5-411.5 Does schedule strength matter for 3-0 teams? 0-910.0 2-710.8 4-511.3 6-311.5 3-610.9 1-810.9 Opponents’ combined record is through the first three games of the seasonSource: Pro-Football-Reference.com OPPONENTS’ COMBINED RECORDTEAM’S AVERAGE TOTAL WINS The Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings are both 3-0 to start the year, two of just five undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. But given the way that both teams have played so far, there are a lot of questions about how sustainable their success will prove to be as the season continues.Let’s start with the Ravens. Although 27 other teams wish they had Baltimore’s record, I’m not sure 27 other teams wish they had Baltimore’s team. Being 3-0 is great, but the Ravens have managed to achieve their perfect record while racking up about as few style points as possible.All three of Baltimore’s games have been close, with the team winning by a combined total of just 13 points. And its three opponents were Buffalo, Cleveland, and Jacksonville — teams with a combined 1-8 record, all of whom ranked in the bottom six of last week’s ESPN Power Rankings. In fact, we noted back in July that the forgiving schedule should help Baltimore get off to a strong start.What does history say about 3-0 teams that feasted on bad opponents? From 1990 to 2015, 63 teams started the season 3-0 against opponents that, like Baltimore’s foes, went 1-8 through three weeks.1I filtered out teams that were 3-0 after 4 weeks because I wanted to keep opponents’ records consistent. On average, those teams finished with 10.9 wins — only a little worse than teams who had beaten better opponents: So maybe the Ravens’ easy schedule isn’t a big concern, but it is smart to be worried about their low points differential. The Ravens have the worst points differential of any 3-0 team since the 2004 Jaguars, who eventually finished the season 9-7. From 1990 to 2015, there were 119 teams that went 3-0 through three weeks, and only four of them — the 2004 Jaguars, 1999 Patriots, 1993 Eagles and 1991 Bears — had a lower points differential than Baltimore does this year.If we use a simple linear regression between a 3-0 team’s points differential through three games and its final win tally, we’d expect Baltimore (at +13) to win 10 games, implying that they’d go only 7-6 the rest of the way.2It takes about 36 additional points of differential to translate to one more projected victory. The best-fit formula to project season-ending wins among 3-0 teams was: 9.61 + 0.028 * points differential. (The R-squared was 0.22.) Things were even worse for the 10 lowest-ranked 3-0 teams by points differential: That group averaged just 6.3 wins over the rest of the season. So although Baltimore should be happy with its 3-0 record, a low points differential against a cupcake schedule is enough to fuel skepticism about the team’s chances right now.The Vikings’ success so far is based on equally unsustainable performances. They’ve compiled their 3-0 mark despite gaining only 796 yards of total offense, becoming only the fifth team since 1990 to start 3-0 with fewer than 800 offensive yards.3They joined the 2012 Cardinals (787 yards through three games), 2004 Jaguars (654), 1998 Dolphins (750) and 1990 Raiders (793). Only one other team this year has played three games4The Saints, who have 795 yards of offense, play their third game of the season tonight. and produced fewer than 800 yards of offense: Los Angeles, with 788 — and it’s never a good thing to be compared with the Rams’ lowly offense.Minnesota ranks last in rushing yards per game and rushing yards per carry, so the running game hasn’t powered the Vikings’ undefeated start. The offense is also in the hands of quarterback Sam Bradford, who hasn’t managed many long stretches of competent play over his career. So how have the Vikings raced out to 3-0?Bradford has a passer rating of 107.8 this year, far above his career rating of 81.6, but two games of solid play don’t overshadow a career of underachievement. (His 22nd-place ranking in Total QBR also suggests that his lofty passer rating will come down to earth soon.) The biggest reasons for Minnesota’s success, then, have little to do with the offense and a lot to do with a fluky scoring performance from its defense and special teams, as well as a sky-high turnover margin.In terms of fluky scoring, so far this season, Minnesota has scored as many return touchdowns5Defensive and special teams touchdowns, which come from punt and kick returns as well as from fumbles and interceptions. (three) as it has offensive touchdowns, and that trend is unlikely to continue. Even good defenses and special-teams units can’t produce return touchdowns every week. Last year, Seattle and Arizona were the only teams with at least three return touchdowns through three games, and they combined for just five more the rest of the season. Digging deeper into history, from 1990 to 2015, there were 22 teams with exactly three return touchdowns after three games, and those teams averaged only 3.3 more return touchdowns the rest of the year.As for the turnovers, the Vikings have an NFL-best +8 margin in that department through three weeks, and that trend is also unlikely to continue. From 1990 to 2015, 74 teams had a +6 or better turnover margin through three weeks. On average, those teams averaged +7.1 more takeaways than giveaways through three games, but they finished the year with a +9.5 margin. That means that over the remaining 13 games, those teams only had about 2.4 more takeaways than giveaways. Some of the Vikings’ early-season success has been built on performances that are simply not sustainable.The good news for Minnesota? Last year’s Broncos showed that a defense-driven team can still win a Super Bowl, even when paired with a below-average offense. The Vikings’ defense leads the NFL in sack rate, and the run defense is allowing a mere 3.5 yards per carry. So it would be unfair to describe Minnesota’s 3-0 start as entirely fluky, even if that’s an accurate term for how the team has scored half of its touchdowns. That said, the Vikings have just two runs of 10 or more yards this year, tied with Jacksonville for the fewest in the NFL, and zero runs of 15 or more. And with only six passing plays of at least 20 yards, Minnesota ranks among the bottom three in the NFL in that category, too.In other words, despite their 3-0 records, Minnesota and Baltimore are each playing with no margin for error right now. Eking out close victories or winning with turnovers and returns can work for a short while, but both methods are cause for plenty of doubts about the teams’ ability to be serious title contenders.CORRECTION (Sept. 26, 11:15 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the number of games that Sam Bradford has played through the first three weeks of the NFL season. It was two games, not three.
