Tuesday, February 14, 2012

LIFE : My Valentines

There's no lady in my life right now, but I am lucky enough to have more than a few ladies to wish a very happy Valentines Day to.

So whether you're a teenager, a young lady, a (ahem) more mature lady or. one of my elders, have yourself the very best of special days with your special one.

Friday, February 03, 2012

SPORTS: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Amongst the many nicknames I've had foisted on me, one of them is 'Stats.' I'm not ashamed of that sobriquet, but I have to admit, I do feel Stats are the worst of the degrees of lying. A post over at the Wages of Win Journal seems to get half the story straight. It blames a lot of the current woes of the Toronto Raptors on DeMar Derozan. And I agree with the writers of the piece.

But some of the other factoids in the article don't hold up to the eye test. In fact, the long-running evaluation of Andrea Bargnani as the worst player in the NBA has long rankled. True, last year, I stepped off the Bargnani Bandwagon and stopped hoping for all-stardom. But at his worst, Bargnani was an NBA starter. He wasn't particularly awesome on defence, but was, and is, a better one-on-one defender than Chris Bosh, for example. His problem was help defence, an idea he never seemed to grasp.

Until this year.

And suddenly, when healthy, Bargnani was playing at an all-star level. Sure, the stats gurus still found ways to mark him down, WITHOUT seeing him actually play. Can't remember Chris Sheridan EVER nominating a Raptor game as the Game of the Night to watch. I'd wager that the folks who regularly denigrate Bargnani see him play less than five times a year. And it wouldn't surprise me if they hadn't seen Bargnani in action at all.

With Bargnani, the Raptors have played at almost a .500 level. That's PLAYOFF good in the woeful East. Without him, the club has placed it's life in the hands of Derozan, who's fumbled it with inaccurate shooting, tepid driving and a level of fumble-fingered dribbling that rivals the most cement-handed centres in the league. Outside of one glorious three-point shooting night and the lane-driving tour-de-force in New Jersey and Derozan has been awful all season long. And even in the Jersey game, he kept missing free throws, an annoying trait to any basketball purist.

So, the writers are right on spotlighting the puerile performance we've almost come to expect from Derozan this year. The article got in the usual jabs at Bargnani, who's numbers are above-average, not that you'd know it from the text. And the article highlighted Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis as the only Raptors worthy of an NBA uniform.

Calderon is my favourite Raptor. Has been for years. I normally brook no bitching from basketball no-nothings about the pass-happy Spaniard. And he was pretty good through, oh, about the first three weeks of the season. But somewhere in the first Bargnani absence, he got tired. And has been awfully tired since then. His turnover rate, one of the best amongst NBA guards has risen dramatically. He's also getting some of HIS turnovers charged to others because, well, he's JOSE CALDERON, and he doesn't turn the ball over. His shooting has become something to be worried about. But he's actually doing better under Dwane Casey's defensive scheme than he did under Sam Mitchell and Jay Triano. So he's still a plus, especially when compared to the alternatives ... Jerryd Bayless, Anthony Carter and Gary Forbes. Bayless now stands revealed indisputably as an under-sized two-guard and it's time to stop this PG nonsense when talking about him. Carter is no longer NBA worthy and Forbes is just a Bayless in an earlier stage of trying to fake it at the point. To their credit, Bayless and Forbes try hard and seem like good guys. Not NBA point guards though.

Amir Johnson started the season with a pretty good run for ten games. Since then, he has been awful to horrible. His bread-and-butter pick and roll needs a side-dish of three-point threats, or a single threat (Bargnani) to be effective. No Bargnani and Amir seems to be unable to re-jig successfully. It seems he takes his offence back on 'D' too. As a result, I can't believe that the stats haven't given all of his plus value back from the first ten games AND then some. In the past 36 hours, it's been revealed that Amir is going through some personal issues. I hope, fervently, that they resolve themselves for this giant bear of a guy, one of the nicest basketball players I have ever met. But at his current level of play, Amir Johnson would never even get on the floor for about two-thirds of the NBA.

Which brings me to the real eye test of the stats mavens. Ed Davis. He's been Amir Johnson bad ALL BLEEPIN' YEAR. He's clueless on defence often enough that you wish he could IMPROVE to 'Bargnani of yore' bad. He does block shots off the ball, which have to be disproportionately represented in the stats and he collars enough rebounds given the plentiful opportunities to ALMOST average more than Bargnani. But his shooting range is still only Reggie Evans deep. Everybody who knows me knows I hated the Davis draft pick. I wanted Patrick Patterson and maintain that Patterson, who isn't exactly lighting up Houston's stat sheets, would have been a far better fit for Toronto. Still do.

