previous roads had is a drawback – it softened the uniform.

Detroit Pistons, 1995-2001 road

This is remarkable for being the teal showpiece of the flaming horse era, an unattractive but interesting period in Pistons’ history. The colour combo makes it hard for this to succeed – one trim colour would have been plenty. The side panels wrapping around the shorts hem is an uninspired design, too. But the worst part is the jersey logo. Both the lettering, which is tough to read, and the horse design look cheap. Those flames are pretty bad. The number font is goofy, which hurts because a more traditional approach would’ve offset some of the wackiness. 

New Orleans Hornets, 2002-05 road

This is an example of how a teal uniform can be tame, but it’s also still significantly better than what the Hornets/Pelicans have worn since 2008. It’s simple, but it doesn’t have the commitment to simplicity that could’ve elevated it from standard to great. The outline on the numbers and letters is a tinge messy, the shorts logos look like they were thrown on, and there’s one too many ‘H’ logos. 

Vancouver Grizzlies, 1995-2000 road

This theoretically could be considered similar to the Raptors’ inaugural road uniform, in that it’s loud and belongs to a 1995 Canadian expansion team. But they’re really very different, as this is far inferior to Toronto’s first roads. The teal is unattractive because it clashes with the earthy colours on the rest of the uniform. The trim pattern is interesting but too busy to be prominently displayed on this uni, particularly given the teal. The word mark is okay, but being 2D would’ve made it better. The size of the bear on the shorts is excessive, which fits the theme of the uniform but doesn’t look good.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Trail Blazers following unfortunate court trend

The Portland Trail Blazers announced last month they’ll have a new court design next season determined by a fan vote. The winning design won’t be revealed until October but, judging by the three finalists, it will be flawed.

The finalists for the Blazers' court design contest
There is great control over the look of the playing surface in the NBA, with colour, pattern, and graphics possibilities that don’t exist in other sports. With these possibilities comes great variance in the look of the playing surface. NBA arenas don’t offer glimpses of a city skyline or mountain range in the background and they generally have the same basic look, so the court is largely relied upon to provide differentiation.

Getting the floor right is both possible and worthwhile.

But there are significant issues with current designs around the NBA. The two-toned wood look is popular – and featured in the Blazers’ finalist designs – but it creates a clash. Even if one of the tones is a good choice, it’s undone by the inferior tone. It also looks like it exists just for the sake of difference. Even relegating the second tone to the out-of-bounds area doesn’t work.

Solid keys are another issue represented in Portland’s finalist designs. Keys with strips of contrasting colour on the edges have been forsaken by some teams for the solid option. The coloured sides soften the key and add interest. Although the solid colour keys are generally superior to the solid plain keys, both are too stark.

Having no solid chunks of colour, not even out of bounds, doesn’t look right, as the Houston Rockets’ floor shows. Even if the two-tone situation and Houston’s logo and word mark were improved upon, going without any colour chunks is pushing it on the plainness front.

There’s also problems at centre court, with teams either choosing a secondary logo when the primary would be superior, or opting for a word mark when a logo would be better.

The baseline word marks can have a significant influence on the success or failure of a floor. The font can be random, entirely separate from the team’s other word marks, and still enhance the court. The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks provide two examples where the font doesn’t match what’s on their jerseys but does spruce up their home court.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A look at orange uniforms

Here are four noteworthy orange uniforms from the past.

Charlotte Bobcats, 2004-08 road

These are pretty good uniforms overall, but very good in comparison to other modern-style unis. That reddish shade of orange is attractive and helps the white numbers and lettering stand out. The word mark is interesting, albeit not highly legible, and the number and name fonts are ok. The uniform doesn’t even fall off with the side panels, although they’d be superior without the black and white. Based on the logos and colour scheme for the 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets, plus the franchise’s uniform trajectory, there’s a fair chance that these unis will be better than the ones the Hornets wear next season.

Cleveland Cavaliers, 1983-87 road
The Cavaliers in orange

The Cavaliers have a varied uniform history. These roads mark a time when they let the colour of their uniforms and the Cavs word mark do most of the work, an approach more successful than others from their past. These are particularly plain, though. Perhaps some thicker blue trim would’ve helped. This is one of the issues with an orange uniform. The colour itself can be so bold that there’s not much room for error with other design elements. The current Cleveland roads are plain, too, but they’re helped significantly by striped trim. Something similar could be too much on an orange uni like this.

