UPDATE (May 29, 7:45 p.m.): The Los Angeles Times has reported that Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, will purchase the Clippers for $2 billion. Earlier this month Nate Silver wrote about team valuations in the NBA, and whether the Clippers were worth more than was commonly believed. The original piece is below.A billion dollars? For the Clippers?That’s the price my Grantland colleague Zach Lowe’s sources are saying the Los Angeles NBA team could fetch if its current owner, Donald Sterling, agrees to sell the franchise or is forced to do so. With stars from Magic Johnson to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., to Oprah Winfrey to Larry Ellison reportedly interested in a piece of the club, it’s not hard to see why league officials have starry-eyed visions about what the team could be worth.And yet, when Forbes Magazine published its valuations of the 30 NBA teams earlier this year, its figure for the Clippers was considerably more modest: $575 million.1It’s not as though the valuation doesn’t account for the Clippers’ recent on-court success. Two years ago, Forbes valued the Clippers at only $324 million. NBA officials, I’ve found in the past, aren’t fond of the Forbes figures. The league has incentives to underplay its financial performance when in the midst of a labor dispute, and to frame its finances in a more favorable light when it has a couple of franchises up for sale.In this case, however, there’s reason to think Forbes considerably undervalues the Clippers. You might describe why with the old real estate adage: location, location, location. It’s not breaking news that there are lots of people with lots of money in Los Angeles and its suburbs. What’s more interesting is that the number of billionaires in a given community historically has been a strong predictor of the degree to which its NBA franchise appreciates in value.Take a look at the annualized change in NBA franchise values from 2004 to 2014, according to the Forbes estimates. In the chart below, we’ve highlighted the teams that played in metro areas that had a gross domestic product of at least $250 billion as of 2004. You can see that there’s a relationship. The New York Knicks, despite their mostly poor play over the past decade, saw their franchise value appreciate by 13.3 percent per year, according to Forbes. The Lakers and Clippers saw theirs grow by 11.7 percent and 10.7 percent per year, respectively. Most other big-market teams, like the Chicago Bulls and the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, have also done well.There are also some exceptions to the pattern, the most obvious being the Seattle Supersonics, who saw their franchise value increase a lot after moving to Oklahoma City and becoming the Thunder.2This even though Oklahoma City is a considerably smaller and less wealthy market. The Miami Heat, despite playing in a mid-sized market, have seen a massive increase in franchise value. On the flip side, the Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards have considerably underperformed the rest of the league despite playing in reasonably large markets.These differences partly reflect on-court success: Building a future around LeBron James is a much more attractive option than building one around Gilbert Arenas. But they also reflect the differences in the number of super-wealthy people in these cities. In 2004, there were 14 people from the Miami metro area3The Forbes lists do not specifically break out the list of wealthy people by metro area; I did this by hand. I tried to follow the Census Bureau’s definition of Metropolitan Statistical Areas as much as possible — however, there are some debatable cases. Those interested in using this data for rigorous research should double-check my work and ensure that it corresponds to the particular definition of urban areas that is most suitable for their project. on the Forbes 400 list of America’s wealthiest people, compared to eight from Washington and seven from Philadelphia. The differences have grown since then: On last year’s Forbes 400 list, whose threshold was about $1.3 billion in net worth, there were 26 really rich people in Miami, compared to eight in Washington and just three in Philly.4The Forbes 400 list includes data on the United States only. For Toronto, I’ve compiled data from other sources to reflect the number of Torontonians that would have made the Forbes 400 list if Toronto were in the U.S. The coefficient on the 2004 franchise value variable is statistically significant and negative. What that means is that a franchise can be overvalued by Forbes, and prone to seeing its value revert to the mean, when that value is out of line with the number of billionaires in the area.We can use this regression equation to create estimates of NBA franchise values that may be more reliable