Author: Kevin Broom

Husband, father, writer. I write a lot. First novel, a mystery set in Washington, DC, is due out before Christmas.

“Sully” Sucked, But It Didn’t Have To

sly_rl05_v10.6_grdfinal_rec709legal.00435111.tiff

I wanted to love Sully, the 2016* film starring Tom Hanks and directed by Clint Eastwood about airline pilot “Sully” Sullenberger successfully executing an emergency water landing on the Hudson River, but I couldn’t because the movie was crummy. And what grated as I watched: it didn’t have to be.

Critics and audiences liked Sully a lot more than I did. Maybe I’m being too picky. But, I suspect a significant chunk of the positive feeling toward the movie is connected to positive feelings for Sullenberger the man. I share many of those feelings, which is a reason why this crappy movie rankles. Sully deserved better.

To recap (spoiler alert): Sullenberger and crew took off from LaGuardia Airport on a cold winter morning with 155 people on board. At about 2,800 feet, the passenger jet passed through a flock of Canadian geese and suffered “bird strikes” that destroyed both engines. Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles ran through options (trying to return to LaGuardia or re-route to nearby Teterboro), and decided their best option was to attempt a water landing. They pulled it off, and all 155 on board survived.

So why did the film crash and sink? First, it suffered from the malady that afflicts many “this really happened” stories. When people already know the outcome of an event, it can be difficult for filmmakers to generate drama. When joining the project, Eastwood reportedly wondered where the antagonist was. Rather than thinking deeper about the story they should tell, Eastwood and company just made one up.

Second, it suffered from self-inflicted wounds. For example, the film opened with a sequence where a passenger jet crashed into New York City buildings. It was a frightening reminder of the 9/11 attacks, but it was a terrible choice for this film because it didn’t happen. It was a nightmare suffered by the film’s version of Sully. I haven’t read the source material, but I assume the scene was based on his actual nightmares. But…

Third, the real-life events were a triumph of teamwork, preparation, and training. The water landing was the culmination of Sullenberger’s lifetime of work and attention to detail. It was a symphony of teamwork between him and Skiles, as well as the calm, swift actions of the flight crew, air traffic controllers, ferry boat drivers and rescue workers. By focusing on Sullenberger’s nightmare and post-traumatic stress disorder, filmmakers introduced a sourness that pervaded everything.

Fourth, while making a “this happened” story, filmmakers scabbed on a happy ending by creating a preposterous scene that never happened.

In short, Sully was a bad movie because of storytelling decisions.

How could it have been good? How could the film have mined drama from a brief event where the outcome is known?

By shifting the focus.

Sully Sullenberger, the person, was extraordinary. He was among the best at nearly everything he tried to do for nearly his entire life. He studied and worked and trained, and eventually became so good at flying aircraft that he became a trainer and safety investigator.

His co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, had a story. So did the flight attendants who helped implement safety protocols that got every passenger off the plane alive.

I can see several different ways to attack the story, all of which could have been dramatic, interesting, and remained true to the lives of these heroic people.

One option would have been a biopic of Sullenger. Show his upbringing, his schooling, his learning to fly, his intense training. Those sequences can carry some drama because each of those steps is about a determined person overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal. What might have been cool was to craft the scenes in such a way that they highlight the reality that no person is truly self-made (a point Sullenberger makes in speeches), and that teamwork is essential in nearly every human endeavor (another point he makes).

Another option would have been to have multiple story lines about key figures in the water landing and safely getting all passengers out of the airplane. This could have opened rich lines for storytelling, because many people were involved in the rescue, and and at least some of them have interesting stories worth telling.

There are still other storytelling options, all of which could have centered around the core lessons to be drawn from Sullenberger’s life: work hard, prepare, and collaborate.

Advertisements

Better Without Wall? My Latest at Bullets Forever

Miami Heat v Washington Wizards

I FINALLY made time to write something. This piece is about how the Wizards have been better without John Wall, and how he could help them get better yet by making some simple adjustments to how he plays.

Specifically:

  1. Don’t shoot quite so much.
  2. Especially cut back on the two-point jumpers with more than 10 seconds on the shot clock, and
  3. Use what he’s best at (penetrating and passing) to get good shots for good-shooting teammates.

Some of the comments are a real treat.

 

Read All About It (and Listen Too)

becker-broom

Three new items today:

  1. Episode 2 of my new Washington Wizards podcast Becker & Broom with longtime friend Ben Becker. Subscribe on iTunes, Overcast, or wherever you find podcasts.
  2. A companion article about how 2016-17 is a classic #SoWizards season. The team is winning, fans are feeling good, and they really just look average.
  3. A Player Production Average update.

Also, launch date for my mystery novel, No In Between, is lurching closer.

New At Bullets Forever

I meant to post these as I published them, but… Anyway, here they are:

And, of course, my new podcast with Ben Becker. Our first episode focuses on the article about Gortat’s touches, as well as on what the Wizards can do to improve.

Be on the lookout for my mystery novel, which is launching in about two weeks.

Programming Note

programming-note

During the holidays, I gave some thought to the state of my various writing projects and aspirations, and decided to make a few changes.

  1. The content here at kevinbroom.com will be shifting. I’ve done mostly Wizards analysis here, but that will be ending. Instead, I’ll be more focused on writing, the writing life, and artistic expression. These topics occupy a bigger place in my mind than sports ever has, and I hope readers find my thoughts interesting.
  2. My Wizards content is moving it to Bullets Forever, which has long been a source of terrific Wizards coverage and analysis. I’m thrilled they were willing to add me to the chorus, and looking forward to being part of the team.
  3. I’m going to partner with my friend Ben Becker to attempt a Wizards podcast that will be distributed through Bullets Forever. We’re gearing up to begin production, and hope to have our first edition available in January.

