Archive | February, 2011

Does Carmelo make the Knicks a contender?

25 Feb

On Tuesday, Carmelo Anthony finally got his wish, being sent to the Knicks // Keith Allison

On Tuesday, Carmelo Anthony (along with Chauncey Billups and three others) became a member of the New York Knickerbockers. Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni says the team is closer to competing for an NBA title with the addition of Anthony. But are they really?

Anthony was the league’s sixth-ranked scorer (25.2 PPG), for the league’s top-ranked offense (107.8 PPG) in Denver. He now joins Amar’e Stoudemire (ranked third with 26.0 PPG) and the second-ranked offense (106.4 PPG) in the NBA. Anthony fits in perfectly.

And that’s the problem.

Teams coached by Mike D’Antoni have always ran a fast-paced offense. Coincidentally, they also have always had a last-place defense (or close to it). D’Antoni had the best season of his career in ‘04-‘05, when he led the Phoenix Suns to a 62-20 record, eventually losing to the San Antonio Spurs 4-1 in the Western Conference finals. While the Suns had the number one offense (110.4 PPG), they also had the worst-ranked defense in the league (allowing 103.3 PPG).  With D’Antoni in his third year as head coach, the Knicks are on pace to have the NBA’s third-worst defense (currently allowing 105.8 PPG) for the third straight season.

Whoever said “the best defense is a good offense”, clearly never played basketball. Or at least playoff basketball. Of the last 20 NBA championship teams, half of them featured a defense ranked in the top three. 16 of them were in the top-10. Only one (the 2000-‘01 Lakers) finished worse than 15th.

The Knicks currently have the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference. This shouldn’t impress anyone. The Knicks are only a few games above .500 (at 29-26), and every team behind them has a losing record. The Knicks’ record against winning teams is only 9-17.

While it’s better to have two star players than one, the Knicks’ new roster doesn’t say “championship” at all. The five teams ahead of the Knicks – the Celtics, Heat, Bulls, Magic and Hawks – all have superior line-ups – especially at the guard positions, and play better defense. The Knicks lost three starters in Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, and Danilo Gallinari, so the drop-off after Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups is huge. While the team has improved in terms of skill, they are no closer to challenging in the playoffs than they were before. They’re still at least a year (or another big free-agent signing) away from even having a shot at their division, let alone an NBA title.

NOTE: statistics are as of Feb. 24, 2011.

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No ‘Melo, no problem – Nets get D-Will

24 Feb

Another day, another blockbuster trade in the NBA.

A day after Carmelo Anthony was dealt to the New York Knicks, Utah Jazz PG Deron Williams is headed to the New Jersey Nets.

It was known for well over a year that ‘Melo wanted to leave Denver for the Knicks, so his trade to New York is a little anticlimactic. It wasn’t a question of if he would be traded, it was simply when and for whom.

But the Williams trade is a shocker. Just two weeks ago, it appeared that Jazz’ management was committed to building the franchise around Williams, after legendary coach Jerry Sloan strangely and suddenly resigned the day after a dispute with Williams. It was logical for the team to choose its 26-year-old superstar over the Hall-of-Fame coach, who at 68, was near the end of his career.

The New Jersey Nets were deemed “the losers” of the Carmelo trade, after offering much more than the Knicks, and still not landing him after he refused to sign an extension with the Nets.

This was just another rejection, after the allure of playing for (Nets co-owners) Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z – or being the centrepiece of a team soon moving to Brooklyn – wasn’t enough to convince LeBron James, or any other big name free-agent, to sign with New Jersey last summer.

But now Deron Williams is a Net.

In the last five seasons (including this season) Williams has averaged 18.9 points and 10.1 assists per game. Only Chris Paul (19.2 PPG, 10.4 APG) and Steve Nash (16.9 PPG, 10.9 APG) have had as impressive numbers over that time span. Williams is also a big-time playoff performer. In 44 post-season games, Williams has put up 21.1 PPG and 9.6 APG, and each time the Jazz have been eliminated, it’s been by the eventual Western Conference champions.

Unlike Carmelo Anthony, Williams wasn’t going to be a free-agent this offseason, so the fear that he will bolt to another team isn’t there. While he can leave after next season, a new collective bargaining agreement will probably enable the Nets to offer him the best contract, keeping him in New Jersey.