1990s28.539.4C. Barkley (’92) • S. O’Neal (’96) • C. Barkley (’96) Despite all the advances statheads have made in how we measure NBA greatness, many fans still regard championship rings as the ultimate arbiter of a star player’s legacy. And although some scoff at such a simplistic measure, basketball is deterministic enough that the top players do generally tend to accumulate more than their share of championships. There are always anomalies — nobody thinks Robert Horry (seven rings) was better than Charles Barkley (zero) — but for the most part, ring-counting isn’t a total diversion along the path to understanding a legend’s place in the pantheon of the game. Sometimes it can even (gasp!) offer insight.The trouble is, the players began to realize how they were being judged. They saw how long a shadow Michael Jordan’s six titles cast over subsequent generations of would-be GOATs. They also saw what happened to Barkley’s and Karl Malone’s legacies after never winning a ring. “I don’t want to be 31 with bad knees and no championship,” LeBron James reportedly told friends before signing with the Miami Heat in the spectacle that was The Decision (Part 1) in 2010. He knew that, for all his individual accolades, history wouldn’t be kind if a player of his talent didn’t rack up titles. And in an era of players who increasingly control their own destinies, James took considerable steps to ensure a championship future.In economics, there’s an adage about what happens when people know they’re being evaluated on specific criteria; it’s called Goodhart’s Law. As professor Marilyn Strathern would phrase it: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” In other words, when you focus on the measurements others are using to judge you, you start altering your behavior to optimize for those measurements — and the measurements begin to lose their meaning.When that happens, there are often unintended consequences. (Such as the famous parable of a Soviet nail factory responding to production targets by making thousands of tiny, useless nails.) And when it comes to ring-chasing, NBA stars have started to run seriously afoul of Goodhart’s Law. They’ve made championships the target — and, in the process, have fundamentally changed the meaning of those championships for a player’s legacy.Moving to a contending team in pursuit of a championship used to be a last resort for a veteran star, such as when 32-year-old Clyde Drexler was dealt to the Houston Rockets in 1995, or when Kevin Garnett went to the Boston Celtics at age 31 in 2007. Each had requested a trade to a contender, but only after exhausting attempts to win with his original franchise. James flipped that paradigm on its head when, at the tender age of 25, he left Cleveland to play next to Hall of Fame talents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. That move gave prime-age Kevin Durant a precedent for joining the record-setting Warriors in 2016, and it paved the way for DeMarcus Cousins to sign with Golden State this summer on an absurdly cheap contract.1Yes, Cousins is coming back from a serious injury. But he’s also a superstar talent who was specifically brought in to boost Golden State’s chances of winning in the playoffs.Durant’s decision ended up working out (and we’re assuming Cousins’s will, too). But there are other, more dismal ring-vulturing moments, such as when the Brooklyn Nets tried to recreate the 2008 Celtics in 2013, or when Steve Nash and Dwight Howard joined Kobe Bryant on the Lakers in 2012. Either way, in recent years, good players jumping from team to team in search of rings went from a rarity to the norm. In the 2010s, the top 10 players who switched teams between seasons2As measured by a consensus of the following value metrics over their previous three seasons: Estimated Wins Added, Value Over Replacement Player and Win Shares, all scaled to wins above replacement and averaged together. have been much younger and better than their counterparts from previous decades: 1980s28.534.0M. Malone (’82) • A. Dantley (’86) • A. Gilmore (’82) 2010s26.748.4L. James (’10) • L. James (’14) • C. Paul (’11) DecadeAvg. AgeAvg. Wins CreatedTop 3 Modern team-hoppers are younger and betterAverage age for the top 10 players, by wins created,* who changed teams between seasons in each decade, 1980-2018 It’s not the players’ fault that they’ve been presented with the opportunity to pursue championships on stacked megateams. Unlike baseball, maximum contracts cap the amount of money any team, good or bad, can offer a superstar. Because of this, the decisions of NBA stars often turn on non-monetary concerns — such as the desirability of a team’s city and, yes, how much of a chance new teammates would give them to contend for titles. Add in the occasional shock to the NBA’s financial system, like the massive salary-cap spike that allowed the Warriors to sign Durant, and the league hasn’t exactly set up the right conditions to discourage its stars from trying to pad their championship tallies.3The Player’s Association does share in this blame as well. The league proposed salary-cap “smoothing” to reduce the impact of a big spike in the summer of 2016, but the players’ union turned it down. Then again, years of tough negotiating left union head Michele Roberts rightfully skeptical that the offer wasn’t going to hurt her clients’ earning potential.At the same time, it isn’t completely clear whether ring-chasing will bring modern players the boost in historical prestige they’re seeking. Although James’s legacy as an all-time great is written in stone, his disappointing NBA Finals record — particularly without the help of Wade and Bosh, as he was 1-4 in Finals appearances as a Cavalier — may hurt his pursuit of Jordan as GOAT. Durant’s two titles with the Warriors have been met with grudging respect by most hoopheads, but they’ve also launched a thousand RealGM and Reddit threads debating how much his superteam-aided rings are “really worth” relative to those of other stars. And who knows how little credit observers will give Cousins if he helps Golden State win a third straight title? In an effort to please the ring-counters, this generation of championship-seekers may have only angered them further by irrevocably changing the historical meaning of championships in every player’s record.4As another unintended consequence, perhaps pre-/nonsuperteam rings (such as Wade’s first Heat title in 2006 or Dirk Nowitzki’s championship with Dallas in 2011) will gain more value in the grand scope of NBA history.But winning is fun, and lifting trophies is even more fun. And it’s possible that, once the moment for heated online debate has passed, all that’s left is the championship count on Basketball-Reference.com. Fans who witnessed the state of the league at the time may go through their own calculations, boosting the value of some rings and devaluing others, but every title counts the same there. And if that sounds offensive, maybe that means it’s time for measures other than rings to gain weight when assessing the careers of the game’s greatest stars. * An average of the wins above replacement-scaled versions of three metrics for the three seasons prior to the player’s team change: Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Win Shares (WS) and Estimated Wins Added (EWA).Age is as of the offseason in which the player changed teams.Source: Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN 2000s30.343.1K. Garnett (’07) • T. McGrady (’04) • S. O’Neal (’04)
