Stats expert Jeff Ma on consulting the Blazers, Oden vs. Durant

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Jeff Ma, the star of Ben Mezrich’s excellent non-fiction book Bringing Down The House (the book’s “Kevin Lewis” is, in reality, Ma), the founder of both Protrade.com and Citizen Sports, and the author of The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Vegas, has also done some consulting work with the Portland Trail Blazers. Recently, Ma sat down with Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge for an interview, and Ma said more than a few interesting things. Here are a few excerpts:

On former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard and how receptive GMs in general are to advanced metrics: 

From an analytics standpoint, you can separate the sports executives into three buckets. There are the guys that do analytics themselves. That could sit down at a spreadsheet and crunch out the numbers themselves. There’s only a handful of those. Daryl Morey, [Rockets executive] Sam Hinkie, [San Diego Padres executive] Paul De’Podesta in baseball, there’s a handful of those guys. Then there are the guys in the middle who have an appreciation for analytics, they don’t necessarily understand how to do it or understand a lot of the basic principles but they understand it has value in what they’re doing. Then there’s a third group that doesn’t think there’s any place for it in sports.
Kevin is in that middle group. In some respects I think that’s the best group to be in because you have a great appreciation for what the scouts do and the process of scouting. I think that’s important, that’s valuable, that’s part of this whole thing. You don’t want to have too limited of a viewpoint. I’m not saying Daryl and those guys have too limited of a viewpoint but being in that middle group is the best place to be in some respects because you do allow yourself the ability to make decisions in a lot of different ways, which I think is important when you’re making decisions. 
On Whether Ma had a preference for either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant heading into the 2007 Draft:

Yes. A very big preference actually. If people that use analytics to predict player performance in the NBA, using performance analytics, meaning what they did in college, and they tell you they had Oden ranked higher than Durant, they are full of crap. There are very few statistical measures that would have rated Oden’s numbers in college better than Durant’s. Oden was injured his entire career, that one season at Ohio State. He had to shoot free throws left handed, was not efficient, didn’t have a great statistical season.

Our numbers absolutely said they should pick Durant. It wasn’t even close.

But that kind of decision is never that cut and dry. I would never want the Blazers to make the decision so cut and dry. The thinking they had was that this elite center is very rare and the ability to get that guy was staring them in the face and that’s what they went after. The sad thing is that when you ignore the numbers, the numbers often tell you something regardless of what you’re ignoring. The numbers in this case were ignored because Oden was hurt but what have we seen in Oden’s career? A propensity to get hurt.

I felt like they should have drafted Durant and said they should have drafted Durant but I think it’s really easy to look at this with hindsight. If you had polled NBA executives and even statheads at that time, who they should pick, I think at least 2/3 of them would have said Oden.

I encourage you to read the full interview, as well as Kelly Dwyer’s excellent breakdown of Ma’s interview for Yahoo!. The Oden/Durant stuff will likely get the most attention, but there are lots of interesting and astute observations about the general role of advanced metrics and quantitative thinking in sports in general that make the interview more than worth reading. 

Report: Newly-acquired Pelicans F Omri Casspi breaks thumb, out 4-6 weeks

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 18:  Omri Casspi #18of the Sacramento Kings against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 18, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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This has got to put a damper on the whole DeMarcus Cousins trade thing for New Orleans Pelicans fans. According to multiple reports, Omri Casspi — who was part of the trade that sent Cousins to Louisiana — has broken his thumb. The sharp-shooting forward will be out 4-6 weeks.

It’s disappointing news for the Pelicans, who could certainly use Casspi’s 3-point shooting ability. Casspi is shooting 38 percent from deep this season, and while the Pelicans make enough threes per-game they are near the bottom-third in percentage.

Casspi would have been a real help for Alvin Gentry’s offense, but for now it appears they’ll have to make do without him. Casspi should continue to occupy a roster spot for New Orleans, given his expiring contract and the fact that even if the Pelicans make a run for the playoffs they won’t be in a situation to add to their lineup since they won’t expect to get very far.

The good news out of New Orleans on Thursday night? Despite a loss to the Houston Rockets, Cousins nearly dropped a 5 x 5.

The race for the No. 8 seed is on.

LeBron James stops dunk, stuffs Courtney Lee at the rim (VIDEO)

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New York Knicks guard Courtney Lee should have known better than to try to dunk this. Everyone in the arena knew better than to try this on LeBron James.

Then again, if players stop trying to do things like this, we won’t get videos of incredible chasedown blocks by Mr. James.

It’s a real catch-22.

Actually, you know what? Keep it up. Keep trying this on LeBron. I want to keep watching dudes get rejected.

Draymond Green scrambles for ball, kicks at Blake Griffin (VIDEO)

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I’m getting tired of writing this story.

Or this one.

Or this one.

Draymond Green — an excellent basketball player who has an unstoppable, basal need to kick everyone near him — has once again let his feet do the talking.

Let’s take a look at the tape to see what sort of hijinks ol’ Dray has got himself into this time.

Via Twitter:

In the last nine months, Green has hit or kicked James Harden, Marquese Chriss, Kyrie Irving, Allen Crabbe, and Steven Adams (twice).

The league has decided not to act with any strength on most of the incidents, the most recognizable of which came when Green hit LeBron James in the NBA Finals, causing him to miss Game 5. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any consequences for Green, which is the exact reason why we keep seeing him kick dudes.

It’s wack, I’m tired of seeing it, and you should be too. See you all here the next time Green kicks at somebody. I’m sure it won’t be before too long.

Watch DeMarcus Cousins swat James Harden in his first game with the Pelicans

DeMarcus Cousins answers questions from the media as the New Orleans Pelicans announce that they've acquired him along with forward Omri Casspi during a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 in Metairie, La.  Cousins maintained  that he liked Sacramento and initially wasn't happy about being traded Sunday night, but added he'd become frustrated with the lack of another elite talent on the Kings' roster.  (Ted Jackson /NOLA.com The Times-Picayune via AP)
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DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and the New Orleans Pelicans will take some time to mesh together. In his first game with New Orleans, Cousins saw a difficult opponent and massive deficits against the Houston Rockets. But there was some glimmers of hope.

Cousins, for example, had a productive statistical evening. The former Sacramento King put up 27 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, and 4 blocks — just one swat shy of the rare 5 x 5.

Plus, he had this sweet block on Rockets star James Harden:

The Pelicans lost to the Rockets, 129-99, but it’s going to be fun to watch New Orleans battle it out for the 8th seed in the West.