Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why No Bo? The Story of Front Office Cognitive Dissonance

Of all the players to emerge in this year's Eurobasket tournament, few had a greater impact on the court than the naturalized Macedonian player formerly known as Bo McCalebb. By almost all accounts, one could say that Bo did not receive the same attention as many of the NBA media darlings coming into this tournament. Yet, as is customarily the case, when it actually became time to play the game, all the hype and name recognition were thrown by the wayside, as they should be. And, when this happened, it was the story of Borche McCalebbovski's (as he is now known) heroics that actually stole the show at arenas across Lithuania.

The diminutive 6'0 lead guard managed to will his adopted Macedonian squad to a fourth place finish in the Eurobasket tournament, upsetting the likes of Greece and basketball powerhouse/host Lithuania in the process. This unlikely feat brought the tiny country of two million people into the streets, parading and openly displaying an unprecedented sense of national pride- a unity that is sorely needed in this bitterly divided country.

In order to truly understand how important these victories were for this multi-ethnic state, one must contextualize them by examining FYE Macedonia's war-torn past. Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the region now referred to as Macedonia was consolidated as a member of Yugoslavia. When nations began to break away from the Yugoslavian state in the early 90's, ethnic Macedonians fought to lay claim to their own state. On September 8, 1991, Macedonia was born.

While tensions were seemingly at bay during the early period in Macedonian history, the Kosovo War of 1999 dramatically changed this. As a result of that conflict, approximately 360,000 Albanian refugees flooded into Macedonia. Eventually, tensions escalated when insurgents attempted to obtain independence for Albanian-populated areas within this country. A civil war was fought, and it ended with a ceasefire agreement backed by NATO.

More recently, while strides have been made and Albanians have been successfully integrated into government, the "Macedonian Question"- as it has been called- still remains today, approximately 10 years after the country's ceasefire. Corruption abounded in Macedonia's previous administration, as the government forced the bankruptcy of an opposition-led television station known as A1. During the consequent legal proceedings, it was claimed by many that the judiciary lacked independence. Most viewed this as a way for the Macedonian government to silence Albanian opposition. Further, in his previous term in office, Macedonia's Prime Minister Gruevski strove to rekindle nationalistic sentiments of Macedonia's once glorious past, a past which Albanians had no part in. The Albanians, on the other hand, advocated a more decentralized government focused on promoting a bilingual agenda. With both sides pushing conflicting ideologies, something was needed to unify this country.

Enter Bo McCalebb and the Macedonian National Team. McCalebb led a spirited charge to the Eurobasket Semifinals, where their championship hopes were thwarted by eventual champion Spain.

While other players contributed significantly to this fourth place finish, McCalebb was clearly the driving force behind Macedonia's surprising success. In order to upset Lithuania, McCalebb not only provided the necessary fourth quarter scoring, but he also assisted the final game-winning three point shot to Vlado Ilievski and was responsible for a key deflection late in the game. Against Spain and their battle-tested NBA frontline, Bo got to the rim virtually at will and kept Macedonia close. And, in his final contest with Russia, Bo deflected the ball countless times, creating four extra possessions for his team. Further, Bo was dynamic slashing to the basket, utilizing excellent upper body strength to finish through contact and his basketball IQ to switch hands in mid air in order to avoid shot blockers.

Even though many had never heard of McCalebb coming into this tournament, his play in Lithuania was clearly not an aberration. After breaking his foot this previous season and returning in March, Bo played inspired basketball to lead his Siena club to the Euroleague Final Four, where they won the third place consolation game. This was Bo's second trip to the Final Four since he graduated college back in 2008; the first time he made it there, he played for Partizan.