Golden State Warriors, 2004-10 alternate

This is an orange uni that manages to look bland. The shade of orange is a big offender on that front. The side panels and yellow trim are a hindrance. The word mark is acceptable, but doesn’t elevate the uniform. The current gear worn by the Warriors seems a little off, but in comparison to this orange uni, it looks great. From a colour scheme perspective, the Warriors have significantly improved since the end of last decade.

Phoenix Suns, 2003-13 alternate

There’s a lesson from this uniform, but the Suns’ new uniform set suggests they disregarded it. Messing with the orange and purple colour scheme by adding a significant amount of grey is a bad move. The current Suns gear isn’t sullied by grey, but instead by the equally-draining black. Remove black from the Suns’ purple roads, and ditch the design on the sides of the shorts, and they’ve got a fantastic uniform. Beyond the grey issues, this orange uniform suffers from uninspired side panels and the oval behind the number on the jersey front. There’s some excessive logo and word mark use, too. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Art Rondeau on the Psyche of Shooting: Part Two

At the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Art Rondeau, a Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and Peak Performance Coach. Art has worked extensively with professional athletes in a number of different realms, and his role is part of what makes his perspective both diverse and unique. Art has compiled a number of works for Hickory High, operates his own blog (Game Time at the Garden of Good and Evil), and has comprehensive list of testimonials listed here. I was fascinated by Art's work and his approach, reached out to him for a few insights on possible misperceptions and issues with the game, and the NBA, and he kindly obliged. You can find more on Art at, and follow him on Twitter @ArtRondeau. The following is part two of our two part exchange. To access part one, click here.

Angus Crawford: Dwight Howard, one of the league's elite big men, is shooting 54.8% from the charity stripe this season. Despite the ghastly appearance of that figure, it's actually a near six percent uptick from his 2012-13 conversion. Poor free-throw shooting has long plagued Howard's offensive arsenal. It has been reported that Howard frequently and confidently splashes a high percentage of his freebies on the practice court, although such success is yet to translate to any in-game environments. Why might this be, and, if you were working one-on-one with Dwight, how would you approach (and seek to amend) the issue?

Art Rondeau: Regarding why Dwight Howard -- or anyone, really -- might hit many more free throws in practice than in games: much of that has to do with the differences of shooting free throws in practice than in a game. (Clever answer, huh?). In games, players mostly take 1, 2, or 3 free throws at a time. But in practice, we often see a player go to the line and take twenty. And once he hits his first free throw, he is not going to move from his spot. Someone could pull the fire alarm or there could be an earthquake and that player's not going to move. Some bad free throw shooters don't get comfortable on their first free throw but do so on their second. But in practice, taking 20 in a row is like taking one 1st free throw and nineteen 2nd free throws.

In practice, nobody is behind the glass backboard waving foam fingers. The gym's not extremely loud or incredibly quiet. No one is trying to ice the shooter (calling timeout to force him to the sideline), no defensive players are switching sides and making comments, etc.

Game free throws are taken after a player is hit (unless you ask the guys who get called for the fouls -- they never touched him). Hit a muscle hard enough and it will tighten up and affect its ability to extend during the shot. Shooting twenty before or after practice doesn't usually include getting hit first. Also, the major reason that free throws are missed is because of what happens when balance is lost (spoken about in detail in this Hickory-High podcast). Tightened muscles and fatigue affect balance and game free throws are usually shot after a player has been exerting himself. If practice free throws are taken at the beginning of practice -- or at the end after some rest and water -- loss of balance from fatigue is less of or no longer an issue.

All of these things can contribute to higher practice free throw percentage and/or lower game free throw percentage. And this doesn't even get into the emotional differences experienced in the two settings. Players going to the line in practice probably feel much more relaxed than in a game (the exception here being if the team is going to run sprints if the player misses his practice free throws). A player in a game can be happy he's going to the line; angry because he got hit so hard; unfocused because he got into a scuffle after the foul; exasperated because he's been hit the same way the last three times down court but it's only been called this time; nervous because the game is on the line; etc. In a nutshell, different emotions have different corresponding blood chemistries and those differences can affect strength, muscle fluidity, energy, etc. So, emotional differences between practice and games can have a major impact on the player's body and that, of course, would affect his shooting.

