Point Blank – March 29, 2017
On Domes in Las Vegas, and at the Final Four…On Pau going “pow” for the Spurs…
I am going to be linking out for key parts of today’s take but for a good reason – the opportunity to bring some important notions into play. The first topic is of no immediate handicapping use whatsoever, but offers me the opportunity to shed some clarity on personal feelings of the Raiders coming to Las Vegas; the second matters a whole lot more this week as you break down the Final Four. And then we have Warriors/Spurs on the Wednesday board, both looking at this evening and down the line to the playoffs as well…
Item: Someday soon, the Raiders will be down the street
The only immediate handicapping issue on this relocation will be the Oakland home field advantage for the next 2-3 seasons, which will be an interesting prospect for later. But having lived in Las Vegas for nearly three decades I have been asked for opinions on the overall issues by a lot of media folks, and as is the usual risk of such exchanges, there will likely only be sound bites instead of detailed notions (although a quote coming up in ESPN The Magazine will be on point).
Is this a good move for Las Vegas? Call it a gamble that might work. I understand the necessity of the gamble – the economic outlook for the city over the coming decades is not robust. The golden age of casino gambling has likely come and gone. It was something that Las Vegas took advantage of in a rather special way in terms of time and place, but those games just don’t offer the excitement and intellectual stimulation demanded by the emerging young audience. In a high tech age, cards and dice just aren’t all that interesting, especially when the available maneuvers to ovecome the odds are so limited.
The major Las Vegas Strip properties are struggling to adjust, with Caesar’s Palace working through bankruptcy, a path that MGM Grand may also take after watching how the Caesar’s particulars fall out. Between the two organizations the combined debt load has topped $30 billion. Yes, billion with a “b”. Meanwhile other prime Strip players like Wynn and Sands (Venetian/Palazzo) have had their lights kept shining brightly in Las Vegas because of Macau revenues, among other non-Nevada holdings, but the spigot is not flowing nearly as strong in filling the buckets from China anymore.
The local problem, of course, is a lack of economic diversity, with far too much attached to one particular industry. This is where the Raider gamble at least brings some opportunity – if Las Vegas can be packaged as a relatively normal U.S. city, but one with significant tax benefits for businesses, then the football team becomes a billboard for the community. The hope can be that while businesses were not interested in the past because of fears that employees might catch a strain of gambling flu, that becomes such a lesser concern as behavioral patterns change in the 21st Century, with Tony Hsieh’s willingness to move Zappos into the downtown area an example others can learn from.
So why do I call it a “gamble”? Because the numbers involved are rather absurd, the city offering far too much of a subsidy ($750 million in public money) to a league that does not need one. But I don’t have to step in to the role of economist on that, better to go to Roger Noll, author of “Sports, Jobs and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadium”. Noll is an economics professor emeritus at Stanford, and for a good read you can head to this recent piece from the San Jose Mercury News. A key excerpt - “It is a catenation of optimistic assumptions. The probability that it could happen isn’t zero, but it is pretty close to zero.”
And that is that. In short snippets across the Mediaverse I may come across as a bit negative, but consider it to be more of “sportsman’s optimism” – if you are truly playing to win, rather than to lose by the smallest margin possible, sometimes the details of score, time remaining and down-and-distance will call on you to attempt a low percentage play. As someone that may live here until I breathe no more I most sincerely hope that this can work, because if not there are no other revitalization options coming down the pipeline any time soon - the continual running theme of commentary among many of us here is that once some of the major casino properties went to the paid parking route, it was an admission on their part that they had basically run out of ideas. As a realist I know that the details of this deal are ominous (and I wonder if it will ever be made known who is co-signing to help secure the BOA commitments to the Raiders).
Perhaps it is fitting that a team will be arriving with a logo that already sports a patched-over eye, a symbol to some of us that Las Vegas got sucker-punched on the deal…
Item: The Final Four, and about another dome not too far away…
A few hours down the road from here there is another dome that will be getting a lot of talk over the next few days, the impact that University of Phoenix Stadium will have on the basketball flow for the Final Four. There tends to be a traditional consideration that these set-ups for basketball, which are utterly terrible for the fans (opera glasses should come with most of the tickets), are also bad for the players in terms of the shooting site lines, and the Sports Mediaverse will opine often on that between now and Saturday. But is this actually true? There was some outstanding work done on that front by the folks at Eldorado, and it is worth a read for anyone planning to use the venue itself as part of the game handicap this week. They began with a detailed look last March, and have recently published a follow-up, with the numbers from last season included. This is worth the time, and also worth keeping in your files.
Now the question of the day for Wednesday will be whether Golden State/San Antonio will be worth our time to watch and learn, or might Steve Kerr again consider a white flag.
Item: I’m not sure how Steve Kerr is going to play this, but there may be plenty to see in San Antonio this evening
I had to go outside of the home data-base to look up the last meeting between the Warriors and Spurs because it wasn’t in mine. What was set up to be a showdown on a Saturday night on ABC turned into something more closely resembling a Las Vegas Summer League affair, with Steph Curry, Mychal Thompson, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker all sitting out. The Spurs rolled 107-85, and while almost all statistical and trend aggregators will have filed it away, there was absolutely nothing of value to be gained from that box score. Include it in the full-season stuff and you are weighing down numbers that do matter with a load of junk.