The early release of the women’s NCAA Tournament bracket on Monday afternoon actually did fans a favor: If any year merits having additional time to fill out a bracket, this year is it. Three different teams were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll this season, and a storyline has been how open the competition was for the top spots in each region. ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel wrote on Monday night that this year’s NCAA Tournament “might be as wide open as any since 2006,” with as many as seven teams that could legitimately cut down the net on April 7.Luckily, FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness prediction model is here to guide you as you make your picks. You can read about how the model works here or keep reading to learn what the model predicts for the top seeds, which teams could make an unexpected run and which squads could bow out sooner than expected. We’re also highlighting the best first-round matchups to help you schedule your Friday and Saturday around women’s hoops. Top seedsThe four No. 1 seeds are Baylor, Notre Dame, Louisville and Mississippi State. You read that right: UConn is not a top seed for the first time since 2006. But the Huskies are still a No. 2 seed, and they still got a regional nearby, in Albany, New York. The Huskies will host the first two rounds in Storrs, and their fans have packed Albany regionals for years — so they would essentially have home-court advantage until the Final Four. That’s a tough setup for the region’s No. 1 seed, Louisville, and the FiveThirtyEight model reflects that, giving UConn a 68 percent chance and Louisville a 24 percent chance of making the Final Four. But the Cardinals did beat UConn in January, as star guard Asia Durr scored a game-high 24 points. That win should give Louisville confidence as it chases its second straight Final Four appearance.The selection committee created a similar setup out west, where Mississippi State is the No. 1 seed and Oregon is the No. 2. With each team hosting the first two rounds and the regional rounds being played in Portland, Oregon could make its first Final Four without leaving the state. The model gives the Ducks a 51 percent chance of doing just that behind triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu, who could be the first pick in the WNBA draft if she declares. Mississippi State, which secured its No. 1 seed after winning its first-ever SEC tournament title, has a 44 percent chance of making the Final Four and a 10 percent chance of winning a national title. The latter would be a storybook ending for the national runners-up in each of the past two seasons.The Greensboro, North Carolina, region is a hotbed of low-post talent, starting with the No. 1 overall seed in Baylor. The Lady Bears have had a dominant season to date, running their record to 31-1 and leading the nation in blocked shots, defensive rebounds and opponent field-goal percentage. The 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown and 6-foot-4 Lauren Cox have combined to average more than 28 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks per game. Not to be outdone, No. 2 seed Iowa has espnW’s national player of the year in 6-foot-3 Megan Gustafson. According to Her Hoop Stats, Gustafson is both the nation’s top scorer, putting up 28.0 points per game, and the nation’s most efficient scorer, recording 1.44 points per scoring attempt and shooting just under 70 percent from the field. There are several low-post standouts among the lower-seeded teams as well, but Baylor projects to be the best in Greensboro, with a 76 percent chance of making the Final Four.Although Baylor is the No. 1 overall seed, it’s the top seed in the Chicago region, Notre Dame, that has the best chance of winning a national championship. The FiveThirtyEight model gives the defending champs a 30 percent chance of repeating and Baylor a 28 percent chance at its first title since 2012. The Fighting Irish returned all but one starter from last year’s team and then led the country in points per game while playing the nation’s toughest schedule. Notre Dame’s chief competition in Chicago will likely be No. 2 seed Stanford, the Pac-12 tournament champions and the only team to beat Baylor this season. Under head coach Tara VanDerveer, the Cardinal have a 56 percent chance to make the Elite Eight but just an 8 percent chance to advance to the Final Four.SleepersA pair of 4-seeds could knock off some of the favorites in the Sweet 16. In Albany, Oregon State has a 21 percent chance of making the Elite Eight, potentially displacing Louisville, while South Carolina has a 10 percent chance of doing the same to Baylor in Greensboro. Oregon State finished third in what was perhaps the nation’s deepest conference, the Pac-12, and ranks fourth in the nation in 3-point shooting at 38.8 percent. If the Beavers, particularly star guard Destiny Slocum, get hot from deep, they could extend their stay on the East Coast to the Final Four. Under head coach and former Virginia point guard Dawn Staley, South Carolina also has electric guard play, which could set up a fascinating game of contrasts against Baylor in the Sweet 16. Don’t count Staley out as she chases her second national championship in the past three seasons.Also in the Greensboro region, No. 3 North Carolina State has received relatively little attention compared with ACC rivals Louisville and Notre Dame despite starting the season 21-0. (NC State didn’t lose a game until February!) The Wolfpack would not have to leave their home state to make the Final Four, and the FiveThirtyEight model gives the team almost the same chances as No. 2 seed Iowa of advancing to the Elite Eight (40 percent versus 42 percent).BustsIt’s perhaps a sign of progress that a mid-major team can even be considered for this category, but Gonzaga, the No. 5 seed in the Albany region, probably won’t see it that way if this prediction proves true. Gonzaga is vulnerable after two players suffered season-ending leg injuries in its conference tournament semifinal. The model still gives the Bulldogs an 87 percent chance of beating Arkansas-Little Rock, but a team that was ranked in the top 25 for parts of this season and had aspirations of hosting the first two rounds as a top-4 seed surely has its sights set higher than one NCAA Tournament win.No. 4 Texas A&M has also had injury concerns, although the school recently announced that leading scorer Chennedy Carter (22.5 points per game) will play in the NCAA Tournament. She is returning from a hand injury, though, and if her shot isn’t falling, Texas A&M could struggle with a tough Wright State team that holds opponents to just 36.2 percent shooting, which ranks 24th in the nation.Speaking of tough mid-major teams, the state of Florida has a couple that will start the NCAA Tournament in Miami. No. 5 seed Arizona State can’t be happy about traveling all the way across the country