Bucks 2015/16 Pre-Trade Deadline Review

We’re almost to the all-star break and have the trade deadline looming in the 2015-16 NBA season, so when your team has the third worst record in the conference it’s about time to look to the future. Since the Bucks are a good candidate for a bigger move before the trade deadline (and really no team is the same year to year), we won’t make any assumptions about the specifics of the future roster and will try and do this in terms of what should possibly be done now vs after the season and beyond. After the trade deadline passes, we’ll do a recap and make adjustments based on any moves that go down.

Current Roster & Salary Outlook

All numbers from Basketball-Reference.com

So there’s already $60.8m on the books for 16-17, with three bench spots potentially opening up via free agency (one of those spots being Vasquez, a player I like that came in a bad trade. Painful reminder of how that trade looked foolish at the time and is idiotic today).

We’re still expecting an $89m cap in 2016, which puts the Bucks in the same spot as much of the league. They can sign a max player if they wanted, but will have to compete with more than money. Regardless, money won’t be an issue immediately.

Contract Decisions

There’s a few players the Bucks will have to start make decisions about next year, both before the season and during, if not sooner. You can gather from the spreadsheet above, but here’s the breakdown.

OJ Mayo 

He was hoping for a big year to get a nice contract next season, but even with a 3 year high in minutes, he’s struggled to score and missed a lot of time by starting the season with an injury. Especially when he was injured, I loved Mayo as a glue guy (if you know Mayo’s history, you’re laughing right now). He was great early on, helping point things out to the young players, cheering from the bench, all the stuff you’d love one of your oldest and most experienced players (at a ripe old 27) to do.

I don’t know if it’s the poor team performance or his individual performance, but that seems to be turning. Lately there’s been a lot more arguing with refs, with coaches, being silent on the bench. It looks like the old Juice is back.

I’m still optimistic he’s just in a funk and can turn it back around. He’s still one of the few guys out there every night during shootaround working on his shot. He’s still a good defender and can definitely contribute on offense. I’d like to see him get what may be the biggest contract of his career next season, but on another team. If Mayo were having the season he hoped for, a 4 year deal at $40-45m would be in play for him. Maybe more given the direction of the cap. Unfortunately for him, he’s playing closer to the level of a midlevel guy.

Bottom line, I don’t see him coming back. It appears during MCW’s benching that the team decided Mayo doesn’t have a future as a starting PG. Even at a reduced salary from this year, there is enough money committed to 2017-18 already that you don’t want to add too much to the books while Giannis and Parker are going to be getting deals in the near future.

The other Expiring contracts

Bayless, Plumlee, Copeland and Vasquez. I could see the first three coming back as bargain contracts to fill out the bench.

Bayless has missed time because of injuries, but is a bit of a spark plug when he gets in. A lot of the bench lineups lack offense (and many of them are just plain lost), so he’s occassionally a good option to have. He also shares an agent with Jason Kidd.

Copeland and Plumlee almost never play and neither has much upside. They seem like good dudes and are by no means wasted roster spots. Copeland has a little history with Kidd from a year playing on the Knicks together, which I suspect is how he ended up in Milwaukee. In either case, they could be back or move on, and should take whatever option gives them the most money and/or potential playing time.

Vasquez is the one that hurts a lot. The trade has been recounted and analyzed many times. Bucks got Vasquez, gave up a 2015 2nd round pick (Raptors took Norman Powell, who is a typical 2nd round pick at this point) and a 2017 1st round pick. Lots of caveats, as there typically is with trading 1st rounders… It’s the Clippers’ pick and came to Milwaukee via the equally shameful trade (for LA) where Delfino and Raduljica went to LA for Dudley and the pick. It’s lottery protected, and you don’t expect LA to be in the lottery anytime soon. That means Toronto should expect a late 1st round pick in 2017.

What makes this so bad is, Vasquez is at best a backup. I’m assuming even though we had Mayo, Bayless and Ennis as options, the team wanted a more reliable guy off the bench to cover for MCW. I’d guess this may have been partially related to the unexpected success the previous year, and there was some degree of pressure not to take a big step back this year (didn’t work). Regardless, Vasquez is hurt and won’t play much, if at all, the rest of the year. I can’t imagine they’ll sign him, which means the Bucks gave up a valuable pick for 361 minutes of backup point guard play.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis is a lot more interesting. He’s still incredibly exciting and likely has superstar potential in him, but I think everyone hoped for a bigger step forward this year. His PER of 16.5 is not impressive, but he’s so young you don’t worry much about that. His defensive rating of 108 is bad, as well as a step back from last year. You’d think the poor team defense is the biggest factor there. His shooting away from the rim is still horrible.

Source: http://vorped.com/sc/c39c28d6464b4786bba2364e049ddac7
Source: http://vorped.com/sc/c39c28d6464b4786bba2364e049ddac7

You’d just hope for more this year. Instead, most indicators say he’s taken a step back. If you put any weight on stats like VORP and WS, he’s much worse and in some cases well below average. Ignore the YouTube highlights, watch games and just focus on him. It’s getting worrisome. You can see it in person and on TV… he just seems eager to make the highlight play. But his offensive skillset is still so limited, there aren’t many options to make that play. If he can’t score, or the possession doesn’t focus on him, he drifts off to the perimeter and loses interest.

source: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/a/antetgi01.html
source: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/a/antetgi01.html

Let me be clear, this does not mean you give up on Giannis. He’s of course barely 21 and this is his second season as a full-time starter. He’s had very different lineups around him each of his years with the team and his role has shifted a bit, but those are not things that should prevent growth.