In exchange for Williams, the Nets sent PG Devin Harris, PF Derrick Favors (last year’s third-overall pick), two first-round draft picks and $3 million to Utah. It isn’t always the best idea to trade away first-round picks when you’re rebuilding a team – especially when at least one of them will probably be a lottery pick  – but this deal was a no brainer for the Nets. In the NBA, success is dictated by superstars. Adding a bona fide superstar like Deron Williams can change a bottom-feeder (like the Nets) into a playoff team, or a playoff team into a title-contender (see: Gasol, Pau). The Nets have too many losses to seriously compete for a playoff spot this year, but they are considerably better than they were before the trade.

Last week, reports had the Nets trading Harris, Favors, two other players and four first-round picks to Denver for Carmelo Anthony. The Nets should be happy that ‘Melo wanted to play for the Knicks.

Jenny McCarthy still believes autism caused by vaccines

17 Feb

Award-winning journalist Brian Deer answers a student's question after speaking to a group at Ryerson University.He says there is no medical evidence to back up Jenny McCarthy's claims about the causes of autism. / Charles Vanegas

Brian Deer, the British journalist who exposed fraudulent research linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism, spoke on Wednesday to a group of more than 200 at Ryerson University in Toronto. Deer spoke candidly about the disgraced doctor behind the theory, Andrew Wakefield, and his supporters – specifically actress Jenny McCarthy, who has a child with autism.

“She’s put out her son’s name in the media [linking his autism to vaccines],”said Deer. “She has no medical evidence to back up her claims, so I challenge her to release his records to a panel of doctors –who will keep them confidential – and then she can see the facts.”

In 1998, the Lancet, a medical journal, published the findings of a study conducted by a group led by Andrew Wakefield. Although inconclusive, the study suggested that the MMR vaccine might be linked with autism and intestinal problems, a “new syndrome” that Wakefield later referred to as “autistic enterocolitis.”

After numerous reports from Deer dating back as far as 2004, Wakefield has been exposed for knowingly falsifying study results and having a conflict of interest – he received over £400,000 (about $690,000 CDN) prior to his 1998 study, from solicitors planning to sue vaccine distributors. The Lancet has “fully-retracted the study from the published record”, and ten out of 13 co-authors have retracted the interpretation featured in the study.

In a January 2011 blog, McCarthy referred to Deer’s findings as “one dubious reporter’s allegations”, saying that “I know children regress after vaccination because it happened to my own son”.

In 2008, as a blogger for Oprah.com, she praised a woman who refused to let her 18-month-old son get the MMR vaccine, for “following her mommy instinct.”

In the UK, where Wakefield’s study was done, cases of measles rose from 56 in 1998 to 1,348 in 2008.

Can journalism still be profitable in the internet age?

9 Feb

Technological advances have forced the music industry and the media to adapt. The internet has made things more accessible, and therefore CDs and newspapers have been largely replaced by online alternatives – especially by young consumers.

And while pay-to-download services like the iTunes Store (which has sold over 10 billion song downloads in eight years) largely compensate for the decrease in album sales, online media has failed to make up for income lost from newspapers.

A large portion of newspapers’ funding comes from advertising. However, online classifieds, such as Craigslist and Kijiji, are more popular and cheaper – often even free – to use than their print counterparts.

Cost of a week-long ad in the Toronto Star

In addition to the loss of income from personal ads, newspapers and online media have been unable to obtain the same levels of revenue from corporate advertisements that newspapers once had.

Val Maloney, editor of Masthead, says the industry still doesn’t know how to address this issue.

“There aren’t any hard answers yet,” she says. “A lot of publications are talking about adopting the advertising strategies used by Facebook, but so far no one has been able to do it.”

Because there is so much free content on the web – even from newspapers that charge for its print form – many wonder how online journalism can compensate for money lost from subscriptions.

In a March 2009 blog, Clay Shirky, a writer and internet authority at NYU, said  nothing can be done to repair what he calls a broken model.

Maloney isn’t so sure.

“You have to make it easy for them to use [a micropayment system], making it possible to link it to your PayPal account or a service like that,” says Maloney. “If you have the right audience, and make it easy for them to pay for content, eventually that’s a model that could have success.”

Top 5 Super Bowl XLV ads

7 Feb

Every year, Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest T.V. spectacle.  It’s the biggest stage in professional sports. Last year, the game was watched by over 106 million people (this year’s numbers are still unknown). With that many eyes watching, selling commercial time has become a lucrative business for the network showing the game. This year, companies were paying a reported $3 million for thirty seconds of screen time.