Next year, the Raptors have to make a decision. Keeping Amir Johnson or Ed Davis. The team needs a three-man rotation and the addition of Jonas Valanciunas means one of Johnson or Davis should be traded for another asset. While they still have some value. And I know WHICH of the two I'd move. At least Amir has shown value IN the past.

The eye test and the stats disagree. Especially this year. One's lying and I know which one it is. So do you, if you've watched many Raptor games this year.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

BOOKS: McGrave by Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg has answered one of my prayers. A new lawman-in-new-territory series.

As a youngster, I enjoyed the aw-shucks routine of Dennis Weaver as Marshall Sam McCloud, a Taos, NM lawman 'stuck' in New York City, seemingly there to bedevil NYC Chief of Detectives Peter B. Clifford and to befuddle every villain who mistook his easy-going demeanor for not being up to the task.  A decade later, I fell in love with Glynis Barber, just like Michael Brandon, who played brash NYC detective James Dempsey, temporarily assigned to London and a partnership with Barber's Harriet Makepeace, in the British-made Dempsey and Makepeace. Almost TWO decades later, the same basic NYC-to-London transfer was tried with Fox's late, very, very lamented Keen Eddie, as played by Mark Valley. Since it went off the air in 2004, the genre has been left awaiting a new shining example.

Enter Tidal Wave McGrave, a TV pilot turned into a novella by Goldberg, author of the Mr. Monk series starring the fictional TV detective and a host of other bemusing mysteries and the several stand-alone action thrillers. McGrave is everything I've been waiting for. The L.A. detective ends up across the pond, bringing American bravado to the streets of Berlin, Germany. And it makes me wish the pilot had gone ahead and become a series. Very much. I've already cast the parts of many of the key players, including Valley in the starring role of the destruction-prone McGrave. 

There's a pretty German detective and her teenage son (think Noa Tishby for the mom and any early teens kid from Disney TV) and a super-smart German baddie, scurrilous enough to kill a dog and smart enough to evoke memories of Alan Rickman in Die Hard. I like Alan Cumming for the part. The last main part is for the detective's boss, The Duke, who is obsessed with John Wayne. Somehow, I keep picturing Wayne Knight as the guy, but I'd search high and wide for anybody who could combine that Duke-fixation with John Banner's deadpan delivery from Hogan's Heroes. He's the real new character, a boss that highly endorses rather than endures, the stranger in town. Or, why not just employ Germany's hottest actors and actresses in roles other than Valley's? Goldberg has a LOT of experience working in the German TV and movie community.

The plot for McGrave involves high-tech robbers and lots of car chases and crashes. All very visual and very entertaining. McGrave is as rough and tumble as the best of the anti-heroes, racking up an impressive list of arrests and and an equally bewildering amount of property damage. In his last case in L.A., he stops a robbery at quite a price, including the death of his beloved dog. Plus, the bad guy I want Cummings to play escapes back to Germany, where he's also mid-way through yet another crime. McGrave heads to Berlin to stop the crook as much for his threat against McGrave's family as for his needing to close the case. He partners up with Maria and the two of them end up saving the day, while engaging in a car chase with a SmartForTwo car that would make Steve McQueen's ghost smile. Along the way he forges a bond with Maria's son Erich, dispensing some much-needed manly advice.

Now, this novella isn't perfect. You don't get much present tense writing these days and I wonder if it would have benefited from changing that. Also, this isn't Mr. Monk we are talking about. Goldberg's on record as enjoying taking off the straitjacket of writing for a PG13-rated audience with this work. And if a bit of foul language will stop you, then read no further. But it's not over the top, so I enjoyed it anyways. There's a fair bit of German sprinkled through the book (my actual first language, but long forgotten) and some admitted liberties taken with the Berlin geography which might, or might not, get in the way of any reader. But all of that is stylistic. The content makes this a first-rate, one-night read. For me it's a five-star implementation of a five-star idea.

Danke, Lee.

NOTE: The review is from an advance reader's copy provided by the author, which was titled Tidal Wave McGrave at the time. I believe that this novella is a Kindle exclusive at this time.