As to how I would fix it, there are 3 things I would do first: 1) Get him to take practice free throws like he takes game free throws; 2) Set up an NLP anchor (emotional trigger) so he feels the same way every time he shoots a free throw (think Pavlov's dogs); and 3) Have him do some special exercises to fix the balance problems.

The balance exercises have the biggest impact. Everyone benefits from doing them. The same season that former Knicks center Chris Dudley had his career-best made streak, San Diego State's Matt Watts jumped from his career 50% to lead the WAC at 90% and both of them improved their free throw shooting so much because of the exercises. At the end of the next season ('99-'00), I showed Allan Houston the balance exercises because he was missing a lot of critical free throws at the end of games and others mistakenly thought that he was choking. From the beginning of his career through the end of that season, he shot an excellent 83.7% (1442 of 1723). For the next four seasons after learning the exercises, Allan shot 90.2% (1094 of 1213). During his injury-shortened final season, he dropped to his pre-exercise average of 83.7% (36-43).

There are other things to look at but, before I would do that, I'd see how much the player improved by doing the three things listed above. Often, significant improvements are seen by the next game. It has never taken me more than 10 days to get an elite basketball player (NBA or NCAA) to shoot well from the free throw line.

AC: When we were talking in person at Sloan a couple of weeks ago, you were drawing upon examples from your work to help to adequately portray the value of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. You briefly cited working with former New York Knicks guard Allan Houston, and how your NLP training helped him have his career-best season in many categories. Can you elaborate on this, and/or perhaps offer some of your history of providing Peak Performance Coaching (at any level of basketball) and where you've found tangible results?

AR: My peak performance program is based mostly on NLP (with a few tweaks) and certain other performance technologies. Shooting a basketball is a great way to quantify results but performance improvements can be seen in other areas that can be harder to quantify. For example, if someone believes he's a bad defender, that belief will affect his play and, in certain circumstances, slow him down a fraction of a second. At the NBA level, that fraction of a second can be the difference between making the stop or not. Changing the belief will help him improve his defense. That improvement is harder to quantify since all five players need to play good defense for 24 seconds to get a shot clock violation and if one of his teammates slips up, points will still be scored. Video analysis helps but that's a rear-view determination. Each shot, on the other hand, goes in or it doesn't and, while secondary analysis is very possible (and, lately, very probable) we also know the result of the shot right away.

In part 1 of our interview, I mentioned some details of Allan Houston's outstanding shooting during the '99-'00 season. The results were significant but the "results of the results," even more so. We set a goal to get Allan onto his first NBA All-Star team and, since a majority of the games we worked together were prior to the coaches voting for their All-Star selections, that's a goal that we met. And despite being off the program for over 50 regular-season games that year, his results in his games on the program allowed him to set his career-best FG% and 3Pt%.

What isn't realized is that had we not worked together for one game, Knicks history might be very different. As is mentioned in the NY Post article, Allan and I first worked together late in the lockout-shortened '98-'99 season. He was in an 8-game slump and scoring fewer than 14 points per game. The night after our session, Allan scored 30 points on 10-for-17 (58.8%) shooting and the Knicks beat the Charlotte Hornets by 5 points. Had Allan scored fewer than 25 points, the Knicks would have lost. As it turned out, this win was crucial. All else being equal, losing that game would have meant that the Knicks would have tied Charlotte for the 8th playoff position at the end of the regular season -- but Charlotte would have beaten the Knicks 2-out-of-3 that season and, thus, won the tie-breaker. The Hornets would have gone to the playoffs and the Knicks to the lottery. Instead, the Hornets went to the lottery and the Knicks made their odds-beating march to the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. How many things would be different now had the Knicks gone to the lottery instead?

One more example from that special '98-'99 Knicks season helps illustrate how quickly NLP can work: my first Knicks client that season was Chris Dudley and he had set his career-best made-free throw streak while being on my free throw program. That program is 90% physical and, in fact, I originally developed my NLP-based program to make up the 10% of the free throw program that's mental. All season long, I tried to work with Marcus Camby, as well. Marcus is a great guy and was always friendly towards me and I never convinced him to work with me during the regular season.