You have to still assume that with this much raw talent and rare the rare size/skill combo, that Giannis will keep improving. You have to hope this year is a bump in the road. Again, he just turned 21. He’s probably three years away from really entering his peak.

But that’s where questions start to pop up. 2016-17 is the last year of his rookie contract. He’ll be a restricted free agent after next year, which helps, but there will definitely be teams legitimately trying to sign him (as well as probably a team or two trying to screw the Bucks into matching a silly contract). That means the Bucks could be hit with a sizable contract, something they may regret if this year is a darker omen of the future.

But what else can they do? A trade before he becomes an RFA has massive potential to be a disaster. It’s almost unheard of for good reason. Nobody would support that. You basically have no choice but to let 2016-17 play out, see how he’s progressing, and re-sign him regardless. There’s no way they let him walk, and even if next year is horrendous, there still would be sign/trade options as a worst-case, just based on his youth and potential.

That all seems like an overreaction, but I am a tad worried. Giannis came into the NBA so raw, that there was no rational way you could expect him to actually play like KD at the same age (even though the comps were certainly flying around). You’d have to think he’ll hit his prime later than typical players, simply because of the development needs. But when you don’t see the progress and you don’t see his game improving, it is concerning. The big fear is that Giannis ends up as a swingman version of DeAndre Jordan. An player that is able to overcome a lack of skill development with athleticism (which translates to being an overpaid player that you have to sit in crunch time).

That is not what the Bucks want. Ideally Giannis is the 2nd best player on the team at his peak, maybe the best. If he developed his offensive game, he has no ceiling. If he coasts on his athletic ability, it will be a dead end for the long term growth of the team. What could be a contending core of Parker/Giannis/Middleton a few seasons from now would likely end up being just another team stuck fighting for an 8th seed. They’d almost certainly have max money committed to each of those three players, and limited depth as a result. Middleton is not going to be the 2nd best player on a title contender, but projects to be a great third option. If Giannis isn’t a top 10 (or better) player, there’s no way this current core is a contender. That’s the quandary.

Players That Could Get Traded

Fire up the rumor mill! Even though one of the Bucks’ owners said they weren’t going to panic, there still is likely going to be some moves made during this season and leading up to next. I won’t speculate on specific moves, but instead, I think these players could be sent away in a potential trade.

John Henson

Henson’s extension kicks in next year, where his salary will be $9.5m and increase an extra $1m each of the following three years (through 2019-20). If he were paid that salary this year, it would be an atrocity. Next year with the increased cap, it’s a lot more tolerable but still a substantial amount of money for a player that will struggle to hit 20 minutes a game as long as Monroe is on the team.

Henson is a great bundle of energy that hasn’t been consistently contained to date. Last season, it appeared he was putting it all together after Larry Sanders fell apart as a high minute backup to Zaza. He was great in pick and roll and cutting to the rim. His rim protection appeared to be a skill that would turn him into a starter (which he was for a bit). But as the season went on, his inconsistency seemed to grow. This year, it’s more ups and downs. He’s an impressive shot blocker, but hasn’t offered much else and is always in foul trouble.

If Henson could be a reliable starter, he’d actually be an interesting fit for the team. If you move Monroe, he’d balance out the offensive touches a lot and his length, rim protection and athleticism would really help the defense. But I don’t think anyone is ready to believe that is an option.

Trading him this year is a bit interesting. His value is probably still high as teams will see him as a player on the rise under a contract that is easy to swallow with the new TV money. But his salary is low this year, which means if you’re going to trade him for anyone that makes an impact now, you’ll probably have to package him with another vet like Mayo to make the numbers work.

Other Trade Possibilities

OJ Mayo – I talked about his value above, and his nagging hamstring problem isn’t helping things. You don’t see teams putting a lot of value on expiring contracts since the new CBA and you especially won’t see it now since virtually everyone has max cap room next year. Still, he’s likely to be a part of any deal the Bucks make and has value on any team that wants to compete now but needs depth.

Plumlee, Bayless, Copeland – They’re all expendable, even though they’ve been very much needed to fill in depth due to injuries. Any of these guys could probably get more minutes elsewhere, but aren’t really helping anybody. But don’t be surprised if they’re tossed in to help contracts line up.

Major Trade Possibilities (aka “Can this roster work?”)

There’s plenty of “blow it up” and “go for the lottery” talk happening among fans this year. People want to trade everyone, I’ve even seen talk of moving Jabari among fans and at least one media member. But let’s look at this realistically, the current starters are almost certainly staying put. The team, from ownership down, has stayed on message that this is about the future. And when your oldest starter turns 26 in June, there’s no reason to worry about accelerating any timelines.