than Forbes’s. (The process for this is explained in the footnotes.9To do this, I used the regression equation to determine each team’s projected rate of return over the next 10 years, based on its current Forbes franchise value and the number of billionaires in its metro area. However, I assumed that rates of return in excess of the league average would be captured immediately and reflected in a team’s potential sale price. This is how a rational market would behave, unless the higher projected rates of return were associated with higher risk.) I calibrated the estimates such that the average value of an NBA franchise is the same as what Forbes lists — about $630 million. (The NBA would probably contend that Forbes’s estimates are low across the board — based on the recent sale prices of the Sacramento Kings and the Milwaukee Bucks, for instance — but our interest here is mainly in seeing how franchises are valued relative to one another.) Because the estimates are not all that precise, I’ve listed them as a range based on their standard error.For the Clippers, for instance, the range runs between about $580 million and $950 million. So the billion-dollar estimate might be a little high, but the Forbes valuation of $575 million is probably too low.There are two other teams whose Forbes valuations fall outside the recalibrated range. One is the Brooklyn Nets, which our formula estimates is worth between about $900 billion and $1.5 billion, and not the $780 million that Forbes estimates. Perhaps Mikhail Prokhorov knows what he’s doing in throwing his resources behind establishing the Nets as a major brand in New York. The number of billionaires in New York continues to skyrocket — so he’ll have plenty of people to sell the franchise to at a profit down the line.The other team that falls outside of the range is the Lakers. The formula implies that their Forbes valuation, at $1.35 billion, is a little too high.I personally don’t think the Lakers would have much trouble selling for something in that range if the team were put on the market today. But the logic behind the calculation is something like this: Sure, the Lakers have a much more powerful brand than the Clippers, but they don’t have much of an advantage apart from that brand. The two teams play in the same city, in the same arena. The Clippers have the better roster and a very good coach. The brand advantage can shift over time: At various points in the past 50 years, for instance, the New York Mets have outdrawn the New York Yankees. Another couple years of Blake and CP3 making deep runs into the playoffs while the Lakers struggle with the albatross of Kobe Bryant’s contract will erode some of the Lakers’ edge.Are the Lakers still worth more? Yes, but the formula implies that they should be worth 20 or 25 percent more than the Clippers — and not 135 percent more, as the Forbes valuations say. Perhaps that means the Clippers are undervalued and not that the Lakers are overvalued. If you’d consider buying the Lakers at the Forbes price of $1.35 billion, and would require a 25 percent discount to take the Clippers instead, that implies you’d pay about $1.1 billion for the Clips.The Clippers’ other big handicap, of course, has been Donald Sterling. But that problem resolves itself the moment he sells. He may be banned from basketball. He may have embarrassed himself and his franchise. But if he sells quickly — before doing further damage to the Clippers’ brand — he could have a billion-dollar check coming his way.Correction (May 3, 11:20 a.m.): An earlier version of the NBA Team Valuations chart misstated what the range in green indicated. It signifies a team’s valuation adjusted for number of billionaires in metro area. The correlation between the rate of increase in franchise value and the number of billionaires in a metro area has been reasonably strong,5The correlation coefficient is 0.53, or 0.67 without the Sonics/Thunder included. as I’ve mentioned, with the Sonics/Thunder representing the main outlier. This helps explain why the Golden State Warriors have seen their value increase so much, for instance. The San Francisco-Oakland metro area6By the Census Bureau’s definition, this MSA does not include San Jose, Calif., or most of Silicon Valley. ranks 11th in the U.S. in population and eighth in gross domestic product. But it has ranked second or third in billionaires, behind only New York and sometimes Los Angeles, depending on the year.Why do we see this relationship? Owners of sports franchises tend to hold onto their teams for a long time — the average NBA franchise last changed hands 14 years ago. In a period that long, the player roster will completely turn over, perhaps several times. The coaching and front office staff will very likely turn over, too. A team’s uniform might change; its nickname might change; it