The Eclectic Quill

March 29, 2009

Getting Defensive about Kobe and Lebron

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 6:08 pm

Over the last few weeks I’ve done a couple of entries highlighting in whole or in part, a comparison between these two players, widely accepted as the candidates for best player in the world and/or the top candidates for MVP of the NBA. One of the arguments in favor of Kobe that often goes unchallenged is the notion that he is the superior defensive player. I set about to see if that notion is true. You might find the results surprising.

From the outset let me say, I know most people would say that Kobe is a vastly superior defensive player and will probably look at what I’ve written here and chalk it off to some platitude about "statistics not telling the whole story" or something of the sort, and respond with a comment about how "everybody knows Kobe is better" and then point to his all defensive team awards as the evidence. However, I’d like to point out that those awards are given based on perception, which may or may not be accurate. For instance many of the same people will say that, in the clutch, Kobe is the man you want taking a game winning shot, however the facts show a different story. There are 35 players in the NBA who have taken at least 20 "game winning" shot attempts in the last five year. Of those only Chauncy Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal and Mike Miller have a lower field goal percentage. So perhaps he is the one you’d want taking that shot…if he’s the fifth guy on that team, but then, maybe you’d prefer someone else entirely. In contrast, with six fewer shot attempts (50) James has made three more shots for a total of 17 game winners in the last 5 years, the most of anyone in the NBA. My point here isn’t really to get into a discussion about who’s the better clutch shooter though, it’s to show that simply because something is perceived to be so it isn’t necessarily so. It could actually be the other way around. Such is Kobe and defense.

Measuring defense is a bit tricky. There’s not a lot to go by with conventional ways of measuring stats. Generally there are only two, steals and blocks, which find their way into the box score. Lebron clearly has the edge there with 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game compared to Kobe’s 1.4 steals and .5 blocks. The problem with those though is that at most it’s going to tell you what happened on three or four plays out of the roughly 75 plays a player is going to have on defense in a typical NBA game. So what’s he doing the rest of the time? How can you measure the other 95 percent of the defense? Well there are a couple of different stats divined by some pretty smart basketball people like Hollinger and 82games.com. The only thing is that those numbers don’t read into the things that we typically understand so they get met with a certain degree of chagrin by the typical fan. The numbers aren’t the kinds of numbers we are used to seeing. So I set about to resolve that issue.

What’s the main thing a player is supposed to do on defense? It’s not to get a block or a steal, it’s to stop his guy from scoring, or helping someone else to score. Points and assists are things we’re used to seeing in box scores so I set about to see had given up more points and assists. I went through the box scores of every game of the season for both teams and tracked their opposing counterpart’s numbers. I also kept track of what they averaged during the rest of the season. The reason for this is simple. If Kobe Bryant held Wade to 15 points in a game while Lebron James surrendered 14 to Richard Jefferson then it would hardly be considered a better defensive performance by Lebron because Wade is a far better scorer. To accurately measure their respective performances I wanted to see not only how they did, but how good their opponents were as well. I’ll start off with the raw totals and then give you the comparative totals after that.

So the first look at scoring is pretty telling. Lebron’s opponents have fewer shot attempts, make less shots, shoot for a lower field goal percentage and score fewer points, and at 2.59 points, or roughly 15 percent, I would say significantly fewer points. However as I stipulated before the quality of the opponent matters as well and the question deserves to be asked, are Kobe’s numbers coming against better players? Let’s take a look at their opponents season averages.

Here we see there is some merit to this point, but not enough merit. Kobe’s opponents on average score about half a point more on the season than Lebron’s do. The difference, even if you take that half point into consideration is over two points. Also, if you look at the numbers compared to one another you’ll notice something interesting, Kobe’s opponents actually score nearly two more points playing against Kobe than they do against the rest of the league. Lebron’s opponents on the other hand actually score slightly less, .15 points less to be precise. In both cases, and if you were to do this with any starter in the NBA, it should be acknowledged that the numbers are probably going to skew high. The reason is that there times when a player who is normally sitting on the bench will start for one reason or another and offset his average considerably. Reviewing the respective game logs, while both players had opponents where this occurred neither seemed to have it happen more than the other. Kobe had 15 opponents who normally averaged single digits in scoring while Lebron had 17. I don’t think that’s enough to dramatically alter the outcome. Playing against bench starter rests on the opponents injury situation and as such, is entirely random, and random things tend to even out in the end. In terms of keeping your opponent from scoring we have to conclude that Lebron is a superior defensive player.