Overall, the commercials were pretty decent this year, but certain ones stood out.

Here’s the cream of the crop:

5.  Volkswagen

They don’t really sell the actual product that well, but this kid is definitely keeping Volkswagen on our minds. My only knock on this commercial is that they violated the “Super Bowl commercial rule” (that I just made up). Super Bowl ads should be seen first during the game. The ad already had 10 million YouTube views prior to. I’ll let it slide, but VW: you’ve been warned.

4.  Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola makes great commercials. This one hooked me pretty quickly with the animation, and the story was great. Some of the longer ads can’t hold the viewer’s attention, but this one certainly did. It doesn’t beat 2008’s Stewie vs. Underdog, but it definitely beat Pepsi.

3.   Kia Optima

This was the first great ad of the night. What beats a helicopter? Poseidon. This ad made me forget about how unsafe it is to own a Kia (while showing a fictional scenario where it is also unsafe to own a Kia. Zing!).

2. Bridgestone

Not only was this entertaining, Bridgestone actual did what a commercial is supposed to do – it sold its product. Bridgestone was probably the big winner of the night, as the “Reply All” commercial was also very good.

1.  Budweiser

I will shoot you over a Bud. As soon as I saw the Clydesdales, I knew something good was coming up. Usually I’m a stickler about anachronisms, but when the bar started belting out “Tiny Dancer”, I lost it. When something makes you laugh out loud after seeing it multiple times, you know it’s good. Budweiser is one of the most consistent advertisers of the Super Bowl, and the ad’s success probably warrants the $6 million it cost to get on air.

Super Bowl preview

4 Feb

Super Bowl XLV kicks off at 6:30 p.m. (ET) this Sunday. Odds-makers have the Green Bay Packers as 2.5 point favourites over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Every media outlet has their “experts” breaking down the matchups and making their predictions.

A lot the talk leading up to the game has been focused on the quarterback duel. It’s Ben Roethlisberger vs. Aaron Rodgers. Both are marquee players, and have been able to lead their teams to victory this season and can make a game-changing play at any moment. However, comparisons like this simply don’t matter because they’ll only be on the field at the same time during pre-game stretches and post-game handshakes. When comparing and analyzing these teams, you need to look at the matchups that can actually occur on the field.

Steelers’ secondary vs. Packers’ passing game

The Packers love to throw deep. They have one of the league’s best receiving duos in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Jennings is one of the elite receivers in the NFL, and Driver can still do this:

Despite having the Defensive Player of the Year in Troy Polamalu, the Steelers’ secondary is otherwise pretty weak for being a playoff team. In the AFC Championship, the Steelers almost blew a 24 point lead because they couldn’t stop the pass. The only chance they have to contain Jennings is to have Polamalu help one of the corners double-cover him all game. But even that plan is flawed. In Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers got absolutely lit up by Larry Fitzgerald (7 catches, 127 yards, 2 TDs) while double-covering him. That year, the Steelers’ starters in the secondary were CB Ike Taylor, CB Bryant McFadden, SS Polamalu, and FS Ryan Clark. Nothing has changed, except everyone’s a little older.

In his career, Aaron Rodgers has the highest QB rating, and lowest interception rate OF ALL TIME. That’s not to say the Steelers can’t pick him off, because Polamalu is always good for a big play. At the same time, I’m not going to hold my breath.

Advantage: PACKERS

Packers’ secondary vs. Steelers’ passing game

There might not be a better cornerback duo than Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson. They are equally great in zone and man-to-man coverage. In this postseason, Williams has three interceptions, and the team has only allowed one passing touchdown per game. These teams didn’t play this season, so the easiest way to look at how the Steelers might matchup is by analyzing how they played against other teams with good secondaries. They played the Jets and Bengals – two teams who have two elite cornerbacks – twice this season. Here’s how they matched up:

Week 9 @ CIN:– Hines Ward: 3 catches, 10 yards – Mike Wallace: 5 catches, 110 yards, TD
Week 13 vs. CIN – Hines Ward: 8 catches, 115 yards – Mike Wallace: 5 catches, 78 yards
Week 14 vs. NYJ – Hines Ward: 2 catches, 34 yards – Mike Wallace: 7 catches, 102 yards
AFC Champ. vs. NYJ – Hines Ward: 2 catches, 14 yards – Mike Wallace: 1 catch, 6 yards

If one of the Steelers’ top receivers is having a bad game, the other one usually finishes with at least 100 yards. However, if Williams and Woodson are able to contain them like the Jets did in the AFC Championship game, the Steelers will have to hope for a big day from their running game.