But even so, you’ve got to look to that future and wonder if there’s any way it could work. The ideal scenarios involve Monroe continuing to dominate the low post. Giannis really lives up to his name, can score 20 a night by killing it in transition and punishing smaller forwards or less agile big men in the post. Parker turns into a stretch 4 that can still make spectacular plays around the rim. Middleton keeps growing as an all-around wing player that can play the two guard or small forward in small ball lineups. MCW being a top notch two way guard that can distribute to everyone, get to the rim and score, and hopefully develop a respectable mid-range game.

There’s several problems with that scenario.

  • Touches. There’s only so many to go around. When your five starters all want to be the leading scorer, it won’t work. Even with the popularity of the “big 3” concept in team building, you usually have one or two ball-dominant scorers in that group and one guy that is a star but comfortable as a third option (Bosh, Jordan, Ibaka, Garnett are all examples from recent big-3 lineups). The Bucks have a team that ideally is a “big 5” concept, which just won’t work. You can’t keep everyone happy. Hopefully one player of the bunch would emerge as a true #1 scorer that you can rely on game to game as well as in crunch time.
  • Spacing/Points in the Paint. Parker, Monroe, and Antetokounmpo all score over 64% of their points in the paint. Add MCW and that group is taking 32 shots/game inside 8 feet. Spacing is an obvious problem for this team today, but can you really see it getting better? Kidd says Parker has a future as a stretch 4, but it would be far easier and even more logical for his body and athleticism to work on a post game first. Giannis and MCW have ugly shots and it’s really hard to imagine either of them adding a lot of range. The starters manage to score a lot of points regardless, but predictably are shut down in crunch time when defenses tighten and the paint is blocked off. I would hate to see what this lineup looked like in the playoffs, where any competent defensive group should be able to almost completely deny the paint.
  • Rim Protection/Defense. I’ll lump these two together, even though they are different issues. The defense as a whole stinks for many reasons. Compared to the unit that dominated last year, there are three new starters and Middleton is in a new position. Parker is a bad defender, and he’s hampered more by this entire season essentially being his comeback from a torn ACL. Monroe is a worse defender. MCW and Giannis both have the ability to be good, but you can’t rely on them even in one-on-one scenarios consistently, and they both take chances or get lost when switching. All of that is a problem, and it’s hard to imagine finding a solution.

    Parker has the talent to be a better defender though, and the MCW/Giannis duo really just need discipline. That will take time. Monroe is a lost cause at this point. He can improve, and the coaches should be expecting that out of him, but his deficiencies are so great that there’s no way I see him ever getting to an above-average level.

    Then there’s rim protection, which is a growing concern. Based on the league numbers for anyone playing over 30 minutes/game, Giannis is the best rim protector on the team, and he’s still bad at it. Henson is of course, one of the best in the league, but we already covered the issues with his lack of playing time and the things preventing him from getting more. One thing you see watching the Bucks on defense is all of the big guys cheat back to the paint, likely because they get burned so frequently on easy baskets and there’s no one guy in there to deter shots at the rim. But when they’re doing that along with trying to trap ball handlers and switch everyone on pick and roll, they end up with wide open 3’s all over the place.

    The Bucks are giving up 9.3 made 3’s a game, 3rd worst in the league. That’s coming on 25.5 attempts (36.5% is 7th worst). But what’s shocking is an average of 11 3-point attempts a game (43% of the total attempts) are wide open (no defender within 6 feet).

    It’s a mess all over, but one would think that with Henson as a starter to guard the paint and some more effort and polish from the other guys, we’d see far different results. Instead everyone is trying to guard the paint AND the perimeter at the same time, and thus, nobody is protecting anything.

Those are all pretty fundamental issues that don’t have easy solutions given the current roster. And I don’t think you can have a realistic contender by only addressing a handful of them.

For example, you could move Monroe for maybe draft picks or more young talent, then start Henson at center. That evens out the touches and should help the defense all around. There’s still no shooting and even less crunch time scoring (Monroe does make for the most reliable scoring option late in games).

And even so, you may have something with the kid Vaughn as yet another scoring option, but there’s nowhere for him to get minutes. Ideally, you’d want the flexibility to put Middleton at the wing in spots and have Vaughn at shooting guard. But that means benching one of your supposed foundational players to open that spot. That works in spots, and maybe it would be just what the team needs for stretches, but it mostly speaks to the idea that you need to bench at least one starter in order to attempt to fix spacing.

MCW is going to keep coming up as a way to fix things long-term, and you’re not necessarily wrong for thinking that. Mostly, people want to replace him with a guard that can shoot. But two shooters does not fix spacing or the touches issue. And unless you’re finding a way to get an elite point guard without giving up a starter, any guard with a better shot is going to be giving up something else or maybe several somethings.

The reality is that a lot of things need to go right for this team to work. Giannis, Parker and MCW all need to show dramatic improvements in their shooting if they ever hope to be on the floor together as part of a contender. They need to improve enough that when you start bringing in subs, you can leave one or two of them out there and not have performance fall off a cliff. Right now that’s the case, as the entire bench is a negative, but on good teams would be helped out by keeping one of the stars on the floor with them. Moose is probably not part of the team when and if that time comes and that means Henson (or someone else) needs to step in as a reliable presence on defense.

If all of those things don’t go perfectly, it would mean that building a contender requires moving several pieces., including Parker and/or Giannis, along with looking at options in the middle and at point guard. A lot of fans don’t want to hear that.