These performances shed light on what Bo brings to the table as a professional basketball player. While he sometimes plays off the ball, Bo generally functions as a point guard, initiating for his teammates at every opportunity. He boasts a much improved handle and regularly splits defenders in order to get to the basket. Additionally, Bo possesses a superb first step and an understanding of when to employ the change-of-pace dribble, making him arguably the most complete slasher outside the NBA. And while NBA teams once believed that Bo was a liability with the ball in his hands, he proved that this certainly is not the case. He finished with the top Turnover Rate in the entire tournament amongst point guards, beating out Tony Parker and many others. Bo's versatility as a slasher opens up the floor for his teammates. While he does collect many hockey assists by driving in and hitting cutters, he also plays within his team's offensive scheme and willingly moves the ball around the perimeter. As such, his assist statistics in this tournament were fairly understated because of how often Macedonia moved the ball on the perimeter once Bo made the initial kick out pass. In spite of all this, he still managed to post an Assist Rate of 28.6%- the fourteenth highest percentage amongst all participants.

Aside from his obvious strength as a slasher, Bo has made some inroads as an outside jump shooter as well. He posted a 58.5% True Shooting Percentage and demonstrated that he can be deadly from the midrange if given enough space. Even though this is not his best asset on the offensive end, Bo shot a solid 43.8% from beyond the arc in Euroleague action with his Siena club. Also, Bo is fairly effective squaring his body to the basket on off balance, turnaround jumpers. Against Spain, for instance, he demonstrated a very quick release when hitting fadeaway jumpers over the length of Spain's big men.

On the defensive end, Bo has extremely quick hands and regularly deflects the basketball, giving offensive players headaches and creating extra possessions for his team. Additionally, Bo possesses exceptional lateral quickness and this allows him to stay in front of virtually anyone. With that said, he has a tendency to cheat on screens and this sometimes causes him to lose his man. But, he generally puts a lot of effort into his defensive assignments. Moreover, while he was not an impressive rebounder from a statistical standpoint in these Eurobasket games, Bo is capable on the glass and occasionally snatched rebounds away from much bigger opponents. Also, in his first season in the Italian League, he finished with an 11.9% Total Rebounding Percentage.

Overall, Bo McCalebb is an exceptionally quick and athletic point guard who has proven that he can finish over the length of quality NBA big men. This makes him an obvious candidate to transition to the NBA when his contract expires in a couple of years.

While he has recently proven that he can compete against NBA-level talent, this begs a rather tantalizing question: why exactly was Bo McCalebb passed up in his native country in the first place? To answer this, one must delve into the NBA front offices' practice of cognitive dissonance, whereby executives develop consensuses on players, and then go on to defend these positions despite all evidence to the contrary. One of the more common criticisms that players cannot seem to shake is the concern over a defined NBA position. For Bo, the general consensus amongst NBA player personnel was that he was too small to play shooting guard and that he did not have a skilled enough handle to make the cut as an NBA point guard. Does this criticism seem fair to anyone who watched this year's Eurobasket? While it may have been an accurate assessment when Bo was first entering the league, he has improved considerably since then. Yet, NBA teams generally fail to recognize this and thus end up missing out on talented late bloomers like Bo.

And, just as Bo was looking for another opportunity to prove these doubters wrong, so too was Macedonia in need of a national hero.

It only seems right- then- that approximately ten years after Americans (and European forces with NATO) quelled tensions and brokered a peace agreement between competing factions in Macedonia, that an American would once again unite this nation. While his battle was fought on the court and not on the battlefield, it is clear that Bo's impact extended far beyond the bounds of a simple basketball contest. I mean, how many players in this day and age can rightfully stake the claim that they brought together an entire nation through their play on the basketball court?

With all that said, what else should we have expected from Bo? Over the course of his short career, he has been in the business of defying expectations. If only an NBA front office could be moved by someone who plays with such a chip on his shoulder. But, alas, Bo is only 6'0 tall.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Breakthrough Prospects (Low Major Conferences Second Edition)

In my second edition of this segment, I outline the emerging prospects across the Low Major Conferences for the 2011-2012 season.

