Is Brisbane that bad? Are Freo? (an AFL round 5 preview)

This is the fourth weekly wrap up/preview for the 2016 AFL by HPN.

Brisbane might not really be that bad (offensively)

Only 16 teams since 2000 have gone through a season with a goal kicking accuracy of less than 50%, with the lowest being the inaugural Gold Coast squad in 2011 at 46%. Brisbane are currently at 42% (47 goals, 66 behinds) through four rounds this season.

When we look at our measures of forward effectiveness per inside 50, Brisbane have actually looked somewhat reasonable:

offscore

But why is Brisbane shooting so historically badly? Are they really that inept offensively, or are there other factors in play?

  1. No talls allowed

So far, Brisbane has only had 9 (out of 47) goals kicked by players taller than 192cm. That’s good for worst in the league, and continues their trend from last year. Even with the recruitment of Josh Walker and Josh Schache the Lions lack for credible tall targets up forward in a way that no other team in the competition does. It’s unfair to rely on a guy in his fourth game to be the focal point of a forward line, but that’s what the Lions have had to do this year.

Getting the ball inside 50 doesn’t appear to be the problem, and they’re average at getting marks inside 50. However, if their talls aren’t scoring then clearly taking marks in the right spots is an issue, which leads us to:

2. Poor shot quality

As a result of having no solid targets closer to goal, Brisbane tends to ping it towards goal from a little further out than most sides, revealing that the inside 50s they’re getting may not be deep ones, resulting in poor quality shots:

(credit @DownIsTheNewUp, via the Footy Live app).

Again, this is somewhat a function of not having as many secondary targets when they have the ability to have an attempt on goal.

3. Rushed behinds

The Lions also lead the league in rushed behinds, an extremely high 15 so far this year. Right now they are on track to rack up 82 points in this way by the end of the year, a severe rise on their 48 of last year. Rushed behinds can be the result of several factors, such as tips on the goal line, dropped marks, long kicks dropping short and the defence being put under pressure. Given the above statistics, the former reasons are much more likely than the final.

At the other end of the ground, Brisbane are allowing an opposition accuracy of 58%, another high number although not as historically so. Even with the above issues it is likely that the Lions will improve in both of these areas as the season continues as reversion to the mean occurs, mostly because they can’t really get much worse from here.

Brisbane certainly aren’t very good, and still look poor in defence. However, in offence they’re probably closer to mid table than cellar dwellers.

And about Fremantle…

At an even lower station on the ladder than Brisbane right now are the recently top four placed Fremantle, who are winless after four games. But let’s settle the horses here: Fremantle have played  a very hard schedule so far (bar perhaps Gold Coast), and it’s about to open up for them right now. Ryan Buckland outlines it very well here for The Roar.

They’ve only had their best player, Sandilands (CONTROVERSIAL!) for 5 quarters, and it shows in their hitout numbers, going from a league leading 1.954 hitouts per opposition hitout to a mid-pack 0.904.

By our raw data, Freo have been horrendous defending (conceding a lot of scoring per inside 50), terrible in the midfield battle (their i50 ratio is very poor) and passable offensively (goals and scores per inside 50). However, when adjusted for the strength of their opponents in each of these categories, they really should come back to the middle of the competition in each:

opponents.PNG

Note the green on most measures for Freo’s highlighted opponents, the Bulldogs, Gold Coast, West Coast and North Melbourne. Fremantle have run into teams with some combination of very efficient offences, very efficient defences and very strong midfields this far this year.

Whilst no team has started 0-4 in the AFL era and gone on to make finals, we’re not sure a team as recently high quality as Fremantle is has been in this position in our opinions.

Hot Take of the Week

Warwick Capper claims that he’s probably Australia’s Michael Jordan which is, on every level, absolutely batshit. This is the fattest fish in the smallest barrel we’ve ever encountered, but here goes. Let’s break down their retrospective careers.

Jordan was the NBA MVP five times, an NBA champion six times, scoring champion ten times, Finals MVP six times, Defensive Player of the Year once, fourteen time NBA All Star and  two-time Olympic gold medallist. Off the court he is reputed to be the first billionaire athlete, and owns an NBA team to boot. He could buy the entire AFL. He still earns as much in endorsements than any other current player, and he’s been retired for more than a decade.