There’s another aspect of playing defense though and that’s to stop your defensive assignment from creating players for other players. Therefore, I also tracked how many assists each opponent had and their respective averages as well. Here’s the numbers for that.

Here we see that Kobe gives up more assists but his opponents also average more assists. Again, with Lebron we see that he gives up fewer, even taking into account that his opponents normally average fewer assists per game. However the margin doesn’t seem statistically significant enough to make any major pronouncement. We’ll call this one a wash. Still, considering all these things together it’s hard to say that Kobe is better defensively than Lebron. Lebron gets more steals, more blocks, gives up fewer points and fewer assists, even taking his position into account.

Now that we’ve got that to look at, and it’s understandable that Defensive Rating and the likes are not just stats pulled out of the air, but based on actual play, let’s take another look at their comparisons in some of these formulaic stats.

*Lower numbers are better

In all three of the main formulaic stats we see that Lebron is a superior defensive player. If you want more information on any of them, Defensive Rating and Defensive Win Shares are at Basketball-Reference.com and the Roland Ratings are at 82games.com. Before hyperventilating about people "twisting" numbers though, I’d advise you take the time to actually take a look at what the formula is attempting to do. Previously people have argued against some of the formulaic stats because they don’t "take into account" such and such without realizing that the entire intent of the formulas was to take into account such and such. Fair criticism is fair game but off the cuff criticism is pointless.

As far as my methodology goes, I can see two potential, and somewhat legitimate points of criticism.  1) Obviously every point and/or assists made by the counterpart of the player in question; additionally bench players could also have totals not included and 2) both players from time to time will guard off-position players.

I ended up considering that there’s no reason to believe that there would be an appreciable distinction in the effect on one player over the other. In other words, I’d find it hard to believe that all the production of Kobe’s players were coming against backups while all of the production against Lebron was coming while he was on the floor. Without some sort of logic to conclude that there would be disparity in the offsets then there’s no reason to think it would change the overall results. In other words, while I accept that both players numbers might be affected separately, there’s no reason to expect one player to be affected more than the other by this occurrence.

As far as guarding someone out of position goes, here’s my thinking. If someone is "hot," particularly at your position your going to want the best defensive player guarding them. I mean you aren’t going to have Kobe guarding a small forward while the shooting guard is ripping the Lakers for 20-30 points. To determine if there was any affect here I checked 20+ performances by each players opponent. Kobe has given up over 20 points 28 times to Lebron’s 14. This angle tends to favor Lebron.

On the other hand, if you’re going into it and facing an opponent that scores over 20 per game then I’m thinking the same logic would apply. The player would cover the star. Therefore I checked what they did against opponents with 20+ averages. In those instances Lebron’s opponents averaged an average of 23.34 normally and 19.2 against Lebron. Kobe’s opponents scored an average of 22.72 normally and 18.8 against Kobe. Lebron’s opponents netted a -4.14 on average while Kobe’s netted a -3.92 on average.

So here’s the point of all this. There’s a possible  assumption in  that factoring in all of that miscellaneous stuff is going to figure in Kobe’s favor, but when you account for it as best you can it seems that it actually favors Lebron.
My take is that there’s not enough statistical difference in these things, nor is there enough reason to suggest that it is going to impact one player more than the other.

Anyway here’s the bottom line on all of this.At the very least it’s hard to look at all of this and say that Kobe is a better defensive player. At the very least even Kobe fans must admit there’s ample room for discussion on the topic. You can talk all you want about anecdotal evidence about how Kobe shut down someone, sometime, somewhere, but day in, day out through the course of the season Lebron is playing better defense than Kobe Bryant. If we measure defense as not allowing your opponent to produce on offense then there’s no denying it. If there’s a better way to measure that then let me know, but I can’t conceive of one. Until someone comes up with a better definition though, I’ll stand by my claim—this year Lebron James is a better defensive player than Kobe Bryant.