Sterling Carter, Seattle- Few first year players assumed as prominent of a role as Sterling Carter did in his freshman season. Originally, Carter was under-hyped coming into college due to an ACL injury which caused him to miss his senior season. However, in 2010-2011, the Redhawks' squad significantly relied on Carter's production, as he took over 30% of his team's shots. And, while he was not particularly efficient from the floor, posting a 93.0 Offensive Rating (good for 7th amongst Independent players with his usage), Carter should only improve upon last season's totals. His 47.4% Effective Field Goal Percentage should increase with Seattle's addition of Washington transfer Clarence Trent. Trent will likely take some of the defensive focus off of Carter and allow him to play with more patience this season, thus enabling him to pick his spots more effectively. Look for Carter to increase his 16.1 Assist Rate when he is called upon to distribute the ball within his team's offensive sets. Further, Carter should continue to perform at a high level on the defensive end. Last year, because of his solid athleticism, Carter caused headaches for the opposition. He had the foot speed and strength to stay in front of most lead guards and generally wreaked havoc on this end of the floor. All in all, if Carter can continue to transition into his role as more of a facilitator, he should receive some attention on a national scale.

Griffan Callahan, South Dakota St.- Playing alongside the nation's most underrated point guard, Callahan posted the second best offensive efficiency in the NCAA a season ago. (2nd in's Offensive Rating) This was largely due to how effective he was shooting the ball from the field, finishing 22nd in the nation with a 64.8% True Shooting Percentage. Callahan accomplished this by improving on his 2009-2010 three point shooting (28.8%) and hitting 43% of his three point field goals. And, while he did not go to the line often- evinced by the fact that he ranked 27th in the Summit League in Free Throw Rate- he was very efficient when he did get there, connecting on 92.6% of his attempts. And while he did not draw contact often enough, he also was only used on 13.8% of his team's possessions. With the loss of Clint Sargent from last year's team, this should change. Callahan will be called upon to step up his production in a major way, and playing alongside talented shot creator Nate Wolters should only help. Defensively, Callahan was capable of stealing the ball from the opposition, ranking 9th in the league in Steals %. Overall, Callahan should have a major impact for South Dakota St. and could potentially lead his team to a 1st place finish in the Summit.

Alex Francis, Bryant University- Francis played inspired basketball as a freshman in the NEC. He was not particularly efficient from the floor, posting the 17th highest Effective Shooting Percentage in the conference and finishing towards the bottom of the conference in Offensive Rating. With that said, Francis was thrown into the fire immediately, being used on 30.3% of his team's possessions. (36th in the NCAA) At 6'6, Francis played primarily as a combo forward, demonstrating no semblance of an outside shooting game. (0-7 from 3 point range) If he hopes to play as a professional, he must develop an outside jumper to keep defenses honest. Despite this obvious hole in his game, Francis possesses considerable athleticism and used it to become one of the best rebounders in the NEC. He ranked 14th in the conference in Offensive Rebounding % and 6th in Defensive Rebounding % last year. Francis was also explosive attacking the basket, finishing 4th in the conference in Free Throw Rate and 3rd in Fouls Drawn Per 40 Minutes. Because he is undersized for an inside player, Alex Francis struggled to guard bigger post options, but was able to play decent help defense. If he can improve his efficiency from the floor and develop an outside jumper, Francis could become one of the more unstoppable Low Major players. For now, though, Francis's game is very reminiscent of Chris Gaston's due to his solid athleticism and ability to clean up on the glass.

Jeromie Hill, UTSA- In his first season with UTSA, Hill was one of the more impressive post players in the conference. Standing at 6'8 230 lbs., the Aussie big man demonstrated a fairly diverse offensive skill set. While he was effective in the post, Hill also displayed a nice shooting touch. His Effective Shooting Percentage was 53.1% a year ago, good for 10th in the Southland Conference. Further, he connected on 40% of his 100 three point attempts last season. On the defensive end, Hill was fairly good at protecting the basket and thereby finished 16th in the conference in blocks %. Look for Hill to improve on the offensive glass this season, where he was only the 22nd best in the Southland. He was effective at collecting defensive rebounds, though, ranking as the 14th best player in Defensive Rebounding %. In the absence of Devin Gibson next season, Hill should become UTSA's top option on offense. And, if he can continue to develop his diversified skill set, he should receive looks from scouts down the road.