During the Eastern Conference Finals, the Knicks lost game 4 to the Pacers by 2 points. Marcus had played a great game but gone just 4-of-8 from the free throw line. After the game, I was waiting outside the Knicks locker room to speak with Chris and Marcus walked up to me and said, "What can you do to help me?" He was in a suit with his gym bag over his shoulder, and I asked him how much time we had. He said they were leaving in 10 minutes to go to the airport to fly to Indianapolis.

In the middle of the crowd and without a ball, I showed him the basic exercise that Chris also did during his career-best streak. Marcus did the exercise fine and I knew I could ask Chris to do the exercise with him on the road. But Marcus had shot just 57% from the free throw line all season and was shooting 57% from the line in the playoffs, too. I knew I needed to change his belief about his ability to make free throws; I knew that I couldn't change it too much or his brain would reject the new belief (trying to convince him he was a 90% free throw wouldn't have worked); and I knew I had to do it on the fly. So, when Marcus was distracted by his agent calling over to him, I used a quick technique to plant the suggestion that Marcus was a 70% free throw shooter. Then we shook hands and I wished him well in Game 5. The result? Marcus shot 69% from the free throw line for the rest of the playoffs and the entire next season. We only worked together that one time but I've been fortunate to learn some powerful tools, and they came in handy.

AC: Where do you see the future of research into NLP and the psychological side of shooting to be headed? Is it a well of information that is yet to be properly tapped, in your eyes? Much time and advanced analysis has been devoted to matters such as spacing, positioning, contested/uncontested shots, and per-minute data, for example, but is there any part (of shooting) left over where we still have more to discover?

AR: This is a great question. As advanced as we are, we are only beginning to tap into the possibilities of humans to perform at higher levels and most of the research has been into improving size, strength, and endurance. As important as those are, without the ability to perform his or her best when it matters, someone who could be the best at something might never achieve those heights. Earlier, you asked about higher free throw percentage in practice than in games and, although I pointed to a lot of physical reasons for that, for some players that would be strictly a mental issue (a limiting belief or not accessing the right emotional states during the game). That would be an easy fix for me but I'm one person and need to market my services better. Ideally, I'd train people to work with all 30 NBA teams. You're still going to have a winner and a loser in any game but imagine if both teams shot 50% or better, no matter which game you watched? If you're interested in basketball, that's more fun. If you're interested in marketing, teams with losing records who are playing well have often sold out games and sold more merchandise than teams who are losing and losing badly.

The increase of advanced analytics and video tracking have the potential for backlash, and mental performance programs are the way to counteract it. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, in effect, states that when you measure something, you change what you're measuring. If you put a thermometer in a glass of water, you don't get the temperature of the water, you get the temperature of the water after the temperature of the thermometer has changed it. Advanced analytics and video tracking are "measuring," and there can be a corresponding change in performance. Media coverage is "measuring," as well. One of my clients was leading the Big East in 3PT% for six weeks and was then interviewed in detail about why he was shooting so well. The result? He immediately went into a six-week slump (as they said during his great shooting streak, he was "unconscious." Asking him questions made him conscious about his shot.)

What's going to happen when some reporter or coach looks at advanced analytics and tells the player "you can't make shots from the left sideline"? The player thought he was just having some temporary trouble but he may now believe he actually can't make the shot. That would need to be fixed and mental changes like that aren't ordinarily going to come from watching game film. Teams need someone with my skills as much as they need someone who is great with analytics. Analytics show patterns, they don't show why the pattern exists and they don't tell you how to change the pattern. We're really just scratching the surface in both advanced analytics and mental performance. But a team utilizing my program and a stats guru would have a powerful advantage over their opponents.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Art Rondeau on the Psyche of Shooting: Part One

At the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Art Rondeau, a Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and Peak Performance Coach. Art has worked extensively with professional athletes in a number of different realms, and his role is part of what makes his perspective both diverse and unique. Art has compiled a number of works for Hickory High, operates his own blog (Game Time at the Garden of Good and Evil), and has comprehensive list of testimonials listed here. I was fascinated by Art's work and his approach, reached out to him for a few insights on possible misperceptions and issues with the game, and the NBA, and he kindly obliged. You can find more on Art at, and follow him on Twitter @ArtRondeau. The following is part one of our two part exchange.