That’s all for now.

Wizards Roll With NBA’s Worst Bench

tire-fire

Wizards bench.

With an average starting unit and the NBA’s worst bench, the Wizards are lurching toward an inevitable appointment with the 2017 draft lottery — assuming team president Ernie Grunfeld doesn’t trade the pick for the next Markieff Morris in an all-out dash for 9th or 10th.

The disastrous bench was in the works at least a couple years, as the franchise’s top strategists laid plans to have loads of cap space for an offseason in which almost half the league would be able to sign a maximum salary free agent. Their subsequent moves to restock the roster seem to reflect one of the defining characteristics of the Grunfeld era: an elite ability to misdiagnose the source of the team’s problems.

Missing the playoffs in 2015-16, according to public statements by Grunfeld and team owner Ted Leonsis, was due to injuries, a bad bench and poor chemistry caused by having so many players in the final year of their contracts. And they shoveled some blame on the coaching as well.

In reality, the Wizards were affected less by injuries last season than most teams in the league, and their bench was about average. I’ll defer to those closer to the team on the cause of whatever chemistry problems existed, although it’s worth noting that multi-year contracts haven’t seemed to fix the issue.

What’s happening this year? Their starters are (like last year) about average, but their bench is a worst in the league catastrophe. They’re the Secretariat of bad benches.

So far this season, the Wizards starters — Wall, Beal, Porter, Morris and Gortat — have a minutes weighted Player Production Average (PPA) of 135. In PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45. That’s slightly better than the league average starting group (PPA: 132 so far), and ranks 12th. Not elite, but not terrible either.

The bench’s minutes weighted PPA: 28. The average bench: 66. The second worst bench belongs to Memphis, and its PPA is 44. These are the only two teams with benches that rate below replacement level. To put this in perspective, Trey Burke’s PPA this season is 28. Kevin Seraphin, who ended his Wizards career with PPA scores of 35 and 38 would be an upgrade. Kwame Brown was never this bad in Washington. Even Ike Austin (remember him?) managed a 35 with the Bullets.

The gap between Washington’s starters and bench is the third largest, behind the Clippers who have the second best starting unit and fourth worst bench, and Golden State, which has the best starters and the sixth best bench. How good are the Warriors? They’re starting five has a PPA of 211 — 32 points better than Washington’s best player.

This is the team built by Grunfeld and Leonsis, and their cherished Plan. It’s a disaster — not because of injuries or bad luck, but because of a series of poor decisions.

Player Production Average

There is some good news. Wall is having the best season of his career, Porter is producing at an All-Star level, and Beal is healthy and productive.

Marcin Gortat’s production is down, but I don’t think it’s related to aging (I’ll write about this next time). Morris has been worse than expected. To the numbers…

PLAYER GMS MPG 11/8 11/21 PPA
Otto Porter 20 34.4 173 177 179
John Wall 18 35.9 168 167 171
Bradley Beal 17 34.7 66 92 131
Marcin Gortat 20 35.4 135 146 130
Danuel House 1 1.0 119 116
Sheldon McClellan 7 11.1 478 88 81
Markieff Morris 20 31.7 67 78 59
Marcus Thornton 19 19.5 31 41 50
Kelly Oubre 19 15.5 18 17 41
Tomas Satoransky 18 16.6 18 43 29
Trey Burke 16 11.6 -48 28 28
Andrew Nicholson 14 10.1 33 35 9
Jason Smith 19 11.6 -93 -42 -23
Ian Mahinmi 1 14.0 -98
Daniel Ochefu 3 2.7 -181 -119 -117

Wizards Stagger Continues

grunfeld & leonsis

No time for major analysis the next couple weeks, but…here’s the Player Production Average update. It’s not pretty.

Player GMS MPG LW PPA
Otto Porter 12 35.3 173 177
John Wall 10 33.1 168 167
Marcin Gortat 12 34.8 135 146
Danuel House 1 1.0 119
Bradley Beal 9 32.1 66 92
Sheldon McClellan 6 12.7 478 88
Markieff Morris 12 31.0 67 78
Tomas Satoransky 12 19.3 18 43
Marcus Thornton 12 21.4 31 41
Andrew Nicholson 9 11.1 33 35
Trey Burke 10 13.0 -48 28
Kelly Oubre 11 13.5 18 17
Jason Smith 11 10.9 -93 -42
Daniel Ochefu 3 2.7 -181 -119

The NBA is still mostly in Small Sample Size Theater, but they’re closing in on the “it’s real” portion of the early season.

Good news: Otto Porter and John Wall have been outstanding, though I remain concerned with Wall’s stratospheric turnover rate. Marcin Gortat has been good despite a radical drop in his usage rate vs. his career norms. The other starters (Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris) both rate below average, but at least improved since the first update.

The bad news: every other player in the rotation rates at or below replacement level.

The team actually has played a difficult schedule (about 1.09 points per game tougher than average). Unfortunately, they’ve been outscored by 3.42 points per game, suggesting the Wizards have been 2.33 points per game worse than average. Overall, they’ve played at about the level of a 32-win team over an 82-game season — just a little behind the 34.5* wins per season they’ve averaged under the leadership of Ernie Grunfeld.

* This includes pro-rating 2011-12, the lockout-shortened 66-game season, to an 82-game schedule.