March 23, 2009

And the 2009 MVP Is….

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 7:01 pm

As the regular season winds down the MVP talk is starting to heat up. Normally there’s a sort of debate over what constitutes “MVP.” Is it the best player in the league? Is it the best player on the best team? Is it given to the guy with the best stats or the guy who helps his teammates be better? Do you give to the guy whose “turn” it is or the guy who deserves it the most? Rarely has it been the case that the same person is probably the most valid answer to all these questions, but this year it is. It’s my conclusion that this year it’s Lebron James and I’d like to explain in detail exactly how I arrived at that conclusion.

Now I want to emphasize that word again, conclusion. I use it purposefully, as opposed to a word like “opinion. People with “opinions” tend to start with an opinion, often based on subjectivity and bias, and then set about assessing how to defend it. That’s now what I’ve done here. I’ve started assessing what the various arguments and reasons are, weighed them against the facts, and from that drawn a conclusion. My conclusion is based on research, objectivity and logic. I have no special love for Lebron and no special hate for Kobe or Wade; I enjoy watching all three players and regard them all as among the best of all time at their positions (key word there is among, MJ is still the best 2 ever). I want to set the field for you and the reasoning behind my conclusion. If you want to point to a flaw in my logic, you’re welcome to. I only ask that you check profanity and hate rhetoric at the door.

My first inclination was to assess the field. Which players were even worthy of being in the conversation? I wanted to assess a larger field, not a smaller one. The field for me does not start with “Kobe or Lebron” and end there. I wanted to detail the top five candidates. I honestly think the field stops there, but I’m willing to consider alternatives if you have them and make a case for them. Here are my top five, in alphabetical order, and why I think they deserve consideration.

  • Kobe Bryant—He’s widely considered to be the leader on the Lakers, one of two teams vying for the best regular season record. The Lakers have gone 2-0 against the Cavaliers, the other team in contention, and are usually affixed at the top of the various power polls out there. He is athletic, creative and has an astounding ability to make shots for himself. Oh yeah, he’s also the one who currently holds the title.
  • Dwight Howard—The most dominant big man in the game right now, he leads the league in rebounding and still is scoring over 20 points a game. He’s kept the Magic in the playoff hunt even after the only other All Star on the team went down.
  • Lebron James—Arguably the best all around player in the game right now, he has the court vision and athleticism of a point guard but on a power forward’s body. He’s big, strong, athletic, and has the competitive fire you see in the best winners in the game’s history. The league leader in efficiency rating.
  • Chris Paul—The best at the point guard position at a time when the position itself is very strong, perhaps as strong as it’s ever been. He really does everything for a highly underappreciated and unpublicized
  • Dwayne Wade—He was spectacular before the All Star break but since the break he defies the very existence of known adjectives! He’s scoring in the mid 30s on average, his FG percentage is well over 50 percent, and his efficiency rating is a “stratospherific” (I had to make up one since one didn’t exist) 38+. If play down the stretch enters into this discussion at ALL then Wade needs to come into it.

So before I went any further I wanted to take a look at some factors and see how these five players stack up against each other on a purely statistical basis. Now on this I want to make a point that will, without a doubt, go utterly ignored by at least one person. There are those who discount “statistics” with some sort of platitude or saying by a Star Trek character. Statistics are not the sum of my argument but they are the foundation of any good argument. There’s a big difference between explaining away stats and explaining stats. Normally people who do the former have “opininions” instead of conclusions. Let’s try and stick with conclusions shall we? But before we draw conclusions we should do some due diligence and gather the facts. I want to take the normal key stats and rank the players accordingly. I then totaled the ranks and ordered them lowest to highest (lowest being best) in terms of totals.