Angus Crawford: Recently, you put together a guest post for Hickory High discussing the standard practices of free-throw shooting, and how certain aspects of it add unnecessary length to a game's duration, and clog the overall flow. Aesthetically, how much of a concern do you think the time it takes the average fan to watch/follow an individual game is for the NBA? Which elementary components of the game might need remodelling in order to better serve the league (and its product) as a whole?

Art Rondeau: There are parts of many games that are brutal to watch (“Hack-a-Shaq” and the numerous timeouts late in the 4th quarter to name two). Eliminating or improving these situations (and I'm working on articles suggesting fixes to both of them) would help a lot. When new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was interviewed at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, he mentioned that studies show that the average time fans watch games on television has dropped from 50 minutes to 30 minutes. So, in addition to some over-the-top complaining by some NBA analysts who seem like they'd like the NBA to play a five game season and just 20 minutes per game, there is evidence that people are watching less for some reason(s). I think it's in everyone's best interest to find ways to make the game more watchable but to do so in ways that don't change the game too much. Dramatic changes probably aren't going to happen and if enough simple changes were made, dramatic changes would not even be necessary.

The guest post that you referred to suggests not allowing defenders to line up for free throws until the last one is ready to be taken (since it doesn't matter who rebounds a missed first free throw when the shooter's at the line for two). That would save between 30 seconds and a minute for each free throw, saving 10-20 minutes per game. The other suggestion was to wait to shoot technical free throws awarded during the first 3 quarters of games and shoot them right before the 4th quarter. In some games, there'd be no saving at all. In others, that might save 5-10 minutes. Eliminating “Hack-a-Shaq” would save twenty minutes in some instances and save no time in most. Changing how timeouts are handled late in the game would save time and make the games more exciting. Another area for improvement is inbounds plays; saving five minutes here and ten minutes there would benefit all concerned.

What must be avoided is changing the game so much that you can't compare players from different eras. There has been an idea floated to eliminate free throws all together (I'll pause here for "Airplane" fans to all say "eliminate free throws") and I've written an article to show why that would be a bad idea based on historical comparisons. One idea that has been floated is to cut the game from 48 minutes to 40 minutes. But if you reduce the game by almost 17%, you ensure that no one coming into the league will ever break onto the top ten all-time scoring list. As I mentioned in my "saving time" post, if you think player introductions take too long, the answer isn't having the teams play 2 on 2.

AC: One of the heavily-discussed research paper presentations at Sloan covered the idea of the "Hot Hand," and its validity. What have your studies and your work produced on the subject of the psychology behind players netting consecutive shots? Where do you stand on the so-called "Hot Hand" mindset?

AR: Contrary to most of the research, the Sloan paper suggests that a Hot Hand exists. I'm on board with that. In trying to disprove that the Hot Hand exists over the years, there are a number of flaws that were made in the studies due to lack of knowledge at the time of the study and some due to other errors. Without spending too much time on the flaws, it's important to list a few of them because shaking some of the belief in the "No Hot Hand Exists" studies is important in proving that the Hot Hand does actually exist. In what is probably the most well known study, Gilovich, Tversky, and Vallone looked at a year's worth of shooting data from the Philadelphia 76ers to determine if there was evidence that anything but random series of made shots existed. They also defined the Hot Hand as the likelihood that a player's next shot has a greater chance of going in if he hit his prior shot. They used free throws in the study and, as you see above, there are too many issues causing players to miss free throws to use them to prove or disprove anything like this. Finally, for here, they discount players' beliefs in Hot Hands.

All of this causes problems. It's very possible for a player to have a Hot Hand (what I'll define here as an out-of-the-ordinary game shooting well above his average for reasons other than blind chance) without hitting a lot of consecutive shots. If X is a make and O is a miss, we could see a normally 40% shooter have a game where he shoots X-X-O-X-O-X-X-O-X-X (70%) while only hitting consecutive shots 3 times. If he shoots something similar 3 games in a row (maybe missing his first shot in the 2nd game to break up the Xs), would we say he didn't have a Hot Hand because he didn't have many consecutive makes? Some would but I think most people would realise that something special was going on. A Hot Hand doesn't mean perfection, but holding it up as perfection helps when trying to prove that it doesn't exist.