to play No. 12-seed UCF in their backyard, and the Sun Devils have only a 69 percent chance of winning one game and a 26 percent chance of winning two games in the Sunshine State. Meanwhile, host and No. 4 seed Miami has an 82 percent chance of beating No. 13 seed Florida Gulf Coast, but there are signs of a potential upset here. FGCU is ranked only three spots behind Miami in the Her Hoop Stats ratings (the teams rank 28th and 25th, respectively) and is dangerous behind the arc: Nearly half of FGCU’s shot attempts are 3-pointers, which ranks second nationally, while Miami is letting teams score more than one-third of their points from three, which ranks 320th nationally.Fun first-round matchupsIf you’re looking for two senior stars trying to extend their careers, watch No. 8 seed California take on No. 9 seed North Carolina on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. Kristine Anigwe has had a historic season for the Golden Bears and leads the nation in rebounding with 16.3 per game, including a 32-point, 30-rebound effort against Washington State two weeks ago. North Carolina ranks in the bottom third of teams nationally in rebounding rate, so one might predict a long afternoon for the Tar Heels, but their offensive firepower can keep them in any game. (Just ask Notre Dame and NC State, which both lost to North Carolina in the span of a week earlier this year.) Guard Paris Kea is the star (17.1 points per game), but three other players average double-figure scoring and a fourth averages 9.5 points per game.FiveThirtyEight model’s prediction: California over North Carolina (64 percent)If you’re looking for a battle between mid-major powerhouses, don’t miss No. 6 seed South Dakota State versus No. 11 seed Quinnipiac on Saturday at 11 a.m. Eastern time. Both teams have been to the tournament before: SDSU won its ninth automatic bid in 11 years this season, while QU is in for the fifth time in seven seasons and made a Sweet 16 appearance in 2017. SDSU boasts the Summit League’s all-time leading scorer in Macy Miller, who is averaging 18.1 points per game this season while shooting nearly 55 percent from the floor. But Quinnipiac could make things tough for Miller and the Jackrabbits: The Bobcats hold opponents to just 50.5 points per game, second-best in the nation, and their 11.5 steals per game rank sixth nationally. Whichever way this game goes, the winner could be a sleeper pick to knock off No. 3 Syracuse and make the Sweet 16.FiveThirtyEight model’s prediction: South Dakota State over Quinnipiac (65 percent)Finally, if you’re looking for toss-ups, the three games that our model gives the most even odds are:No. 10 Buffalo vs. No. 7 Rutgers, Friday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time (Buffalo has a 51 percent chance of winning)No. 10 Auburn vs. No. 7 BYU, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time (Auburn has a 55 percent chance of winning)No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Tennessee, Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern time (UCLA has a 56 percent chance of winning)Check out our latest March Madness predictions.Neil Paine contributed research.
UPDATE (May 29, 7:45 p.m.): The Los Angeles Times has reported that Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, will purchase the Clippers for $2 billion. Earlier this month Nate Silver wrote about team valuations in the NBA, and whether the Clippers were worth more than was commonly believed. The original piece is below.A billion dollars? For the Clippers?That’s the price my Grantland colleague Zach Lowe’s sources are saying the Los Angeles NBA team could fetch if its current owner, Donald Sterling, agrees to sell the franchise or is forced to do so. With stars from Magic Johnson to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., to Oprah Winfrey to Larry Ellison reportedly interested in a piece of the club, it’s not hard to see why league officials have starry-eyed visions about what the team could be worth.And yet, when Forbes Magazine published its valuations of the 30 NBA teams earlier this year, its figure for the Clippers was considerably more modest: $575 million.1It’s not as though the valuation doesn’t account for the Clippers’ recent on-court success. Two years ago, Forbes valued the Clippers at only $324 million. NBA officials, I’ve found in the past, aren’t fond of the Forbes figures. The league has incentives to underplay its financial performance when in the midst of a labor dispute, and to frame its finances in a more favorable light when it has a couple of franchises up for sale.In this case, however, there’s reason to think Forbes considerably undervalues the Clippers. You might describe why with the old real estate adage: location, location, location. It’s not breaking news that there are lots of people with lots of money in Los Angeles and its suburbs. What’s more interesting is that the number of billionaires in a given community historically has been a strong predictor of the degree to which its NBA franchise appreciates in value.Take a look at the annualized change in NBA franchise values from 2004 to 2014, according to the Forbes estimates. In the chart below, we’ve highlighted the teams that played in metro areas that had a gross domestic product of at least $250 billion as of 2004. You can see that there’s a relationship. The New York Knicks, despite their mostly poor play over the past decade, saw their franchise value appreciate by 13.3 percent per year, according to Forbes. The Lakers and Clippers saw theirs grow by 11.7 percent and 10.7 percent per year, respectively. Most other big-market teams, like the Chicago Bulls and the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, have also done well.There are also some exceptions to the pattern, the most obvious being the Seattle Supersonics, who saw their franchise value increase a lot after moving to Oklahoma City and becoming the Thunder.2This even though Oklahoma City is a considerably smaller and less wealthy market. The Miami Heat, despite playing in a mid-sized market, have seen a massive increase in franchise value. On the flip side, the Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards have considerably underperformed the rest of the league despite playing in reasonably large markets.These differences partly reflect on-court success: Building a future around LeBron James is a much more attractive option than building one around Gilbert Arenas. But they also reflect the differences in the number of super-wealthy people in these cities. In 2004, there were 14 people from the Miami metro area3The Forbes lists do not specifically break out the list of wealthy people by metro area; I did this by hand. I tried to follow the Census Bureau’s definition of Metropolitan Statistical Areas as much as possible — however, there are some debatable cases. Those interested in using this data for rigorous research should double-check my work and ensure that it corresponds to the particular definition of urban areas that is most suitable for their project. on the Forbes 400 list of America’s wealthiest people, compared to eight from Washington and seven from Philadelphia. The differences have grown since then: On