But in the end, that’s all part of having a young team. The Bucks can listen to any offer for any player right now, but I’d imagine Monroe or Henson are the only core players they’d serious consider moving. The rest can work itself out through player development and additional draft picks and smaller trades throughout the next few years.

We’ll check back in after the trade deadline and see what, if anything, changed. If the team looks different at that point, we’ll re-evaluate the outlook.

Bucks Coaches: Kidd Vs. Prunty by the Numbers

Jason Kidd returned to the Bucks bench tonight, putting to rest (for now) negligent speculation by dicks like Woj rumors that the hip surgery was a convenient way to get out of job that seemed to be going south. Prunty did an admirable job by at least not allowing a poor-performing team to get noticeably worse, and there were even a few sparks along the way that offered hope the Bucks were improving. But now that his interim tenure is done, let’s take a look at how the team performed with each coach so far this year.

All stats from nba.com

First, the basic overview:

So what changed here? Not a lot. The record is better, and the Prunty wins have come against the following teams:

  • 76ers
  • @Pacers
  • @Wolves
  • Mavs
  • Bulls
  • Hawks
  • @Hornets
  • @Heat

It’s a mixed bag of opponents, but wins are wins. Especially the four games on the road, since their most “impressive” road win prior was an early game against the Knicks.

They’ve managed to make a real impact on the offense as well, while keeping the defense at a consistent but still terrible level.

The major caveat to the general numbers, and all of the numbers really, is to remember the team is super young and started the year off unhealthy. Parker slowly increased his minutes and is still working on getting his game in order. Mayo missed a lot of time to start the year. There was an MCW injury and benching under Kidd as well. Prunty has had some injuries as well, but nothing major and his available roster has been a lot more steady.

Let’s look a little deeper at what’s changed. Here’s kind of a summary of advanced stats that begin to tell more of a story.

I start with assist/TO ratio because it’s an interesting number. It’s barely changed, but the Bucks were ranked 10th in the league under Kidd and fell to 20th under Prunty. While a lot of teams settled in and improved their ball movement and care over the first few months, the Bucks stayed put.

The Bucks have been strong at generating assists, especially under Kidd where they were 4th in Assist % and Assist Ratio. With Kidd calling the shots, the Bucks live with their poor-shooting athletes cutting to the basket. Since Prunty has taken over, there’s still plenty of that, but it’s been mixed up with more isolation (especially as Middleton has started to find his shot) and a lot more work in the paint.

The offensive rebound and shooting numbers speak to that latter point. Prunty has going heavy on inside work on offense, with Parker, Giannis and Monroe all getting heavy use inside in the post and facing up. Of course, keeping guys inside to grab rebounds often creates more chances for easy shots on the other end, which does not help their struggling defense.

The pace numbers are still really slow compared to everyone else. Part of that is their offensive spacing has been a mess all year, so they have to rely on slow developing plays in order to score. That could be Moose in the post, multiple screens to get Middleton open, or a lot of dribble-drive attempts to get someone to the rim. That hasn’t improved and outside of a trade it won’t this year. Still, all of those numbers are fairly average.

The bigger part of the pace seems connected to the terrible defense. They’re one of the bottom teams in defensive rebounding rate and opponent 2nd chance points. That will limit possessions. They also do slow down opponents a bit with their frantic defense, in the sense that possessions take longer. It just hasn’t been effective enough to limit points

That hasn’t changed, nor would you expect it to as Sean Sweeney is primarily responsible for the defense and has struggled to keep the same scheme as last year with vastly different players.

So what has changed the most? Style of offense, by far.

We’re talking fairly small changes in terms of absolute points here and the Bucks are scoring more as a whole, so most categories should be better. But the big changes are down low, where they are scoring more points and spending more of their time.

What’s the reason for the shift in how they score? Well it goes back to the previous point about health. The primary starting five coming into the year was MCW, Middleton, Giannis, Parker, Monroe. It’s that same group today. But due to injuries, that’s not who played early on.

That lineup played 110 minute for Kidd. They played 268 minutes for Prunty. Kidd had to play a lot of odd lineups, including starting Tyler Ennis at point guard at one point.

Bottom line? The Bucks coaching story is really a non-story. It appears the real story is the delay in getting the ideal players on the floor together for an extended period of time. We’re not seeing great results since it happened, but things are getting better here and there. The offense is better, the record is better. Maybe by the end of the year we’ll see more improvement across the board.

It’s 2016, You Still Don’t Get that Meetings Don’t Work

When a manager or client says “let’s meet more” all that happens is we accomplish less. People universally complain about bureaucracy in the workplace, but meetings are really just that. It’s administrative procedure, made excessive by doing it frequently, that allows disconnected people in charge to ultimately keep leading without having to understand the real basis of decisions. They are a complete waste of time in 90% of instances. Continue reading “It’s 2016, You Still Don’t Get that Meetings Don’t Work”

SEO for Site Migrations – Listen Up Developers!

In the past several years, I’ve been thrust into the middle of many incredible messes as a result of websites moving from one platform to another. Most of these were purely the result of developers not knowing/caring about preserving traffic, but a couple involved lazy or overconfident SEOs. In either case, here’s generally what happened after these sites went live: Continue reading “SEO for Site Migrations – Listen Up Developers!”