Now before anyone gets too excited understand I’m not saying anything definitive here, I’m just beginning an objective analysis. There are a few things that leap out at you though. First, Wade has the lowest total score, which suggests that he perhaps should get more credit than the distant third most of the conversations give to him. Second, Bryant and James are the only two of the three that are not last among the five in any of the categories, as well as being the only two who lead in none of the five categories. Also intriguing is that Paul and Howard are opposite ends of the spectrum in everything but scoring. Most of this is little more than in the “humph” category of argument though, meaning it’s interesting but not that definitive in terms of anything meaningful. Paul and Howard are really good at what they are really good at and the rest are pretty much good at everything. What I do find relevant is this, in none of the major statistical categories is Bryant first, or even second. Again, we’re just getting started though; we’re just collecting data, so hold off before you start hurling a profanity laced tirade at me about me being a Kobe hater.

The problem with all of this is that it doesn’t offer weight to any of the ranks, it only shows how they stack up against one another in the different areas. It also shows that you can’t use any one measuring stick above the others because it’s not intellectually honest. Otherwise you can get into these arguments “Well Kobe gets more rebounds” and “Well Wade gets more assists than Kobe. So for that we’re going to take a look at the official NBA stat for overall production, “Efficiency”, and see how they stack up against one other in it. Here are the top 10 with our five candidates highlighted in yellow. I’ve highlighted Pau Gasol as well as he is the only other player in the top 10 who is a teammate of any of the five.

There are two things worth noting here. First, the top 5 are among the top 7 in the NBA, which makes for a pretty qualitative argument both for the stat and for these five to be among the five. The other two players listed have a couple of reasons for not being in the consideration. Gasol is out because the Lakers’ would agree, Kobe is the leader of that team. Jefferson is out, in part because he is out for half the season, but even if he weren’t the T’ Wolves have been out for the whole season if you catch my meaning. These are the right five to be in the conversation. It also points out that in terms of efficiency there’s a pretty good sized gap between James and Kobe though. The difference, 6.14 is equal to the distance between Kobe and Chauncey Billups, who is ranked 46th in the NBA. I say this to point out that it’s a very wide gap. Efficiency is not a familiar stat to a lot of people so they might not appreciate what a lead of 6.14 means, and I just want to give you something to compare it to. I’d also like to point out that as far as NBA.com goes back in terms of keeping track of the stat to 2004-05, the only player that has done better is Kevin Garnett in that season. Finally I just want to say that Paul and Howard get the short of this stick as assists and rebounds only count one point each

An alternative to this rating is PER which is a much more complicated formula, which in all honesty, is beyond me. It’s not the kind of formula that lends itself to calculating in your head. Lest you think I’m just not that bright, here it is, have at it:

Here’s the formula for PER– PER = [uPER*(lgPace/tmPace)]*(15/lguPER)

In order to get ot that though you need to know the uPER . Here’s the formula for that:

uPER = (1/Min)*(3P+[(2/3)*Ast]+[(2-factor*(tmAST/tmFG))*FG]+[FT*0.5*(1+(1-(tmAst/tmFG))+(2/3)*(tmAST/tmFG))]-[VOP*TO]-[VOP*DRBP*(FGA-FG)]-[VOP*0.44*(0.44+(0.56*DRBP))*(FTA-FT)]+[VOP*(1-DRBP)*(TRB-ORB)]+[VOP*DRBP*ORB]+[VOP*STL]+[VOP*DRBP*BLK]-[PF*((lgFT/lgPF)-0.44*(lgFTA/lgPF)*VOP))]

Of course to get to that you need to “factor, which is (2/3)-[(0.5*(lgAST/lgFG))/(2*lgFG/lgFT))], VOP, which is: [lgPTS/(lgFGA-lgORB+lgTO+0.44*lgFTA)], DRBP which is [(lgTRB-lgORB)/lgTRB]. So if you can figure that out in your head, you’re a genius. Heck if you can even understand it you’re a genius!