Defining making a shot or missing a shot as a random act like flipping a fair coin is not accurate. Coins don't get tired. The defense doesn't double-team coins after a couple of heads in a row, making it harder for the coin to come up heads a 3rd time. The coach can order the player to shoot on a given play - whether the shooter wants to shoot or not. The coin doesn't care.

In looking back at the 76ers' data or at our example of X-X-O-X-O-X-X-O-X-X, why were the shots missed? How many times did the shooter miss a shot that he only took because the shot clock was about to expire and he chucked it up just to give his team a chance at the rebound? How many times did he take a shot that would have gone in but it got blocked (something that goes into the box score as a miss)? How many times did the player take a shot he knew probably wouldn't go in because he'd been fouled and wanted that foul to be in the act of shooting so he could go to the free throw line? We don't know and neither did the people who examined the 76ers' data. None of those three examples of why a player might miss is proof that the player didn't have a Hot Hand at the time that he missed the shot. They're only proof that the player missed. Without knowing why he missed, we can't legitimately disprove the Hot Hand.

Discounting beliefs is a mistake because a person's belief in his/her ability to achieve an outcome can have a significant impact on what the person actually achieves. Almost invariably, when I work with an elite athlete, one of the things that we'll do is to identify any negative beliefs about their ability to win and replace them with positive beliefs. There are studies that are helping to quantify the power of beliefs -- for example, identifying changes in blood chemistry when a belief changes -- but in my own work I have many examples of negative beliefs being the cause of an athlete's poor performance and installing a positive belief being part of the program that breaks the athlete out of a slump and/or helps him/her to excel during the next game.

In working with basketball players, I'm able to provide better examples of a relationship between the athlete doing a customised series of mental exercises and a superior shooting performance. In a very small sample, former Providence College player Maris Laksa shot 50% and, in the next game, 62.5% in his 2 games on my program after having been in a 6-week slump. In a larger sample, during the 1999-2000 NBA regular season, New York Knicks shooting guard Allan Houston shot 60% or better in just 5 of 52 games when he was off my program and shot 60% or better in 15 of 30 games when he was on it. Allan shot 50% or better in just 10 of 52 games when he was off my program and shot 50% or better in 27 of 30 games when he was on it. When an NBA player who is considered an excellent shooter can only shoot 50% or better in one out of every five games on his own but manages to shoot 50% or better in 9 of every 10 games after doing customised mental exercises, I think there's enough proof that how well a player shoots isn't random. More data is needed, but I'm off to a good start.

You can follow up on Art's work with Allan Houston here (inc. detailed statistics), and read this New York Post feature on Art teaming up with the former Knicks shooting guard.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bringing back original Raptors uniform a welcome move

The Raptors' original road uniform
The Toronto Raptors’ decision to wear their inaugural purple uniforms for “select” home games in 2014-15 seems a good one. It’s logical that a team celebrating its 20th season would wear a uniform from its past for a few games. And in this case, that uni is very good.

It is certainly busy, but it’s busy with good-to-fantastic elements. There’s the raptor on the jersey, the jagged pinstripes in two different shades, the spiked nameplate, the funky word mark, different logos on each side of the shorts, the scoop collar and coloured waistband with striping, and the colours.  

All of those are positives that combine for a distinctive uniform, but that many positives are also slightly overwhelming. Only slightly, though; the good still outweighs the bad.

The Raptors will also be wearing a 20th season patch on their regular home uniforms in 2014-15. The patch will be a variation of the team’s 20th season logo, which means that it could look pretty nice.

Despite the patch’s aesthetic potential and that patches are pretty common, this move seems too unnecessary to be worthwhile. Marking your 20th season isn't enough justification for essentially altering your home uniform for the length of that season. Still, that’s only a mild issue.

Wearing that purple uniform could be a way for the Raptors to determine if purple should be used in the team’s rebrand for 2015-16. They did choose to wear the purple uniform for next season, not the white one, even though they’ll be wearing them at home games.  

If that is the case and the consensus is that fans like the old uniforms, it’d be interesting to know how much those purple uniforms will influence the rebrand. Is reverting to those uniforms with minimal tweaking an option? Or will just one or two elements be revived? There are plenty to choose from, but it could be tough to pick out just a few when the complete combo is what makes those unis so distinctive.

Of course, the 20th season celebrations and the 2015-16 rebrand could be entirely separate.

What’s more certain is that the Raptors will look sharp when wearing purple next season, however many times that is.