Augustine Rubit, South Alabama- After redshirting the season before, Augustine Rubit proved to be one of the Sun Belt conference's most promising young players in 2010-2011. At 6'6 220 lbs, he functions more as a post option than does a combo forward like Alex Francis. Rubit was one of the best undersized rebounders in the NCAA a season ago- he ranked 8th nationally in Offensive Rebounding % and 44th in Defensive Rebounding % (good for 1st and 3rd in the Sun Belt). Not only was he dynamic at crashing the boards, but he also showcased his solid shot blocking ability, finishing 10th in the conference in Blocks %. Further, despite his size, Rubit was efficient shooting the basketball; therein, he ranked 8th in the conference in True Shooting Percentage. Because of this, he was also an effective overall offensive weapon, as evinced by his 13th best Offensive Rating amongst all players in the Sun Belt. Rubit must increase his production, and more specifically, focus on getting to the line more frequently due to the transfer of Martino Brock. When he does get there, though, he must capitalize on his opportunities and improve on the meager 68% free throw percentage that he posted last season. Overall, look for Rubit to make a significant impact for South Alabama and to become a 1st Team All Conference Selection this season. Even with his production, the loss of Brock really hurts this squad and will likely prevent the Jaguars from earning a bid to the Big Dance this year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Breakthrough Prospects (Low Major Conferences First Edition)

In my first edition of this segment, I outline the emerging prospects across the Low Major Conferences for the 2011-2012 season.

LaDaris Green, Kennesaw St.- After redshirting in 2009-2010, Green had an impact sophomore season and quickly emerged as one of the top forwards in the Atlantic Sun. Green is a solid athlete, and should be one of the more efficient low major post players next season. In 2010-2011, he ranked 10th in Offensive Rating in the Atlantic Sun (of those with at least 20% usage) according to Further, Green shot the ball well, finishing 9th in the conference in effective field goal percentage. (53.2%) LaDaris Green was also one of the best at collecting rebounds, ranking 2nd in the Atlantic Sun in Offensive Rebounding % and 5th in Defensive Rebounding %. On the defensive end, Green needs to continue to add bulk in order to edge players out on the block. Currently, he has proven to be valuable- though- on this end due to his ability to contest shots, placing 6th in the conference in Blocks %. Look for him to continue his progression on the defensive end as he develops physically. And, he should earn All-Conference honors this season along with teammate Markeith Cummings en route to challenging Belmont in the Atlantic Sun.

Antoine Mason, Niagara- Despite the excellent start to Mason's NCAA career, he only was able to play in three contests due to a stress fracture in his foot. Because it continued to bother him throughout the season, the coaching staff recommended that he sit out for the rest of the year in order to avoid the possibility of re-aggravating his injury. Although he did not see many minutes on the floor a season ago, Mason was still one of the MAAC's most intriguing freshman in limited action. Mason is a vertically explosive combo guard with a knack for scoring the basketball. While he is not the best three point shooter at this stage, (albeit there is a very limited statistical sample- 26% through the first three games of the season) Mason is aggressive attacking the basket and drawing contact. On the defensive end, Masons's physicality should allow him to compete with some of the MAAC's toughest offensive weapons. If he can avoid injury, look for Mason to have an All-Conference season and to emerge as one of the best midmajor combo guards.