Trunk Club & The Case for Convenience Over Price

Full disclosure: This post is not sponsored/promoted by Trunk Club in any way. However, links to their site do contain a referral code. If you click on these links and sign up, you will be referred to my stylist and I will receive a $50 credit when you spend $50 or more. If you’re interested in signing up but do not want to participate in that referral program, I still recommend you work with my stylist. You can just that by visiting this link.


 

There are a lot of reviews out there for Trunk Club, along with virtually every clothing subscription service out there. Believe me, I read a lot of them before deciding to sign up. The big trouble I’ve had, which I’m attempting to improve upon here, is two things. One, every review I found involved the reviewer not continuing with the service or even keeping one item. Not out of dissatisfaction necessarily, but because they just wanted to write a review. Two, many are written by fashion bloggers. In my case, I needed help with fashion and happen to be a blogger, but this lengthy post was something I decided to do after signing up, not as the impetus to signing up. Continue reading “Trunk Club & The Case for Convenience Over Price”

Miracle in Motown – Packers Fans: R-E-L-A-X

Yep, I just pulled out the most overused quote in the last 10 years of Packer fandom. Packers fans in Wisconsin and abroad are still overjoyed by the very improbable comeback victory over the Lions last night in Detroit. A game that saw the Packers down 20-0 at one point in the 3rd quarter and looking just as lost on offense as they’ve been for virtually every game this year 1. Traditional rankings have them 28th in total offense (great at running, really really really bad passing) and 9th in total defense (mediocre vs the run, really good vs the pass). Of course, the traditional stats leave out a ton. Their pass defense is likely fairly good, but not great and certainly not top 5 or top 3 as some stats have them. Opponents don’t have to score a lot, because the Vikings offense doesn’t score a lot (21 points/gm, 26th in the league). There’s no garbage time passing in blowouts vs the Vikings either, their average scoring margin is +3.4. And since they run a lot, the Vikings have are top 10 in time of possession, so opponents aren’t getting a ton of changes to move the ball. They have a good third down defense, but that’s hidden by the fact that they don’t get in a ton of third down situations (the Vikings are middle of the league, allowing 0.314 first downs per play – all of these rankings are per teamrankings.com, btw). So all that said, the Vikings have definitely been inflated in stature by who they’ve played and how they play. They’re a good team, but I’d guess they have the ability and performance level of a team with a couple more losses than they actually have.

But all that said, it’s still hard for a rational observer to get excited about the Packers. Their offense still rates poorly in every category but points (they are getting a decent rate of points/game and points/play despite being bad in every other category, so essentially they have fair success at big plays). Yes, the defenses they’ve played have been tough,. Denver and Carolina, both who made the Packers offense look pathetic, are two of the best defenses in the league (if not one and two respectively). But the Broncos do not have one of the best defenses in NFL history, and they made the Packers offense look like one of the worst ever. Beyond that, they struggled to put up points in a loss to the Bears, a win against the 49ers and essentially 6.5 out of 8 quarters agains the Lions. Those are not defenses that strike fear into your heart.

The Packers’ defense is in a similar spot to the Vikings. They’re pretty good, not great. They’ve been put in a lot of bad spots by failed drives on the offensive side. They’ve been matched up against some of the better offenses in terms of either scoring, yards or both and done better than expected in many cases (the only real exception being the Broncos game). They aren’t an elite defense, but there are enough stats that put them in the top 10 (and just barely) to simply agree they are definitely above average.

So why have I spent the last 1400 or so words rambling and throwing out numbers about the Packers and their opponents, seemingly drawing no conclusion? It’s about perspective. Last night, the Packers beat a really bad team. In doing so, they’ve done what they’ve largely done all year and beat a team they were favored to beat (the Packers are 8-4 overall and 7-5 vs the spread). They’re still a fairly inconsistant team having lost 3 games they were favored (the 4th loss being that pick’em at MIN, which means GB would have been the favorite on a neutral field). Two of those losses had the Packers favored by eight or more points (at home vs DET and CHI). Prior to last night, they had only two wins where they were favored by less than five points (vs SEA and @ MIN). Their offense shows no trending signs it will be okay, and with what was supposed to be a top running back in Lacy being repeatedly benched for performance and offensive linemen going down for at least periods of multiple games lately, it may get worse. The defense is clearly not good enough to win games on their own.

So sure, the Packers may win the NFC North. Winning in the playoffs against the superior Panthers and Cardinals will not be in their favor, but the division and a single home playoff game is realistic. They have an easier remaining schedule compared to MIN and currently have the tie-breaker (which would obviously be decided in week 17 if a tie were in play). But if they win the division, it will be because they continue to be the same team they’ve been all year. They’ll win because they’re a team that can do enough against inferior teams to win (most of the time). And they’ll win because maybe Minnesota is a little more worse-than-the-record-indicates than the Packers and have a slightly tougher road ahead. The Packers are basically in a favorable spot to win the division without any change in quality of play.

So essentially, last night was not a turning point. It was simply a game where it took incredibly extreme and unlikely circumstances for the Packers to beat a mediocre team that they were favored to beat from the start. Relax, Packers fans. Relax.