Now the question is whether there will be a reality check tonight. Since there still is no time-table set for Kevin Durant’s return, how does Kerr handle this? In terms of pure basketball competition there is not a tougher back-to-back right now that playing the Rockets and Spurs on the road, regardless of how short the trip is. And while the minutes were not awful for his key cogs last night, Thompson stretched out to 37:18 but a manageable 33:25 for both Curry and Green, those were hard minutes in a game that was not completely locked into the “W” column until the latter stages, the Rockets chasing hard after falling behind by 20 early.
As such much of the day will be spent awaiting news of Kerr’s intentions, but there is still work to do. First is the updating of the Golden State Under surge, which has now reached 11 straight, and 16-1 over the last 17 games. You do need to grade last night a little carefully on that front – while the game played 15.5 below the closing total it was an extraordinarily bad shooting night from long range by two teams that are rather good at making those shots. The Warriors were 11-41 and the Rockets 5-31 for a combined 16-72 from 3-point range; had the makes been near what the two offenses usually shoot, and the two defenses usually allow, it might have sailed over.
There is also something else worth watching tonight because it does matter as a playoff factor – the assimilation of Pau Gasol into the Spurs plans, and what may be a key storyline. In a season in which guard play has been a highlight across the league, might a team with the strongest front-court presence become a handful?
You may not notice the Gasol numbers all that much because Gregg Popovich continues to bring him off the bench, and if you were told that over the last 10 games he had played 231:37, scoring 136 points and grabbing 71 rebounds, it might elicit yawns. But if you turn that to “Production-per-48”, it comes out to 28.2 points and 14.7 rebounds.
So now imagine a Gasol/Aldridge/Leonard front-court in the playoffs, and it gets interesting, in particular because Gasol and Aldridge missing time can have them a little fresher than some of the players they will be up against. This may not be the way the Pops will choose to start games, perhaps staying with Dewayne Dedmon’s defense to set early flows, but will we see Gasol on the floor at crunch time?
From Popovich - "He's fulfilled all of our expectations. There were really no surprises. If anything, he's shooting the three more than he has before. That's been the biggest difference. We didn't expect that. We didn't sit him down and say now Pau, part of your role is going to be shooting threes. But it's sort of evolved with the spacing and the way we do things with LaMarcus out there.”
That last part makes it even more interesting – Gasol is 46-86 from 3-point range this season, a nifty 53.5 percent, after having only made 78 triples prior to this season, in a career that began in 2001.
A prime reason why I had not been high on the Spurs for the post-season ahead was the Parker/Mills tandem at PG being over-matched against the elite players at the position in the Western Conference. Might this front-court be enough to overcome that? We may get a good eye test of that this evening. Or not. I put a piece of San Antonio -4 in my pocket as a “just in case” should Kerr decide to sit some of his key cogs (Green is dealing with an ankle issue), which I may not hold if they do get posted into the starting lineup.
In the Sights, Wednesday NBA…
I believe the markets may be a step behind on some key emerging realities as a couple of teams not only battle for play off positioning, but shift their gears towards the kind of basketball they want to play in the post-season, and I see that this morning in the Bucks/Celtics Total going from 209 to 210.5. That means time for #510 Boston/Milwaukee Under (7:35 Eastern), with 210 or better offering value.
One of the big disappointments of this early season had been the Celtics defense; after finishing #5 in the NBA last season they fell way off the table, despite having added a key piece in Al Horford. But note that as everyone returns to health the tweaking of the rotation by Brad Stevens is coming together –
BOSTON Defense PP100
Pre-All Star Break 106.2 (#18)
Post-Break 102.7 (#5)
It matters even more now that they are sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, and with two full days to prepare a game plan expect the defensive rotations to be solid this evening. Yet the markets are criss-crossed here because of some clutter in the recent results. That 130-120 win over Phoenix on Friday was nonsensical, a 66-43 Celtics lead at halftime turned into a circus as the Suns helped Devin Booker chased points, and also note the scrambling in that 112-108 win over Miami on Sunday, when there were 15 points scored over the final 2:12.
For Milwaukee the post-break period also happens to be the Khris Middleton cycle as well, and while the defense has indeed picked up, elevating from #21 in the league before the break to #14 afterwards, a bigger story is pace. The Bucks have gone from #20 in pace pre-break to #29 since then, and because the rewards have been there, a 13-6 record that brings them a chance to move as high as the #5 in the East, they will continue to buy in. This is certainly not a night that Jason Kidd wants his team to be running, after Giannis Antetokounmpo played 39:06 and Middleton 34:36 in Tuesday’s win at Charlotte, another scoreboard that was inflated by scramble points (14 over the last 1:40).
Just an old-fashioned value grinder here in which both some misleading recent results impact the stats, and some emerging key team patterns are not being fully recognized.
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