last year’s Forbes 400 list, whose threshold was about $1.3 billion in net worth, there were 26 really rich people in Miami, compared to eight in Washington and just three in Philly.4The Forbes 400 list includes data on the United States only. For Toronto, I’ve compiled data from other sources to reflect the number of Torontonians that would have made the Forbes 400 list if Toronto were in the U.S. The correlation between the rate of increase in franchise value and the number of billionaires in a metro area has been reasonably strong,5The correlation coefficient is 0.53, or 0.67 without the Sonics/Thunder included. as I’ve mentioned, with the Sonics/Thunder representing the main outlier. This helps explain why the Golden State Warriors have seen their value increase so much, for instance. The San Francisco-Oakland metro area6By the Census Bureau’s definition, this MSA does not include San Jose, Calif., or most of Silicon Valley. ranks 11th in the U.S. in population and eighth in gross domestic product. But it has ranked second or third in billionaires, behind only New York and sometimes Los Angeles, depending on the year.Why do we see this relationship? Owners of sports franchises tend to hold onto their teams for a long time — the average NBA franchise last changed hands 14 years ago. In a period that long, the player roster will completely turn over, perhaps several times. The coaching and front office staff will very likely turn over, too. A team’s uniform might change; its nickname might change; it might move into a new arena. What’s a lot more permanent is a team’s home city. Franchises can move, but that doesn’t happen often. The Clippers’ greatest asset isn’t Chris Paul or Blake Griffin. It’s the City of Los Angeles and the billionaires who live there.We’ve seen evidence in other sports that franchise values are driven less by profits and losses — many player contracts are plainly irrational from that standpoint — and more by the extent to which a team can be resold to another billionaire or multimillionaire at a higher price down the line. There aren’t that many billionaires in the United States — about 500 — but there are far fewer NBA franchises. In a city like Los Angeles or New York or San Francisco, there will be several billionaires, perhaps even dozens of them, competing for sports franchises when one comes up for sale.7The limited supply of sports franchises may also explain why we don’t see much, if any, of a valuation penalty for NBA franchises that play in multi-team markets. The Lakers and the Clippers, like the Knicks and the Nets, compete with one another to some extent for fans. However, there’s an undersupply of NBA franchises relative to the number of billionaires in these large cities. If one of the 77 billionaires in the New York metro area buys the Knicks, there are still 76 billionaires left to buy the Nets.It’s also worth contemplating whether cities that attract hedge-fund billionaires and oil barons have an intrinsic advantage in recruiting multimillionaire NBA players. Compare Miami and Philadelphia, for example. Philadelphia’s gross domestic product is about 33 percent higher. But — and meaning no offense to Philadelphia — Miami is presumably a lot more fun for a really rich person. Miami will still have South Beach long after LeBron takes his talents to the next town. It will also have no state income tax.But if NBA franchises in billionaire-rich cities can be counted on to appreciate at a higher rate, shouldn’t the market account for that? In other words, shouldn’t they be selling at a higher value to begin with?Keep in mind that we’re looking at Forbes’s estimates of franchise values and not actual sale prices. It could be that Forbes is lowballing the values of big-market clubs. We don’t get all that many data points on actual sale prices because the rate of franchise turnover is low, and because the transactions are often complicated and involve other assets that are bundled with the sports teams. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers (along with some real estate assets) sold for $2 billion two years ago, a figure that far exceeded Forbes’s estimated value of the MLB team.Nonetheless, it’s plausible that the market will eventually catch up to the pattern, or that it already has to some degree. To check this, I ran a regression analysis that sought to explain the increase in NBA franchise values from 2004 to 2014 based on two variables: the number of people a team’s metro area had on the 2004 Forbes 400 list, and its Forbes franchise value in 2004 relative to the league average.8I included the Sonics/Thunder in the regression despite their having changed locations. Although NBA franchises change metro areas only rarely and face restrictions when seeking to do so, some of the value in purchasing an underperforming franchise consists of the potential to relocate the team. The coefficient on the 2004 franchise value variable is statistically significant and negative. What that means is that a franchise can be overvalued by Forbes, and prone to seeing its value revert to the mean, when that value is out of line with the number of billionaires in the area.We can use this regression equation to create estimates of NBA franchise values that may be more reliable than Forbes’s. (The process for this is explained in the footnotes.9To do this, I used the regression equation to determine each team’s projected rate of return over the next 10 years, based on its current Forbes franchise value and the number of billionaires in its metro area. However, I assumed that rates of return in excess of the league average would be captured immediately and reflected in a team’s potential sale price. This is how a rational market would behave, unless the higher projected rates of return were associated with higher risk.) I calibrated the estimates such that the average value of an NBA franchise is the same as what Forbes lists — about $630 million. (The NBA would probably contend that Forbes’s estimates are low across the board — based on the recent sale prices of the Sacramento Kings and the Milwaukee Bucks, for instance — but our interest here is mainly in seeing how franchises are valued relative to one another.) Because the estimates are not all that precise, I’ve listed them as a range based on their standard error.For the Clippers, for instance, the range runs between about $580 million and $950 million. So the billion-dollar estimate might be a little high, but the Forbes valuation of $575 million is probably too low.There are two other teams whose Forbes valuations fall outside the recalibrated range. One is the Brooklyn Nets, which our formula estimates is worth between about $900 billion and $1.5 billion, and not the $780 million that Forbes estimates. Perhaps Mikhail Prokhorov knows what he’s doing in throwing his resources behind establishing the Nets as a major brand in New York. The number of billionaires in New York continues to skyrocket — so he’ll have plenty of people to sell the franchise to at a profit down the line.The other team that falls outside of the range is the Lakers. The formula implies that their Forbes valuation, at $1.35 billion, is a little too high.I personally don’t think