  1. side note, Football Outsiders had the Packers ranked 9th in their adjusted offensive DVOA coming into this game. I respect those guys a lot and cherry pick their stats plenty, but I’m missing something here. Their non-adjusted rank is 20. DVOA adjusts for playing from behind in the 4th quarter, where GB has done garbage time damage lately, but it appears mostly that their schedule is far tougher than I’m giving credit.). But then, boom, 14 unanswered points. Hold the Lions to a field goal. Score again on a 3rd down Rodgers run where it looked like we’d have to settle for a 35+ yard field goal.

    And then, the real miracle. After stopping the Lion’s attempt to run out the clock, Rodgers takes over on his own 21 with only 23 seconds left.

    Two incompletions later, they’re still at the same spot but facing 3rd down and 79 yards to go in 6 seconds. Game over, time for Packers fans to start looking forward to baseball season. Here comes the predictable chaos of cross-field laterals in a desperate attempt to make magic happen. According to some random win probability calculator I found, the Packers had a 3% chance of winning in this scenario. Pro-Football-Reference.com says there’s a 10.46% chance of a win here, but has zero plays in its archive where this scenario resulted in a win. Let’s just say the odds are against Green Bay here.

    So like most fans, I’m half watching this little back and forth. The ball goes back to Rodgers (Aaron) and at this point I’m only interested in seeing if the franchise quarterback is going to get hurt on this pointless play.

    And, I guess because it’s the Lions. Because they are one of the most poorly run franchises in league history that has only won one single playoff game over a 75+ year span and forced one of the greatest players in NFL history to retire early out of disdain. Because their coach may have died in 2011. Because their coach is from Wisconsin and may secretly be a Packers fan. Because Detroit keeps getting crapped on or crapping on themselves as a city.

    Or much more likely, because the Lions are a bad team that makes more mistakes than most and the NFL always favors calls that “protect” quarterbacks, there was a flag on the field after the play and time had run out. And of course, it was against the Lions.

    Let’s be clear on this one, it shouldn’t have been a facemask call [2. In previous iterations of the rule, this may have been the often annoying 5 yard incidental facemask penalty, which would’ve allowed a hail mary attempt, but from 10 yards further out (71 yards) and essentially zero chance of the throw even reaching the end zone). You can clearly see in replays that Taylor’s thumb grazed the facemask, maybe latching onto it for a fraction of a second. And the bulk of the grab/pull motion was on Rodgers’ shoulder pads. But Rodgers did some acting when a hand came near his face and the ref saw the head turn. When it’s heat of the moment and the game is potentially going to be decided whether on what the ref does, it makes sense that they go with the seemingly obvious visual and the idea they are protecting player safety. Sure, with zoomed-in slow motion HD replay, we see it’s not a facemask. But from 20 yards away in real time? It sure looked like one. Sorry Lions fans, your player made a really dumb move, his hands should have been nowhere near the helmet.

    Anyway, 15 yard penalty and essentially a free play with no time left from 61 yards away, we all know what happened. Packers win, miracle victory, amazing comeback.

    And suddenly the narrative is that the Packers are back or at least have hope. Why not? They’re 8-4, lead the wildcard in a conference full of mediocre teams, have one more game against the division-leading Vikings which could at least put them in a tiebreaker situation for the North lead. And they have Aaron Rodgers! There’s plenty of reason to think will make the playoffs. There’s a reasonable amount of hope they can win the division, with winnable games against Dallas and Oakland coming up (before playing Arizona and Minnesota). The Vikings might have a slightly harder remaining schedule, also playing the Cardinals but with games against more competitive teams verse Chicago and the NY Giants.

    Minnesota has a bit more at stake too, despite being in the division lead by a game (half game at this point, but 1 game going into Thursday night). Let’s say the Packers go 2-1 in their next 3 games. If Minnesota also goes 2-1, they would have a single game lead over the Packers going into their week 17 matchup at Lambeau Field. Because the Packers beat Minnesota a couple weeks ago, the winner of that game would win the division. Obviously that’s a lot of pressure on both sides, but the Packers would be almost certainly be favored in that game (in their last meeting, the line was a PK w/ Minnesota being at home).

    You could make a good case that Minnesota is also one of the more fraudulent good teams. They have the weakest schedule in the division and one of the weakest ones in the conference. They’ve only beaten two teams that currently have above .500 records (the Raiders & Falcons, who are both 6-5) and have lost to the only other above .500 teams they’ve played (Packers & Broncos). Their offense and defense both near rank middle of the pack per Football Outsiders [3. See, cherry picking

Club W: Oversimplified Recommendation Engines

The secret to advertising a product is to make lives better or easier. Or do the same thing cheaper. So when it comes to selling wine, Club W takes the approach of making it easier to pick out a wine you like. Their concept is pretty simple. They ask you a handful of questions about your food preferences, and match your answers up to types of wine. Of course, there is a timer counting down until your new customer discount expires, just for some extra urgency.

2015-08-19_07-45-39

I gave it a shot, as I know enough about wine to know which varietals I like and can generally pick out a good bottle in the store. But there’s far more I don’t know, and would love to explore new regions, grapes, etc.