So if it’s so complicated that you need a computer to figure it out what’s the use of it? There’s actually a good reason for it. It’s Hollinger’s stat and the reason that it’s so complicated and what all that uPER stuff is all about is this, it adjusts for different paces, different styles of offense etcetera. It establishes a league norm, factors the percent of what you do for your team, and then determines what you would do on the quintessential “average” team. It has the big advantage of making all teams neutral, so by looking at PER we can get a truer notion of who the “best” player is. Here’s the top twenty in PER.

And hey, what do you know, our top five are the five candidates for MVP. Some people might look at chagrin with things like Roy being ranked above Duncan, or Parker getting the nod over Bosh, but that’s sort of the point of the stat. It neutralizes things like varying offenses and game paces which give some players advantages over others in the typical accrued stats. In the end, for the purposes of our discussion though, it makes very little difference. The only distinction between the two is that Wade and Paul swap spots for 2 and 3. Again though, I want to emphasize a similar gap. James, Wade and Paul are all bunched together, sitting between 31.6 and 30. Then there’s a big drop to Howard, and another drop of almost another point to Kobe. A drop from Lebron to Kobe would be a player with a PER of 18. Hollinger only has the top 50 listed on ESPN so I can’t tell you a comparative drop, but I can tell you that Calderon is 50th at 18.46. Again, I’m making a point, there’s a huge difference between 31 and 25, even if there’s not a huge difference between 1 and 5. In fact, Lebron’s PER for this season is the best of any player not named “Wilt” or “Michael” in the history of the game. Those two occupy the top 5 spots and he will occupy the sixth at the rate this season is going. I also want to reiterate that those who are ready to respond with all kinds of “but he’s in the triangle offense” defense that this is adjusted for things like that. I’d also like to point out to people that Jordan, you know that guy who all the Kobe fans want you to know was the first Kobe, had no problem putting up huge all around numbers in the exact same system. And, just because Kobe fans are hard to get through to, I want to remind you that the only stat he has a shot at leading the league in is shot attempts, not the earmark of someone who doesn’t get to touch the ball enough.

When assessing how these players stack up against each other on a purely statistical basis, in the end, here’s how I rank them according to how I see it, putting everything together and just coming to a decision. Note, this isn’t how I rank them for the MVP, but according to statistical measures. I also want to say again, that statistical measures are measures of production, so please, do not try and remove statistics from the discussion.

  1. James
  2. Wade
  3. Paul
  4. Howard
  5. Bryant

Now there is more to the game that just putting up numbers, I’ll gladly accept that premise. However I’d also like to say that much of that discussion is actually irrelevant because the nuances get reflected in actual production, which is to say stats. Let me give you an example of what I mean by this. People will talk about what you do away from the ball and how important that is. It’s true, what you do away from the ball is very important. Karl Malone would be very prone to agree with you as he was spectacular at moving without the ball. Everyone talks about how Stockton and Malone were the master of the pick and roll, but the roll is the part where you have to move without the ball. The proof that Malone was the master of it is in the fact that he’s the NBA’s second all time leading scorer. Ergo, what you have is an intangible manifested into a tangible. A lot of the so called intangibles are like that, and one of them is one of the really important factors which we need to look at in considering the MVP, heart. Now you can’t measure heart, but you can measure performance in crunch time, and 82games.com has done a fantastic job of compiling those stats. I’ve taken the liberty of using those stats to compile how they stack up in Efficiency in crunch time. They define crunch times as “4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points.”  Here are the results.

Once again there’s a few things that jump out. First our five are al among the top 20, though Howard is lagging back at 14th while the others are all top 5. Also, once again we see a huge gap from James to Bryant, though this time Bryant is second. I don’t know how to say this with enough emphasis, so I’ll just understate it. An efficiency rating of 61.48 in crunch time is very high. Heck, 49.24 is very high, 61.48 is flat out sick-ridiculous. When the game is on the line Kobe is a player you’d love to have on the court, but ‘Bron is a player you’d love to have even more. Wade and Paul ain’t none too shabby either. Howard though is “eh”.

Having said that though there’s two kinds of crunch time. There’s the kind in the game, and there’s the kind down the stretch of the season. We need to take a good look at those stats too. To do that I want to show the post All-Star game splits for efficiency.

Here we see a couple of things. First, Wade’s numbers are ridiculous since the All Star break. When you factor in the fact that he’s basically had to adapt to a new key supporting cast because of the trade it makes it even more impressive. James has also picked up his game, as have Paul and Howard. Kobe on the other hand has really trailed off. If we look at it on a per game basis Kobe gets huge marks, but when we look at the overall play since the break it looks like Pau, not Kobe is picking up the Lakers. Now I will grant you that Kobe’s minutes are less, but not enough to make that big of a difference. Still, you can’t dismiss what he’s done with the closing minutes of the game.

But this does bring up another intangible that’s brought into the discussion—that age old question of “value” and what it means. The first thing I’d like to point out is that Kobe has pretty much the best supporting cast of any of the five. It’s so obvious it hardly bears mentioning. If you don’t believe me, answer this question for me. Imagine that the second and third best team on the Lakers, which we’ll say is Pau and either Bynum or Odom, your choice, is traded straight up for two teammates of any of the other four, and your reading it in the paper the next day. You’re a “hypothetical” Laker fan and you’re happy about the trade. Please tell me, which two players did you get? While Kobe is actually SECOND on his team in efficiency BEHIND Gasol, none of the other players even have a teammate in the top 25, and only Paul has a teammate in the top 50. In short the others are dealing with a much less impressive supporting cast than the Kobe.

Being even about this though, it’s not like the Lakers are on the same caliber as the Heat, the Magic or the Hornets. They are a much better team and Kobe deserves a tremendous amount of credit for that. This is one of those things where you have to be careful when you consider the MVP discussion. On the one hand you don’t want to dismiss anyone out of hand just because their teammates aren’t good enough. Sometimes people will argue that “X” deserves the MVP because his team had the best regular season record or something like that. You have to ask yourself though, how much of that success is because of the player and how much of it is because of the rest of the team? In other words you don’t want to present an argument that’s the logical equivalent of “X is a more valuable because his teammates are better.” That’s hardly a sound argument. On the other hand you don’t want to handicap someone simply because of having better teammates. You have to measure the player and the team and then conclude how much the team wins because of the player. Fortunately, by taking percentages of what the player contributes to his team in winning games we can present that in a nice crisp, clean number. Heck, it even takes into account defense by measuring what his opponent at the same position does in the game. It’s called Win Shares and here are the ranking in that category.

Once again we’re seeing some of the same things. Our five are right up there at the top five, Lebron is the runaway winner, and Pau is right up there with Kobe. Here’s the thing though, the Lakers are on a different level than any team in the league except the Cavs. There’s no getting around the fact that team success is factored into the MVP race and the Lakers are successful and especially when you consider how Kobe plays in the clutch he is a huge part of the reason for that success. While Pau might be a little bit higher than him statistically speaking, none of the Lakers would say Gasol is the on-court leader. Kobe is the biggest reason for the Lakers success, not Gasol, which is why he, and not Pau is in this conversation.

However, having said that, the Cavaliers have to enter into this conversation too. They have the best record and the best point differential of any team in the league, even if it is in the Eastern Conference. It could honestly be argued back and forth all day and night about which team is better, and if the playoffs treat us right the answer will be found when the finals are over. However, this argument doesn’t need to be settled in order for us to say who is the MVP. There’s two schools of thought on MVP, most productive player and best player on the best team. The only player in the NBA that can be reasonably argued from both perspectives is Lebron, and that’s a pretty decisive argument for James. It’s my assessment that Lebron is not just having the best season in the league this year, but arguably one of the five or six best in the history of the game and he is this year’s MVP. For now, I’d give second to Kobe, because the Lakers really are on another level and he really does deserve the most credit for that. However, if Wade keeps going the way he’s been going and the Heat get to the 4th spot I’d be almost inclined to move him up a spot. It’s hard to punish him too much for not having any teammates. I guess it’s hard for me to believe that if he were in Kobe’s spot the Lakers wouldn’t be at least as competitive as they are now. The fourth spot would go to Paul and with some genuine and sincere apologies. I truly want to give him the award outright, I just can’t justify moving him any higher. He is having however, the best 4th place finish ever as far as I’m concerned. Howard just isn’t doing enough when the game is on the line. He’s a better starter than finisher. It’s been like that the last two seasons. He needs to learn to finish the season if he wants to win MVP at some point.

And there you have it, feel free to leave a comment, I just ask you be respectful and leave the profanity out of it.

 

March 4, 2009

Mudville, America’s New Sports Classic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 2:23 pm

 

Mudville, by Kurtis Scaletta from Amazon.com

Well my brother, Kurtis, has gotten his first novel published and it’s officially on the shelves now. He’s doing book signings and everything. He mentioned to me that he might be published, but more people probably read me (via the blog) than him so he was happy that I told him I wanted to review the book for it before I’d even read it. He asked what I’d do if it was bad. I told him I didn’t think he ad to worry about that, and fortunately, he didn’t.

The dedication of the book is “For Ken and Kelly, with whom I learned the heights of friendship and rivalry known only among brothers.” So let’s just say there was something differently about going into reading the new novel by Kurtis Scaletta. It’s flattering to have a book dedicated to you, it’s special to have a book this good dedicated to you, even if you do have to share it with your other brother.

There are two kinds of books written for young adults, those that you like reading when you are a young adult and those that bring you back to your days when you were a junior high kid, playing baseball by the train tracks and getting mad crushes and having the kind of simple and complicated friendships you have as a kid. Mudville is the latter, and joins the ranks of stories like King’s The Body as one of those rare books that are just as enjoyable and enterable whether you are 13 or 42.

Kurtis’ love of baseball and story telling are splendidly woven together in his first published novel. Moundsville and Sinister Bend had their last game end in a rain delay that lasted 22 years. Pranksters now keep covering up the “o” the “n” and the “s” on the “Welcome to Moundsville sign though, so it reads “Welcome to Mudville”. But it finally stopps raining and Roy, who passionately loves baseball, has to piece together a baseball team to finish the rematch, which involves teaching a bunch of kids how to play, all while trying to put together a relationship with, Sturgis, his foster brother, deal with a crush, and endure his father’s cooking.

The story itself is engrossing and once you start turning the pages you’ll have trouble setting it down, so don’t start late at night. Classic novels take more than a good story though, and I don’t want to give it away so I’ll let Kurtis do that. While the story is thoroughly entertaining though, it’s not the best part of the book.

A good novel brings you into the story, but the classics bring you into the protagonist and Kurtis does that in an superbly earthy fashion. Too many protagonists are either too perfect or too “gritty.” Roy’s issues are normal and Roy is normal. As a result he is identifiable. It’s easy to be Roy, not just cheer for him.

I also appreciate the way the book handles the larger issues in life. It broken homess, alcoholism, death, disease and prison, but all with a respectable distance. Roy doesn’t live in a perfect world but this is not the type of the book that tries to score points for being “edgy.” It handles adult issues from a young adult’s perspective and strikes the perfect balance. it’s tone is not “Disney” and it’s not “dark,” it’s normal, and that’s a real strength of the book. It’s the book for 98% of us whose lives are neither perfect nor fatally flawed.

I highly recommend it and not just because my brother wrote it, but because it’s worth reading and a couple of years later, re-reading. For those of you who have kids in their early teens. it would be a great book for you both to read. It might give you something to talk about.

From a different perspective it’s interesting reading a book written by someone you know well, especially a brother. Most people reading it wouldn’t know for instance that Roy is Kurtis’ middle name, that he loves chili dogs, that Tori Hunter is his favorite baseball player, his Dad’s love of whipped cream and creative cooking, or that he’s the author of the website, animalsthatarenotrodents.com. There were times I had to laugh out loud on a personal level because there were things of Roy that were borrowed from the author.

Here’s the link to the Amazon again.
Mudville, by Kurtis Scaletta from Amazon.com

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