the Lakers would have much trouble selling for something in that range if the team were put on the market today. But the logic behind the calculation is something like this: Sure, the Lakers have a much more powerful brand than the Clippers, but they don’t have much of an advantage apart from that brand. The two teams play in the same city, in the same arena. The Clippers have the better roster and a very good coach. The brand advantage can shift over time: At various points in the past 50 years, for instance, the New York Mets have outdrawn the New York Yankees. Another couple years of Blake and CP3 making deep runs into the playoffs while the Lakers struggle with the albatross of Kobe Bryant’s contract will erode some of the Lakers’ edge.Are the Lakers still worth more? Yes, but the formula implies that they should be worth 20 or 25 percent more than the Clippers — and not 135 percent more, as the Forbes valuations say. Perhaps that means the Clippers are undervalued and not that the Lakers are overvalued. If you’d consider buying the Lakers at the Forbes price of $1.35 billion, and would require a 25 percent discount to take the Clippers instead, that implies you’d pay about $1.1 billion for the Clips.The Clippers’ other big handicap, of course, has been Donald Sterling. But that problem resolves itself the moment he sells. He may be banned from basketball. He may have embarrassed himself and his franchise. But if he sells quickly — before doing further damage to the Clippers’ brand — he could have a billion-dollar check coming his way.Correction (May 3, 11:20 a.m.): An earlier version of the NBA Team Valuations chart misstated what the range in green indicated. It signifies a team’s valuation adjusted for number of billionaires in metro area.
A. Salam Qureishi grew up in India and knew nothing about football — or America. And yet in the early 1960s, Qureishi, a computer programmer and statistician, helped the Dallas Cowboys overhaul their scouting system, replacing hunches with hard numbers.The result: five Super Bowl appearances and two titles. FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films present “The Cowboys and the Indian,” directed by Mark Polish. It’s the second film in our short series “Signals.” (Watch our first “Signals” film, “The Man vs. the Machine,” here.)
New York/New Jersey preeminence notwithstanding, the Islanders still have major problems on the business end of their operation. The team has the worst attendance in the NHL. The Devils and the Rangers might both be bad (and they are), but at least their fans are still showing up to watch hockey games (attrition can be fascinating, after all). Islanders fans have been notoriously absent for the last 20 seasons, but that’s because they were constantly given a reason to be absent. The team is good now, yet still the Barclays Center in Brooklyn had thousands of empty seats whenever they played there. (Attendance at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale has been far better, suggesting the Isles should probably play every game at that arena — and they will the rest of the regular season.)It’s hard to predict what the Islanders are capable of in the playoffs. They’re currently ranked 3rd in PDO, which is the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage, which might suggest they’re in the position they’re in because they’ve been more lucky than good. Puck luck is real, and it might be favoring the Islanders so far this season. But that doesn’t mean it’ll hold for the playoffs.Lucky or otherwise, if they continue winning at their current rate they’ll amass 102 points. That would be the franchise’s best total since the 1983-84 season, which is also the last time the Isles reached the Stanley Cup final. That team lost to some 23 year-old kid named Gretzky.Neil Paine contributed research to this article. It’s been a long time since the New York Islanders were any good. Despite a few playoff berths here and there, the Islanders’ past decade has been defined more by venue changes, managerial shakeups, another venue change, and losing John Tavares, its franchise player and captain to free agency. From the middle of the 1970s through the middle of the 1980s, the Islanders were among the NHL’s elite franchises, but they’ve mostly been a punchline since. But that narrative could be shifting this season.The Islanders currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan division, two points behind the Washington Capitals with a game in hand and a superior goal differential. In fact, they’ve already gained more points in 65 games this season than they did during all of last season. Any team would be expected to struggle immediately after failing to re-sign a player of Tavares’s caliber — only five players have scored more points than Tavares since his rookie season in 2009-10 — but the Islanders have somehow flourished.Goaltending has been key to that success: Isles netminders Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have split time almost equally and boast the NHL’s third and fourth best save percentages, respectively, while their combined save percentage paces the league. Goaltending is as bad as it’s been in a decade across the NHL, but apparently no one sent the memo to Lehner or Greiss.The exceptional play between the pipes has been bolstered by an emphasis on improving the defense by new coach Barry Trotz — who was hired fresh off a Stanley Cup win with the Capitals — and new president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello, who won three Stanley Cups in New Jersey with a similar, defense-first philosophy. In 2017-18, the Isles gave up a league-high 296 goals. So far in 2018-19, they’ve given up a league-low 157. At their current rate, the Isles will surrender nearly 100 fewer goals in 2018-19 than they did just a season ago.But Tavares is missed on offense: The Islanders rank in the bottom third of the league for goals scored, and none of their players rank among the top 65 point getters. Last season’s rookie of the year Mathew Barzal is having a solid second season, leading the Islanders with 52 points.This doesn’t necessarily rule out the Islanders from winning the biggest prize: Defense can still be enough to prevail in this sport. The 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks ranked 17th in goals scored and second in goals allowed during the regular season, and things ended up working out pretty well for them.Whether the Islanders finish the season as Stanley Cup champions remains to be seen, but what is clear is that for the first time in a very long time, they’re at the very least the kings of the New York metro area (yes, New Jersey Devils, we’re counting you). This isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory — the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1979-80 to 1982-83 — but it’s territory they haven’t set foot in for a while. According to Hockey-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS), which estimates the strength of every team in the NHL,1Technically speaking, SRS measures a team’s average goal differential after adjusting for strength of schedule. the Islanders haven’t been the outright best team in New York/New Jersey since 1992-93.