Here’s some of their suggestions:

2015-08-19_07-46-41

By way of comparison, here’s what Wine.com recommends for me – based on my shopping habits:

2015-08-19_07-55-28

2015-08-19_07-56-24

If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay. Essentially Club W suggested I get fruit punch and Wine.com suggested bourbon. Wine.com of course has it more accurate, as their suggestions are simply based on products that other customers viewed after viewing the same products I did. I really like big reds, so they suggested more of the same. I do not like sweet wines, fruity whites or light red blends. But apparently because I enjoy oranges and don’t eat mushrooms (it’s mostly texture), I must like bright and sweet wines.

Sorry Club W, you’ve got it wrong. Maybe the bulk of people will find this system to work to their benefit. But I’d guess not, as I’m already seeing this trend of curating products based on lifestyle or semi-related surveys dying off.

I’d love a compromise and maybe give people questions about basic types of wine to narrow down favorites. Most people know the major characteristics if you give quick definitions (e.g. acidity makes the side of your tongue tingle). Everyone knows red vs white and has a general idea of sweet vs dry. Maybe such a recommendation engine exists. I suspect it involves going back to my local wine shop and talking to the employees.

Poor Indexation in Bing – Oh No!

Note– this is a fairly novice topic that’s covered in at least part elsewhere… but I figured it may be helpful so here you go.

I don’t care about SEO for this site. I have installed plenty of SEO plugins, no doubt. But mostly to test things for other sites… and some of them make it easy to edit things like .htaccess without having to ssh in. But once in a while, I do look at numbers. This time, I was using one of those shady domain valuation tools. I wanted to show a client how useless those tools are, so I put this site in as an example. Because I’ve had this domain for almost 15 years, the tool said it’s worth over $10k. Ha! I doubt anyone on GoDaddy auction is going to offer me 1/100th of that. There seems to be only one other Jay Ratkowski out there that the internet is aware of. He doesn’t seem to have much of an online identity, and probably wants nothing to do with his own dotcom.

Anyway, in some of the stats rattled off by that tool, it said I had like 3 results indexed in Bing and -1 in Yahoo!. How do you have a negative number of pages indexed? Well, I guess that speaks to the quality of such tools.

In reality, I have 22 pages in Yahoo! and 21 in Bing. Still, not what it should be. Google has almost 700 pages indexed, which is pretty good considering how many times I’ve redone my URL structure and taken entire sections of content offline. I only have about 550 pages in my sitemaps, and the remaining pages are probably either random orphans or results of pagination, tags, etc. Regardless, I think about 400 pages is a fair mark for unique information that should be indexed. Anything extra is a bonus.

Here’s the pathetic indexation in image form:

site_jayratkowski_com_-_Google_Search

site_jayratkowski_com_-_Bing

 

So why only 22 pages in Bing?

Well, you have to check the obvious stuff first. My robots.txt is not blocking bingbot. It’s not setting any funky crawl delay either. Crawl delays are largely used, in my opinion, by developers with really outdated logic who think that a search engine crawling more than one page every other second is going to take their servers down. If googlebot or any other reputable search engine spider hurts site performance in a meaningful way, you’ve got serious problems. Crawl delays are not the solution.

Anyway, I’m on Apache, so I checked .htaccess as well. Not blocking Bing there either.

I double-checked a few other common stumbling points:

  • Meta Robots: I leave it off, which means index, follow.
  • Errors & redirects: I don’t have them. Very very few at least.
  • Canonicals: In almost all instances, urls redirect/rewrite to the canonical version. So Bing shouldn’t be seeing much duplication.
  • Log files: Bing doesn’t visit my site much, at all.

Next, I wanted to see what else I could do to get Bing to pay a little more attention.

Especially since server logs indicate that most days Bing gets to my Robots.txt file and gives up.

So I made two changes as a test.

  • Added my sitemap location (if you don’t know, the format is Sitemap: http://www.yourdomain/yoursitemap.xml) & waited a week.
  • Added the line:
    User-agent: *
    Allow: /

Again waited a week.

The first change yielded no results. And that’s logical as Bing already knows my sitemap exists, but I was still curious if they’d view it more often once it was in the robots.txt. Ditto to the next change. And for reference I gave bots access to everything first in robots.txt and after that gave directives to stay out of specific areas.

Next I went to look at my stats in Bing Webmaster Tools.

I thought I may have never submitted my sitemap there. I at least hadn’t via my current Bing account… but looks like I must have at some point because after verifying, it was in there. Anyway, that’s kind of a good sign, as Bing seems generally clueless about sites unless you go through the trouble of letting them know.

But if my sitemap was already submitted, why so poorly indexed? The confusion grows when you look at the dashboard:

Dashboard_-_Bing_Webmaster_Tools

Bing is saying they’ve index 374 pages. So why is bing.com only returning 22 of them? (sidenote at this point, if you search my site in Bing/Yahoo and go to page 2, the results expand and you actually get 40 pages. Still.)

There’s no commonality among the pages that actually appear in results. Some have backlinks, some don’t. Some are blog posts, some are category/tag archives. Some are new, some are old.

Where it gets interesting is when you modify the query with some keywords…

site_jayratkowski_com_packers_-_Bing

site_jayratkowski_com_guitar_-_Bing

Oh.