Brandyn Curry/Oliver McNally, Harvard- Harvard, the overwhelming favorite to win the Ivy League conference this year, features two potential breakout players. While he did have a fairly noteworthy season a year ago, Brandyn Curry is poised to become one of the more dynamic pass-first point guards in the nation. On the offensive end, Curry arguably has the best court vision in the Ivy League. His Assist Rate, according to, ranks 2nd in the conference and 26th in the country. One should fully expect those numbers to improve. Yet, he must cut down on his turnovers in order to become a truly elite lead guard. (37th in the Ivy League in Turnover Rate) In terms of his efficiency as an offensive weapon, Curry finished 10th in the Ivy League in 'Offensive Rating'. This is largely due to the fact that he shot the ball well, posting a 50.2% eFG% (16th in the Ivy League) and a 54.7% TS% (19th in the Ivy League). Despite these statistics, Curry was less accurate from beyond the arc, declining from his 43% average his freshman season to 36% a year ago. This is an area that Curry must improve on in order to prove his mettle as a professional player. Moreover, Curry's teammate Oliver McNally was the most efficient player in the Ivy League last year, ranking 1st in the conference and 18th in the nation in 'Offensive Rating'. In spite of his limited usage, (on only 15.5% of his team's possessions) McNally shot the ball extremely well. He connected on over 44% of his 3 point attempts (51st in the country) and hit 92.6% of his free throws, good for 2nd in the nation. In terms of his advanced statistics in this area, McNally posted the 3rd highest True Shooting Percentage in the country. Furthermore, McNally was not a one dimensional player a season ago. Despite his penchant for shooting the ball efficiently, he also played an unselfish brand of basketball, finishing 9th in the Ivy League in Assist Rate. All in all, if last season was any indication, Harvard should be getting the ball to McNally more often. Look for him to be a major contributor on a Crimson squad that will likely have its best season in recent memory.

Chris Czerapowicz, Davidson- After a fairly ordinary freshman season in which he averaged approximately 3.5 points per game in just over 9 minutes of action, Czerapowicz is poised for a breakout season. Although he underachieved last year, it was clear that the surgery he had on both hips bothered him early in the season, and, at the very least, prevented him from finding his rhythm and making a significant impact on the court. He exceeded all expectations- though- in the 2011 U20 European Championships, leading Sweden with three 20 point performances against Greece, France, and Montenegro. Czerapowicz finished the tournament as the 11th best scorer and 8th leading rebounder in the entire event. Such excellent experience should help him to build considerably on a rather lackluster freshman year. Overall, look for him to increase his averages substantially this season, and for Davidson to return to the NCAA tournament. In terms of Czerapowicz's long term future, it is clear that he is somewhat of a tweener and will have to prove that he can dial in on his outside jumper. Also, his ability to defend more athletic forwards is a major concern at this stage.

Derek Selvig/Kareem Jamar, Montana- Seldom in college basketball (particularly in the Low Major conferences) do you actually want your 7-footer hoisting up three point shots. But, Montana's Derek Selvig is the exception to this rule- in 2010-2011 he connected on 39% of his 100 three point attempts. Selvig is a fairly efficient shooter overall, posting a 52.4% True Shooting Percentage last season. Although he was fairly effective as a long distance option, he must improve as a post player. With Brian Qvale's departure, Selvig is going to be forced to fill Montana's void and play inside more frequently. Most importantly, he must do a better job of securing rebounds. If he can transition to his new role, this opportunity will allow him to prove his versatility on the offensive end. With that said, it should be noted that Selvig's passing ability was very underrated last season, as he posted the 12th highest Assist Rate in the Big Sky. Defensively, Selvig was fairly effective at contesting shots, finishing 17th in the Big Sky in % Steals and 13th in % Blocks. He must develop better post defense, though, in order to become a top Big Sky player. Overall, Selvig will undoubtedly be looked upon as one of Montana's go-to options; look for him to have an All-Conference season when it is all said and done. Not only should one expect Selvig to have a standout year, but it should be duly noted that his teammate Kareem Jamar will also likely emerge as one of the Big Sky's breakthrough players this season. Jamar was a standout freshman a year ago that ranked 21st in the Big Sky in's 'Offensive Rating'. Further, he posted a 52.2% effective field goal percentage, indicating that he was one of the more efficient scorers in the Big Sky last year. Another promising sign is that Jamar limited his turnovers and fouls, avoiding the typical freshman mistakes. (9th in the conference in Turnover Rate and 17th in Fouls Committed) Additionally, at 6'5 210 lbs, he was a fairly effective rebounder for his size. As he continues to develop physically, this should only become an even greater strength. If Jamar can receive more touches on the offensive end in the absence of Qvale, he could emerge as arguably the conference's top sophomore and one of the more improved players in the Big Sky.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Breakthrough Prospects (WCC)

In this segment, I outline the emerging prospects for the 2011-2012 West Coast Conference season.