might move into a new arena. What’s a lot more permanent is a team’s home city. Franchises can move, but that doesn’t happen often. The Clippers’ greatest asset isn’t Chris Paul or Blake Griffin. It’s the City of Los Angeles and the billionaires who live there.We’ve seen evidence in other sports that franchise values are driven less by profits and losses — many player contracts are plainly irrational from that standpoint — and more by the extent to which a team can be resold to another billionaire or multimillionaire at a higher price down the line. There aren’t that many billionaires in the United States — about 500 — but there are far fewer NBA franchises. In a city like Los Angeles or New York or San Francisco, there will be several billionaires, perhaps even dozens of them, competing for sports franchises when one comes up for sale.7The limited supply of sports franchises may also explain why we don’t see much, if any, of a valuation penalty for NBA franchises that play in multi-team markets. The Lakers and the Clippers, like the Knicks and the Nets, compete with one another to some extent for fans. However, there’s an undersupply of NBA franchises relative to the number of billionaires in these large cities. If one of the 77 billionaires in the New York metro area buys the Knicks, there are still 76 billionaires left to buy the Nets.It’s also worth contemplating whether cities that attract hedge-fund billionaires and oil barons have an intrinsic advantage in recruiting multimillionaire NBA players. Compare Miami and Philadelphia, for example. Philadelphia’s gross domestic product is about 33 percent higher. But — and meaning no offense to Philadelphia — Miami is presumably a lot more fun for a really rich person. Miami will still have South Beach long after LeBron takes his talents to the next town. It will also have no state income tax.But if NBA franchises in billionaire-rich cities can be counted on to appreciate at a higher rate, shouldn’t the market account for that? In other words, shouldn’t they be selling at a higher value to begin with?Keep in mind that we’re looking at Forbes’s estimates of franchise values and not actual sale prices. It could be that Forbes is lowballing the values of big-market clubs. We don’t get all that many data points on actual sale prices because the rate of franchise turnover is low, and because the transactions are often complicated and involve other assets that are bundled with the sports teams. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers (along with some real estate assets) sold for $2 billion two years ago, a figure that far exceeded Forbes’s estimated value of the MLB team.Nonetheless, it’s plausible that the market will eventually catch up to the pattern, or that it already has to some degree. To check this, I ran a regression analysis that sought to explain the increase in NBA franchise values from 2004 to 2014 based on two variables: the number of people a team’s metro area had on the 2004 Forbes 400 list, and its Forbes franchise value in 2004 relative to the league average.8I included the Sonics/Thunder in the regression despite their having changed locations. Although NBA franchises change metro areas only rarely and face restrictions when seeking to do so, some of the value in purchasing an underperforming franchise consists of the potential to relocate the team.
Photo by louisvilleky.com.Teddy Bridgewater, the junior Louisville quarterback who is consensus No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft should he decide to forgo his senior season, said he remains divided on what to do.Bridgewater said he will decide “hopefully three-to-four days after” Louisville’s Russell Athletic Bowl against Miami on Dec. 28 in Orlando.“Whenever I feel comfortable after discussing it with my mom, my family and my coaches,” the 21-year-old said. “It’s not a hard decision at all. I know I control my future and my own destiny.”He said he would return for his final year to play “in a new conference (the ACC) against better talent and being able to play another year with guys I’ve had great relationships with at Louisville.”Going to the NFL would allow him to “finally say I reached my ultimate goal and it would change my mom’s life (financially),” he said. “I can make an impact on my environment, where I grew up in Miami, showing there’s no restrictions what you can reach. That someone from the same neighborhood can make it out.”Bridgewater added that whatever NFL team has the first pick for next year’s draft will not impact his decision. He added that whenever he leaves college for the NFL, he wants to be able to say, “I was able to leave college a better person than when I came to college.”