Terrelle Pryor has not lived up to all the hype he had coming into the 2008 season as the most sought after high school recruit in the country.Ohio State’s football messiah has thrown eight interceptions so far this season. That is more than any OSU starting quarterback at this point in the season since before 2003.His completion percentage is the lowest of any OSU quarterback since 2004, at 51 percent. That was the year Troy Smith and Justin Zwick shared starting duties and accumulated the worst season record this decade.Pryor’s passing yardage isn’t impressive either, sitting at 1169 through seven games. OSU hasn’t had that low of a mark since 2003, when Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen shared the starting spot.Pryor isn’t even the top performer from his 2007 high school recruiting class. Most members of the college football world know the names Jacory Harris of Miami (Fla.), Jordan Jefferson of LSU and Andrew Luck of Stanford.Two of those three players’ teams boast better records than OSU and none of them have thrown for more interceptions than Pryor.Pryor also has the lowest completion percentage among the group and it’s not because he is used more. He’s third in attempts among the four.Two of the three other also have more passing yards than Pryor.All Ohio State fans remember where they were when Pryor signed, as if it were the second coming of Troy Smith. Looking back now, the signing of Harris, Jefferson or Luck may have been the better choice.Harris even has his name on most Heisman voters’ radars. Pryor hasn’t even sniffed that territory.This historic of a bust is only comparable to one instance in Ohio football history, in the professional ranks. It happened in 1999 when a quarterback named Tim Couch was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 1999 NFL draft.Cleveland fans were excited for Couch coming into the league to be their savior, but it was not to be. Couch only mustered one playoff appearance and sunk into mediocrity.Couch was picked ahead of Pro-Bowlers Donovan McNabb and Dante Culpepper who have had success since they were drafted into the league, McNabb more than Culpepper.Pryor had his one great season last year behind a strong defense and a superior quarterback, who Pryor somehow started ahead of.He is destined to ride off into the NFL draft after next season to try to prove himself at the professional level.Having accomplished next to nothing as a college quarterback, Pryor will leave Ohio State to rebuild itself after one of the worst recruiting choices in our program’s history.Terrelle Pryor, prove me wrong.
The Ohio State baseball team (13-15, 3-4 Big Ten) took conference-leading Michigan State (22-8, 6-1 Big Ten) all nine innings and then some, but a lead-off home run in the top of the 10th was the decider as the Spartans beat OSU, 5-4. Even after the home run, OSU did not go down without a fight, as it had a chance to tie or win the game with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th. After singles by senior and freshman outfielders Brian DeLucia and Tim Wetzel, freshman first baseman Josh Dezse was intentionally walked. Two consecutive strikeouts by sophomore catcher Greg Solomon and junior DH Brad Hutton ended the game. Coach Greg Beals said OSU left too many opportunities on base. “The story was our inability to execute when we had guys in scoring position,” he said. “Our hitters could have done a better job, obviously, but you have to give their pitchers credit.” OSU looked in trouble after a three-run seventh put the Spartans up, 4-2, but Dezse responded in the eighth with a two-run home run. Dezse said he thought the home run was a turning point in the game but that his team came up just a little bit short. “We fought as a team, we lost as a team and we are going to come back tomorrow and fight back,” Dezse said. Relief pitcher Tony Wieber (4-0) picked up the win for MSU, and senior pitcher Jared Strayer (1-2) picked up his second loss on the season. Rucinski versus Wunderlich The game featured top starting pitchers for each team, and both went deep into the game. Michigan State’s Kurt Wunderlich went eight innings and gave up four runs while OSU senior pitcher Drew Rucinski went seven and a third, and also gave up four runs. It was a pitcher’s duel early before Rucinski gave up three in the seventh followed up by Wunderlich giving up a two-run home run to Dezse in the eighth. Both pitchers earned a no decision. A 1-2 punch OSU’s one and two hitters, DeLucia and Wetzel, had a combined six hits and three runs. Wetzel now has a nine-game hitting streak and has been hitting .395 since the Big Ten season started. “We got a lot of young guys that can come through,” DeLucia said. “Wetzel and Dezse are both just incredible.” Game 2 The second of the three-game series will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday. OSU will be looking to rebound from the loss and come back strong. “We are obviously going to take our emotion out on the field tomorrow,” Dezse said. “We still have two more games this weekend and we still have a chance to get that two out of three like we want.”