Mitchell Young, Saint Mary's- Young was one of the league's most promising big men a year ago. He was at his best drawing contact in the paint.(11th in WCC in Fouls Drawn) Yet, Young failed to capitalize on this strength most of the time, shooting a mediocre 57.4% free throw % at the free throw line. He must improve on this in order to increase his offensive production. With that said, he should receive the ball more often this season, as he was dependable with the ball in his hands last year. (5th in Turnover %) Further, Young was one of the conference's best rebounders, finishing 7th in the WCC in Offensive Rebounding % and 5th in Defensive Rebounding %. Defensively, Young was one of the top shot blockers in the West Coast Conference, ranking 8th in blocks %. In spite of this strength, Young was still very foul prone, with 5.1 Fouls Committed per 40 minutes of action. All in all, Mitchell Young should be one of the most efficient offensive players in the West Coast Conference next year after he finished 11th in Offensive Rating last season. Look for him to receive All Conference honors and to lead St. Mary's to another NCAA tournament berth.

Perris Blackwell, San Francisco- Blackwell had a solid sophomore campaign for San Francisco. He was fairly dominant on the glass, ranking 1st in the conference in Offensive Rebounding % and 11th in the conference in Defensive Rebounding %. And, he was able to effectively draw fouls and get to the line. (4th in Fouls Drawn in the conference) Blackwell will have to improve his shooting efficiency and cut back on his turnovers this season if he hopes to earn All-Conference honors. Additionally, Blackwell was fairly foul prone last year and must play better positional defense in order to stay on the floor. Look for him to receive even more touches this season, and to improve upon his production a year ago.

Marquise Carter, Gonzaga- A season ago, Carter was one of Gonzaga's most efficient options offensively, posting the 6th highest Offensive Rating in the conference according to Further, he posted a 61% True Shooting %, while connecting on 39% of his 3 point attempts. Despite his fairly ordinary per game numbers, Carter's production down the stretch was critical in Gonzaga's season turnaround. When Carter began to receive more minutes towards the end of the season, the Zags consequently closed out the regular season by winning 11 of their final 12 games. Not only was he efficient scoring the basketball, but he also proved to be an effective passer. By year's end, he ranked 17th in the conference in Assist Rate. Aside from his notable contributions on the offensive end, Carter proved to be one of the tougher defensive players on the Bulldogs' squad in 2010-2011. He had quick hands and was laterally quick enough to stay in front of most players in the league. Carter ranked 7th in the WCC in steals % last season. Expect Marquise Carter to receive starters' minutes next year due to Demetri Goodson's decision to focus solely on football. And, with more playing time, look for him to prosper and become one of the most valuable players in the WCC in 2011-2012.

Brock Zylstra, BYU- Zylstra's story is a rather unique one. He was recruited for the 2006/2007 season, but opted to redshirt. Then, he went on a mission, returning to play for BYU in 2009. Since then, he has been limited to a reserve role, where he averaged just over 1 ppg a season ago. Despite this, Zylstra improved considerably in the offseason and proved to be one of BYU's top weapons in their overseas tour. He led BYU for spurts against the Greek National Team and dropped 26 points against the Italian National Team, both in losing efforts. Over the course of BYU's 4-game trip overseas, Zylstra led his club by averaging 17.3 ppg and 6.0 rpg. Look for him to receive a lot more playing time this year and to emerge as one of BYU's best and most versatile weapons.