See, the lesson here is that while in Google doing a site: search returns nearly all pages indexed (often within 5%), Bing is just full of shit. They’re seemingly returning the most relevant pages, or something similar to that. Why someone using advanced search operators would want a limited result set, I have no clue. But Bing seems to think it’s a good idea. Whether intentionally or it’s just built into their model and they didn’t even think about it, it’s dumb.

Remember: don’t freak out over what Bing search tells you for indexation. Always go to their Webmaster Tools reports.

Again, Bing is just full of shit.

Regardless, if you have legitimately low indexation in Bing, I think I just outlined all the common-sense stuff to check on. Make sure you do that. Then go back to caring about Google entirely.

I’m Fed Up With Your Shitty Content

The other day, the folks at one of the most followed SEO companies out there, Moz, posted their weekly video lesson/blog. The topic, “Why Good Unique Content Needs to Die“. The premise is that most people write or make stuff on their site that is just good enough to blend in with what everyone else is doing for their same topic/vertical. For years now, we’ve been told that our websites need to have crap like this. Moz claimed we all need to raise the bar and meet or exceed the quality of the best piece of content for whatever search query where we’re trying to optimize.

I’ve been beyond frustrated with content marketing bullshit for years prior to this post, but I think this was the last straw. Not because anything egregious took place in this video, but because this video perpetuates the very thing it claims to denounce. Every week, and this is no exception, Whiteboard Friday is just good enough to be passable. It offers ideas and opinions (although rarely firmly puts a foot down in support of one opinion, to be blandly fair to all) that are interesting to junior marketers or people outside of marketing who have the power to order marketing people around. If you do your job at all well, with any degree of experience, these videos are useless.

And not to immediately detract my point, but that’s fine. There needs to be beginner level information. It’s how most of us learn in a world with mediocre education programs and zero on-the-job training. But the fact remains, it’s not great quality stuff. Nobody will hail the words of Rand Fishkin, for all he’s done as an ambassador to SEO, as a revolutionary. Heck, if you took an outsider from the industry and presented them with my thoughts (speaking as essentially a nobody) alongside his, most people wouldn’t know who the lauded thought leader was amongst us.

And that’s exactly the problem.

Modern marketing has built an empire of churning empty bullshit in the guise of offering help, in order to push agendas and sell more product. Pieces like the video in question have replaced the old “…from the Editor” pieces in magazines in the worst way. The goal is not true to the tradition of expressing bias but important views, or offering valid commentary on the industry. No, it’s all about shoving more fucking product down our throats.

All of these goons have more to gain from our pageviews than we have to gain from their advice. Always. If you hear Rand’s words and fear that your precious content isn’t good enough, of course the logical next step is to get a Moz subscription and use their analysis tools to judge how you stack up to the competitors. Your business may not make an extra dime, but at least nobody can knock your domain authority score.

The harsh truth everyone ignore remains, virtually nobody has built a successful business on content outside of the media. Your business definitely should not represent itself poorly with some garbage articles written by an Indonesian kid with a 3rd grade comprehension of English, but if you used a time machine to get Allen Ginsberg to write your product descriptions or how-to articles, you aren’t going to find yourself much better off in the end.

Marketing is simple. Have a good product that somehow makes lives better. That could be a softer toilet paper, a cheaper cell phone plan or a vodka distilled more times. It doesn’t really matter. Then find a clever way to get that product in front of the people most likely to benefit. Simple, right? It’s at least a hell of a lot easier than hiring a bunch of bloggers and praying for miracles.

Why Buy Now Via Google is Bad for Your Brand

By now, everyone knows that Google is going to integrate a “buy now” option in search results. And by now, everyone in marketing has issued a hot take. Most of those hot takes revolve around how it’s either great or foolish for Google. Nobody seems to talk about the stores behind this system. I wrote a while ago, that this was the logical next step for the search empire. They had to focus on keeping people coming to Google and staying there longer. The only way to do that, is to integrate more and more services.

But the problem is, this will likely hurt a lot of retailers. The reason is simple, and I’m not even going to do my usual 3,000 rambling to explain it. If people are buying through Google, that’s the same to them as buying from Google. They’re no longer visiting your site. They definitely don’t care about your store, as long as you ship the right product quickly. That means they won’t browse your cross-sells, they won’t see how your seasonal inventory changes, they won’t sign up for your newsletter. You don’t exist anymore. Only Google.

While Amazon merchants face a similar challenge, most people treat Amazon as just one channel. It’s a portion of their sales. In the case of Google, so many sites will get 60-80% of their customers through search (paid & organic). And even with our still archaic attribution modeling options, it’s easy to imagine that remaining 20-40% that’s built of direct, email, social, etc would be drastically reduced if search didn’t serve as the initial touch point.

So Google is making this move as part of their quest for domination, but also out of fear. Sure, they want you to use your Google phone/tablet to connect to Google Fiber, logged in with your GMail account, searching and buying exclusively through Google.com. By the way, all the while using a Chromecast to watch some Google Play movies on your big screen. But they also are afraid. They’re afraid that if people really enjoy your website, they might go directly there next time and bypass Google completely. And maybe that adds up over time and global search volume drops a few points, along with Google’s stock price. That’s bad for them. The problem is, Google is so big and powerful, they can actively prevent that. Not by being better or more engaging than you, but just by changing the rules of how we use the internet.

Good luck standing out in that world.