LiAngelo Ball career stats at UCLA:0 points, 0 assists, 0 rebounds, 0 blocks and 1 steal— Poosh (@mighty_pasha) December 4, 2017 WATCH: LaVar Ball plans to train LiAngelo himself and says that he will be headed for the NBA pic.twitter.com/iricxGscRb— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 5, 2017 He’s hoping his kid becomes his cash cow. So sad.— Cassandra Cole (@Colecassandra81) December 5, 2017 He needs to be a father first and teach his son a lesson. No matter what he was caught stealing, teach him some kind of lesson😡— Marisol Mercado (@mmercado86) December 5, 2017Others gathered up a tally of LiAngelo Ball’s stats as a Bruin, playing on the shoplifting incident.LiAngelo Ball’s final UCLA career stats: 0 minutes, 1 steal— Matt (@dirty___g) December 4, 2017 LaVar Ball has pulled his son, LiAngelo Ball, from UCLA rather than the guard completing an indefinite suspension.Ball and his outspoken dad explained their decision after TMZ broke the news Monday, Dec. 3. According to the site, the elder Ball believes the suspension for his son shoplifting from multiple high-end Chinese stores — for which he and two other UCLA teammates were arrested and charged — is unfair.“That’s the whole season pretty much,” LiAngelo Ball tells the “Today Show” Tuesday, Dec. 5. “That’s just a long time of doing nothing. I rather be playing.”His father adds, “China already said, ‘Ok, he made a bad mistake, we’re gonna drop the charges.’ That’s the punishment they gave him. Now we over here. We gotta serve some more punishment? He apologized. What’s the long process for? We only went to UCLA — one and done — to play basketball.”LaVar plans to train his son on his own to get him drafted to the NBA, where he’d join older brother Lonzo Ball, who’s a Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard.“We learned today of LiAngelo Ball’s intention to withdraw from UCLA,” men’s basketball coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We respect the decision he and his family have made, and we wish him all the best in the future.”Related: The Ball In the NewsMarketing Expert Says LaMelo Ball Can Disrupt NCAA Regulations with Signature SneakerTwitter Users Give Lonzo Ball An Education On Hip-Hop After He Claims Nas Isn’t ‘Real Hip-Hop’Trump Says LaVar Ball Is a ‘Poor Man’s Don King’In response to the basketball dad’s latest move, many have been taken to social media to voice their opinion.As usual, several Twitter users bashed LaVar Ball’s parenting.That father is pure trash! I hope no one picks that kid up!— Just Say It #MAGA (@LucknerLea) December 5, 2017 LiAngelo Ball can’t stay suspended if Lavar Ball pulls him from UCLA pic.twitter.com/iInVNLIXHI— Collin (@CollinJustin1) December 4, 2017 BREAKING: After pulling out of UCLA, LiAngelo Ball has committed to another school. pic.twitter.com/tXi6mewf6j— Masta Red Snappa (@MastaRedSnappa) December 4, 2017 R.I.P. to the LiAngelo Ball ERA at UCLA. He had one of the biggest steals in UCLA history in his short time at the school. pic.twitter.com/zDi9E3NA9F— Stew🏀 (@StewyHoops) December 4, 2017And some just joked about the whole thing.LaVar Ball pulling up to LiAngelo Ball locker at UCLA like clean ya locker out and let’s go… pic.twitter.com/aBSNlWzfn2— D.T. (@Darlene26811165) December 4, 2017
As if Curry didn’t have enough ways to shock and amaze NBA fans of the televiewing and stat-crunching variety alike, his on/off court numbers are freaking ridiculous. You can’t read about sports these days without coming across quasi-thinkpieces about how the Warriors have reinvented basketball. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is clear: Having a point guard who can shoot at a 45 percent rate past 28 feet — often well-defended — completely wrecks the game.CORRECTION (Feb. 14, 3 p.m.): A previous version of this article referred incorrectly to Paul George’s team. It is the Indiana Pacers, not the Indianapolis Pacers.CORRECTION (Feb. 12, 7:55 p.m.): A previous version of this article misidentified Paul Millsap’s team. It is the Atlanta Hawks, not the Atlanta Falcons. Although basketball now attracts more nerds than Comic Con, basketball statistics are still all over the place. Maybe years of SportVU player-tracking data will someday bring clarity to the field, but for now it’s a kaleidoscope of imperfect metrics. Virtually all stats that try to infer player value from the various on-court actions (shots, rebounds, assists, etc.) are subject to biases from things like roles and responsibilities and style of play, and no one has figured out how to measure intangible contributions like “being high-energy” or intangible detriments like mucking up a team’s offense.That’s one reason why indirect stats like plus-minus or with or without you (WOWY) are now a big part of basketball and hockey analysis (and are even starting to creep into football). While basic plus-minuses have been around for a long time, the granularity of data and methodology to isolate individual cases has come