The No. 3 Ohio State men’s basketball team kept on rolling Friday as the Buckeyes beat Jackson State, 85-41. Jackson State hung around with the Buckeyes to start the game and even led, 11-10, six minutes into the contest. An 18-0 OSU run gave the Buckeyes a commanding lead they would not relinquish. Jackson State coach Tevester Anderson said the Buckeyes had no weaknesses and were every bit as good as the University of North Carolina, who is ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation. “They have a very good basketball team,” Anderson said. “I think this team has a chance to get back to the Final Four. I don’t see any weakness at all.” OSU sophomore forward Jared Sullinger led the way for the Buckeyes, scoring 20 points and adding 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes of playing time. Friday featured more than just OSU’s preseason All-American, something Sullinger didn’t seem to mind. “I love watching this team play,” Sullinger said. “Especially the young guys that don’t get to play a lot. It was pretty awesome to kind of sit the bench a little bit.” Coach Thad Matta, known for not using many players off the bench, used 10 players before the five-minute mark in the first half. Matta said it was important to get more players some game experience. “We’ve got to continue as much as we can to develop all those guys,” Matta said. “It’s different with the game uniform on and against an opponent. It was good to get the young guys as many minutes as we did.” With 3:30 remaining in the first half, sophomore forward J.D. Weatherspoon caught an alley-oop from sophomore guard Aaron Craft and completed a two-handed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. “For a split second, I thought I threw the ball too far away,” Craft said. “But he shut me up pretty fast. “I’m pretty sure his shoulder was somewhere close to the rim. It was pretty awesome.” Weatherspoon finished with eight points. OSU continued to extend its lead with a flurry of fast breaks and dunks as the Buckeyes took a 46-17 lead into the half. The margin only widened after the intermission. The OSU defense stifled the Tigers all night. They forced 26 turnovers, which led to 41 Buckeye points on the other end of the floor. Overall, OSU held JSU to 35 percent shooting from the field including 22 percent from behind the arc. The Buckeyes shot 48 percent and 20 percent from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Jordan Sibert notched his first double-digit scoring performance of the season, finishing with 11 points, including three 3-pointers. “That’s what I’ve been working on all spring and summer,” Sibert said. “I think I got a lot of confidence from my teammates and my coaches to take and make wide-open shots.” Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas and senior guard William Buford also scored in double figures, both finishing with 11 points. The Buckeyes are next in action Monday against North Florida. The opening tip is set for 8:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
Junior wide receiver Evan Spencer (6) scores a touchdown during a game against Florida A&M Sept. 21 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 76-0.Credit: Kaily Cunningham / Multimedia editorRedshirt-senior quarterback Kenny Guiton broke the Ohio State record for most touchdown passes in a game against Florida A&M, but he didn’t do it alone.He had to have someone to throw to.Through four games, four Buckeye wide receivers have at least two touchdowns and 75 yards receiving. At this point in 2012, only two players on the team had reached these numbers.Junior Devin Smith (281 yards and four touchdowns), senior Corey “Philly” Brown (169 yards and three touchdowns), senior Chris Fields (82 yards and four touchdowns) and junior Evan Spencer (78 yards and two touchdowns) have helped the Buckeyes passing attack average 36.5 yards more through the air than it did all of last season.Guiton, who filled in for injured junior quarterback Braxton Miller for the last two games, has had the help of a more mature receiving corps than No. 4 OSU (4-0) had last year, wide receivers coach Zach Smith said.“It’s probably the biggest thing we needed to do coming into this year, is not just have Philly Brown and Devin Smith running vertical. We needed to establish a wider arsenal of skill players to use,” Zach Smith said. “So that was critical for us, because defenses can take away one guy, one position. But if they have to worry about across the board five skill players at every snap, everything opens up. That was something we really needed to do this year and fortunately, it’s happening so far.”Another option for the Buckeye quarterbacks this season has been junior tight end Jeff Heuerman, who is third on the team with 88 yards receiving and a touchdown this year. Heuerman said it will be hard to stop OSU with the amount of depth they have on offense.“We got so much depth on our team. We have so much depth from the receivers, running backs, to our tight ends, everybody,” Heuerman said. “We’re so skilled all around that we can make plays. We’re an up-tempo offense and that combined with all the talent we have on offense really does well for us.”Zach Smith said Devin Smith in particular has developed particularly well from 2012, becoming more of an all-around player this season.“He’s improved, but he’s been a dynamic vertical threat since I got here,” Zach Smith said. “He can run, he can run (a) straight line, and the steps he’s made have been more at becoming a receiver as opposed to just a deep threat guy.”Devin Smith’s main improvement has come in widening his knowledge of the defense and working on his ability to catch shorter passes, Zach Smith said.“Where his development has really came has been in the throws that are more intermediate throws; the routes that are more intermediate routes. He’s really taken steps in doing that,” Zach Smith said. “As far as the deep routes, he has a better understanding of how to lock a corner’s hips or turn a guy opposite of where he’s trying to go.”But still, Devin Smith’s deep play ability is appreciated by the offense because it helps the other players, Zach Smith said.“A guy like that with vertical threat, where corners really have to honor him vertically, like you said, 41 yards a touchdown catch is kind of astounding,” Zach Smith said. “They see that on film, so once he has that threat, there is that fear of getting beat deep; everything else opens up.”Another receiver who has stepped up this season is Spencer, who already has surpassed his career high in touchdowns in the first four games of the season and is on pace for a career high in receiving yards.The recipient of two of Guiton’s touchdown passes against Florida A&M, including the record-breaker, Spencer said with the number of skilled receivers OSU has, it will be difficult for opposing defenses to stop them all.“The sky’s (the) limit for our offense,” Spencer said. “We have so many weapons and we can do so many different things, I mean, like I said, I can’t even imagine all the things we can do.”Zach Smith said he was excited for Spencer, who before Saturday only had one touchdown reception in his career, to get in the end zone.“It was great to see him go out and finally get in the end zone and (much) of that has had a lot to do with kind of the situation we’ve been in and what defenses were giving us as to why he didn’t beforehand,” Zach Smith said. “But he’s very, very capable and it was good to see him do that.”He said Spencer has grown from an average player that worked hard to a good receiver for the Buckeyes.“Every aspect of his game has improved,” Zach Smith said. “He was always a very good kid who worked hard, but he’s taken steps to improve the details of being a receiver, and that’s in blocking on the perimeter. That’s in running routes. That’s in getting open on one on one coverage. He’s improved every aspect of his game.”The Buckeyes are scheduled to play host to Wisconsin in their Big Ten opener, and Zach Smith said he isn’t worried about the Badgers changing their defensive game plan against the OSU receivers.“Obviously, they are going to play to their personnel, so I don’t know what their philosophy will be down the road, but it’s a little different, a little different than it was last year,” Zach Smith said. “Probably a little more man coverage, more press man, a little more challenging for the wide receivers, but nothing dramatic.”Guiton agreed it will be a struggle for the Badgers to slow down a Buckeye offense that averages 529 yards a game.“That’s a problem for them. They need to figure out what they want to do and we’ll come out prepared and ready to go,” Guiton said.Kickoff against No. 23 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0) is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium.