"When it comes to sports, though, I don't know how you do credible analysis and/or commentary without using lots of statistics. And if you're using statistics, you might as well use the right ones."
-- Bradford Doolittle, Basketball Prospectus & The Kansas City Star
The name Bradford Doolittle may not ring a bell to the casual sports fan (unless you're living in Kansas City), but if you're a reader of Basketball Prospectus, you'll certainly recognize this sportswriter. Doolittle does fine work for both The Kansas City Star and Basketball Prospectus - where he currently covers Kansas City sports teams (for The Star) and the NBA (for BP).
Each week, Doolittle reveals his own set of NBA power rankings called the 'Prospectus Hoops List' on Basketball Prospectus. It's an excellent read and I suggest checking it out to gather another writer's take on the current pulse of the Association as the season progresses.
Doolittle was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to chat with me on behalf of Third Quarter Collapse. Doolittle gave some quick background information about himself, as well as talk about his experiences as a sports journalist, provide some analysis on the elite teams in the NBA (including the Orlando Magic), and more.
With all the pleasantries squared away, here's the interview.
Click after the jump for the full transcript.
How long have you been working at Basketball Prospectus?
My first piece for B-Pro was a few days after the start of the 2007-08 season. So I guess I'm not an O.B. (Original Basketball Prospectus author) like Kevin Pelton.
I'm aware that you also still write for The Kansas City Star. How long have you been writing for The Star? What type of content do you currently cover?
I've been with The Star for a little over six years. I do a variety of different things for them, both on the writing and editorial side. Writing wise, I've covered everything from Northern League baseball to Arena League football. Most KC readers know me from two things: My weekly calendar column and my 'Stat Guy' series that runs during the baseball season, which is a column that uses a lot of stats -- just like it sounds. Lately, most of my time has been taken up with my Star sports blog Upon Futher Review (uponfurtherreview.kansascity.com). It's a general KC sports blog with an analytical slant. My partner there is Martin Manley, which long-time NBA fans might remember from his Basketball Heaven books in the late '80s/early '90s.
Clearly you have an interest in statistics, given your affiliation with Basketball Prospectus. It's stated in your bio on The Star's website that you consider yourself more of a writer than a mathematician. Why's that? Do you feel that sentiment will ever change?
I have no formal training in statistics. I've always been good with numbers, mostly thanks to playing lots of Statis-Pro basketball when I was kid. For the same reason, I got into spreadsheets when I was in college. Believe it or not, that led to me serving a six-year sentence as an accountant. I consider myself more of a writer because I majored in English, have a big library of books (that I've actually read) and (try to) write fiction. When it comes to sports, though, I don't know how you do credible analysis and/or commentary without using lots of statistics. And if you're using statistics, you might as well use the right ones.
In your years as a sports journalist, you've written a ton of articles for plenty of different publications (SI.com, ESPN.com, etc.). If you had to choose a story you felt was your best work or just a favorite of yours, which one would it be?
I did a piece that was a Sunday centerpiece (kind of a big deal) for The Star a couple of years ago about the guy who founded the first big-league team in Kansas City back in the 1880s. The research for that was really fun, lots of reading microfilm of 130+ year old newsprint. The guy -- Americus V. McKim -- was buried in an unmarked grave in a local cemetary. As it happened, the day the story was due, the local SABR chapter installed a marker at his grave and then played catch in the cemetary. It was a great send-off for the piece. Plus, I turned in over 100 inches of copy, expected about a quarter of that to get axed because of space, but they like it so well, the whole thing ran as I'd written it .
Given the wide range of sports (pro football, pro basketball, college basketball, etc.) you currently cover, do you ever feel overwhelmed tackling so many different stories over a period of time?
I have a restless nature. I find it almost possible to relax. So invent things to do even when I am more or less caught up. So, no, I don't find it overwhelming. At the same time, I have a tendency to accept more work than any human being can be expected to do in a reasonable timeframe. I like to challenge myself.
On paper, the Cleveland Cavaliers are, without a doubt, the best team in the NBA. What type of factors could derail their chances of winning an NBA Title this year?
The first factor would be the Boston Celtics. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Cavaliers still have to carry their performance over to the postseason. Over a seven-game series, if Boston can pinch off Cleveland's secondary players and LeBron doesn't shoot well, the Celtics could still beat them. The Cavs have better balance this season, but still nothing like the Celts or the Magic, for that matter. Getting that top seed will be huge, as it always is. Other than that, Cleveland seems to be the complete package. For a while in January, the Cavs led the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
As a follow-up question, no matter how you slice it statistically (using advanced metrics), there is a clear trio at the top of the NBA standings being grouped together - the Celtics, the Magic, & the Lakers. Between the three, which team do you believe is the best of the bunch? Why?
I'm assuming you're still anointing Cleveland as the top team. After them, and I sound like a mainstreamer here, I still think Boston is the team to beat until proven otherwise. They had one rough stretch, but now they are back to blowing everybody out. Their win in Orlando last Thursday was really important. After that, I'd go Lakers, then the Magic. The Lakers are really fortunate to be in the West this seasons. It's hard to imagine a scenario where they don't make the finals. Meanwhile, the 2 and 3 seeds in the East will have a brutal conference semifinals series, only to have turn around and play another great team. It's a fun year. I never want the regular season to go by fast, but I am looking forward to the playoffs.
Which is a more foregone conclusion? LeBron James, MVP .. or .. Dwight Howard, NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Could you explain your reasoning?
I think James was handed the MVP award by the national media about a month ago. My metrics agree that he's clearly the top player this season, so it's hard to make a stink about it. Howard is a pretty sure bet for the defensive award and deservedly so. We know the voters love shot blockers, or else Marcus Camby wouldn't have won the award a couple of years ago.
Back-up PG. It's the hot topic right now that many Magic fans are discussing (namely Anthony Johnson). Do you feel the lack of quality depth behind Jameer Nelson will hurt Orlando come playoff time if GM Otis Smith doesn't make a move to address the problem?
Smith does need to get a younger guy in there. Orlando has lots of shooters, but that doesn't mean you need a guy that can't shoot at all. It shouldn't be hard to upgrade from Johnson and I think there may still be a team out there that he hasn't played for. Sometimes, though, I get the feeling that Otis falls in love a little too much with his roster. Let Redick run the point!
As a follow-up question, let's assume Otis doesn't fix the back-up PG issue. Are there alternative solutions the Magic could explore? Some people within our blog community have suggested playing Hedo Turkoglu more at point-forward, or grant Courney Lee some time at the point. Your thoughts?
I like that idea. Then you could actually let Redick play the theorhetical back-up point guard slot. He'd get torched on defense, but you could probably get away with it long enough to give Jameer a breather. Lee doesn't scream 'point guard' at me, but I have no doubt he'd be able to play it better than Johnson at this point.
Hedo & free agency. Many Magic fans are anxious to see whether Turkoglu will opt-out and re-sign with the team, or if he'll opt-out and sign with another team. The latest reports have him seeking a contract ranging around 5 years/$50 million. Do you believe he'll get that money in free agency this off-season? Or will the economy, as well as other teams eyeing the 2010 FA class, affect that factor? What are the Magic's chances of re-taining Hedo, when its all said & done?
It'd be awfully risky to opt out in this economic environment, but given the flood that supposed to hit the free-agent market in 2010, this might be the time for him to do it. He's a great fit in Orlando and the Magic can offer him the him the most money if they want to extend him. He should leave well enough alone and work on that. Hedo is a very good player, but I'm not sure he's quite as good as he thinks he is. That attitude is a good thing sometimes -- he's hit some big shots for Orlando because he actually believes he is supposed to be 'the man." He's having a good, but not great, season and he's not a box office attraction. Of course, if Corey Maggette can get 5 years/$50 million, maybe Hedo can, too.
I like to thank Bradford once again for allowing me to conduct a Q/A session with him. As I've said for our previous interviewees, don't be surprised to hear from him in the near future.