Capper was allegedly the highest paid player in the AFL at one point, but that’s his biggest sign of success. He never won a final, let alone a flag, never made an All Australian team, never led the league in goalkicking. He never got more than five Brownlow votes in any given year. Off the field Capper had a porn career and a coffee franchise called “Cappercino” and is best known as the punchline to a billion tired jokes about football in the 1980s.

Some may compare Capper to Dennis Rodman just based on their flamboyance, but that’s very unkind to Rodman, who was one of the NBA’s greatest defenders and a five time NBA champion.

Old Wazz is probably more like the late Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, given their similar meteoric rises (two great seasons, not much else), and occasional off-field problems. Or perhaps you might think the worst All Star selection ever James Donaldson is a more apt comparison, due to his similar excellence in one indirectly useful skill (in his case blocking rather than high marking) and not much else.

Regardless, Capper isn’t our Jordan. For fucks sake.

Things to watch this week

  1. How many times will soldiers be compared to footy players?

The similarities between football players and military officers: they are professionals who wear uniforms.

The differences: almost everything else.

The stories of war and football are long-intertwined in Australia’s history, but that doesn’t mean they are the same thing. I can remember reading about Bluey Truscott and Ron Barassi Snr as a kid, going off to war and not coming back, and their indelible fingerprints on the Melbourne Football Club.

But what they did on the MCG was literally a world away to what they did by placing their lives on the line on actual battlefields. We’re not trying to undersell the toughness of football – we probably both aren’t fit or strong enough to play a full season at this point of our lives. But even if we did, it’s not near the same level as going to a fucking warzone. In times of war it is expected that many people will die doing their jobs fighting those wars; you almost certainly can’t die on the football field.

If the AFL were really serious about the effort to support current and retired troops, they would donate every cent of profit from ANZAC marketed football revenue to worthy causes, such as mental health services for former troops, or rehabilitation efforts for the injured.

  1. Can Gold Coast catch their bunny by the tail?

Despite North Melbourne’s strong start, many of their fans will be unsurprisingly nervous at facing the Gold Coast at Carrara. They’ve lost their last three matches to the Suns, often in contradiction of form indicators, and haven’t beat them since 2012.

We’re not sure if there is something in the matchup  or just coincidence. Let’s entertain the notion that there’s an underlying reason by identifying a couple of stylistic factors might suggest why this has been a tough matchup for North.

Both sides also work much better offensively than they do defensively. In recent years North Melbourne have generally been mid-table in contested possessions and tackle counts, Gold Coast around that mark or below. The premier players at each club do their best work on the goalward side of midfield, and the defending stocks are a little barer. As a result, it has meant that Gold Coast have been able to find space, like in 2015 when they registered 22 bounces to North’s 1. This may suggest that North perhaps aren’t applying enough pressure to contain the Suns’ potentially dangerous outside midfield group.

Gold Coast have also been consistently terrible in ruck battles since their inception, sitting in the bottom three every season for hitout differentials, winning 70% of the hitouts their opponents ever have. As a result, they’ve likely developed the ability to “shark” the hitout reception, and throw the centre clearance games of rivals off. North, with the dominant Goldstein directing traffic, doesn’t face a team as experienced with badly losing hitouts as the Suns are week in, week out.

(A sidebar here is that the suns have dropped Nicholls, a man who has barely won a hitout differential in his 34-game career, and  in favour of Dan Currie, Goldstein’s former understudy who presumably can’t do much worse).

If North Melbourne’s annual losses since 2012 have an explanation, these factors might be it.

This should be a fascinating and free-flowing contest. However, with North Melbourne’s offensive potency this season, and the loss of key defensive players, Gold Coast’s ability to resist North Melbourne well enough to kick the large winning score they’ll need will be heavily tested.

  1. #DefeatedWatch comes to its gripping conclusion

THIS IS IT PEOPLE! #DEFEATED WATCH KLAXONS AT THE READY FULL STEAM AHEAD!

Now we have your attention, may we draw your focus to Carton v Fremantle this weekend, which will (draws aside) be the end of the winless days for one team. After this match, the Winless Bowl, the Futility Cup, the 1928 Hawthorn Football Club Winless Season Memorial Shield will be done and dusted, and only one winless team will remain. Fremantle are extremely heavily favoured here, but anything can happen on the day, and it’s HPN’s match of the round for that reason.

Assuming the result isn’t a draw, we’ll wrap up Defeated Watch here, because only one team will remain, able to break the streak at any point.

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