Advantage: PACKERS

Rashard Mendenhall vs. the Packers’ D

If it weren’t for Mendenhall’s big game in the AFC Championship, we wouldn’t even be talking about the Steelers this week. The Jets had an answer for everything else, but they couldn’t stop him.

This season, the Packers allowed 4.7 yards per carry, tied for second worst in the NFL. Granted, they only allowed 6 rushing touchdowns (tied for second best) but in a game probably decided by field position, they need to be able to stop the run.

Rashard Mendenhall needs to have a big game for the Steelers to have success on offense.

Advantage: STEELERS

James Starks vs. Steelers’ D

The Packers were a Super Bowl favourite early in the season because they had it all – a dominant passing game, a great defence, and a star running back. When Ryan Grant suffered a season-ending ankle injury in week one, they had a decision to make: trade for a running back, or go with what they had (Brandon Jackson and James Starks). On Monday, the Packers may look back and regret not making a trade.

Jackson was decent during the season, but Starks now has the job because he is better at running through the tackles.  He’s had a decent postseason (including a 123 yard performance against the Eagles in the Wild-Card round), but he hasn’t faced anything like what he’s going to see on Sunday.

Starks played poorly against Atlanta (66 yards, 2.6 ypc), a defence that allowed 105.9 rushing Yds/G this season. The Steelers had the league’s best rush defence during the regular season, allowing only 62.8 Yds/G (Chicago was second, with 90.1). Somehow, they’ve improved in the playoffs – only allowing 52.5 Yds/G.

It’s not like Starks couldn’t play well in the big game, it’s just that he’s done nothing so far to suggest that he will.

Advantage: STEELERS

Pittsburgh o-line vs. Green Bay pass-rush

People always talk about how tough the Steelers offensive line is, or how they are constantly overcoming adversity. Here’s the truth: they suck. Especially when it comes to protecting the quarterback.

According to Cold Hard Football Facts, the Steelers finished the season with a 9.96 Negative Pass Plays percentage. That means that almost 10 per cent of all offensive plays ended up in either a sack or interception. If Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t so good at completing passes after initial contact, that number would be much, much higher.

Big Ben was sacked 2.97 times per game during the regular season. In two playoff games, they’ve allowed eight sacks. Regardless if Pro-Bowl Center Maurkice Pouncey can play through his ankle injury, the Steelers are in trouble. The Packers’ defence finished second in the NFL with 47 sacks. Green Bay’s OLB Clay Matthews is probably salivating at the thought of going against this line.

Advantage: PACKERS

Green Bay o-line vs. Pittsburgh pass-rush

Green Bay has its own problems on the offensive line. Just one year removed from allowing a league-worst 51 sacks, they haven’t improved that much.

Now they’re facing the leaders in sacks (48). What’s even more daunting than the Steelers’ statistics are the pass-rushers themselves. They run the 3-4 defence perfectly. The defensive line allows the linebackers to get into the backfield and get at the quarterback. James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior make up the best group of linebackers in the NFL. They’re fast and weight at least 230 lbs or more. They don’t just tackle their opponents – they brutalize them. (If you need convincing, search any of those names on Youtube)

Aaron Rodgers has had two concussions this season. He definitely isn’t looking forward to this matchup. If someone’s going to get knocked out of this game, it’s going to be him.

Advantage: STEELERS

Final thoughts and prediction

The bread-and-butter of the Green Bay Packers is the passing game. They have an elite quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, and good receivers. The problem is that they’re going to have trouble running the ball, because their O-line is weak, and James Starks hasn’t shown that he can run well against good teams. The Steelers will put extra emphasis on hurrying the quarterback and sending extra men in pass coverage.

On the flip side, I don’t expect the Steelers to have a great day passing the ball because of the Packers’ two shutdown corners. However Ben Roethlisberger has an uncanny ability to get first downs when the Steelers need him to. I expect that, in addition to handing the ball off to Rashard Mendenhall, will allow the Steelers to control the game of field position, and ultimately win the game.