a long way. The kind of plus-minus you find in the box score doesn’t account for things like who else was on the floor and when those minutes came (garbage time, for instance). But with play-by-play data and sites like nbawowy.com, you can filter and compare different situations and find more meaningful patterns.This kind of analysis also has limitations, but it acts as kind of a check against efficiency and box score stats, and it can help identify spots where a player’s value is a mirage or where someone may contribute even more to his team than his stats suggest. It also catches the impact from things like defense better than virtually any standard stat does. But samples are small, and biases many.It isn’t so much that this approach is better as that it’s different enough from the more standard fare to add new information. And that’s our goal here, to add new information to what we know of each player based on observations of his impact, not to supplant other methods of estimating his contribution.Method:There are extremely complicated versions of adjusted plus-minus that adjust for every single player on the floor and end up giving you results that are interesting and comprehensive in some sense but are somewhat opaque. I’m going to keep it a bit simpler. I’m going to start with each player who made the All-Star team. If he had one or more teammate who also made the All-Star Game, I’ll compare how his team did with each combination of the players: that is, with neither player on the floor, with both players on the floor, and with each player on the floor without the other. If a player was the only one from his team to make the game, I used ESPN’s RPM-based estimation of wins added to pick his most important teammate and did the same (and in the case of the Warriors, who have three All-Stars, I did a more complicated version of the same). Then for a rough estimate of the player’s value — which I’ve called “Two-way WOWY impact” below — I averaged the impact he had by himself (versus neither him nor his teammate in the game) and the impact he had with his teammate (versus just his teammate). In other words, this gives equal weight to how much the player improves his team with and without his teammates’ help.Plus charts.Admittedly, some players get really jobbed by this (like virtually anyone on the San Antonio Spurs), and some players were fortunate to have a flattering teammate pairing.1The whole endeavor also tends to rate point guards very high, which I don’t think is necessarily because they’re “better” as much as that they tend to be less replaceable for their particular teams.All stats are through Tuesday’s games. To the list!24. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, San Antonio Spurs (Selected by coaches)Real Plus-Minus 0.42, RPM Wins: +3.1Compared to: Kawhi Leonard (see below)Two-way WOWY impact: -6.3 points per 100 possessions The Spurs are a tricky case because they are so good from top to bottom, making Aldridge’s place at the bottom of this list as much a reflection of his team’s strength as his own play. As Neil Paine has written, their bench would be one of the NBA’s best teams in its own right. And while Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard will represent them in the All-Star Game, stalwarts like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are still putting up huge stats (by RPM, the 39-year-old Duncan is the 10th-best player in basketball this year). Although the Spurs have been playing great with Aldridge on the floor, at least so far this season, they’ve been playing just as well without him. The chart comparing the relative impacts of him and Leonard is under Leonard’s entry below.23. Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat (Selected by fans)RPM -0.37, RPM Wins: +2.5Compared to: Chris Bosh (see below)Two-way WOWY impact: -5.5 points per 100 possessions Wade is nowhere near the player he once was, and his appearance in the East lineup is driven by the same kind of fan voting loyalty that has Kobe Bryant starting in the West.22. DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto Raptors (Coaches)RPM 0.36, RPM Wins: +3.9Compared to: Kyle Lowry (see below)Two-way WOWY impact: -4.5 points per 100 possessions The Raptors were rewarded with a second player by the East coaches, presumably because the conference is a bit weak on shooting guards, but the data suggests that DeRozan is riding his teammate Kyle Lowry’s coattails.21. Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta Hawks (Coaches)RPM 6.48, RPM Wins: +10.0Compared to: Al HorfordHawks with both: -0.6 | Millsap alone: +2.6 | Horford alone: +3 | Neither: -0.9Two-way WOWY impact: -0.1 points per 100 possessions Despite Millsap’s stellar RPM numbers, the Hawks have not improved dramatically with him on the floor. Al Horford has been fully capable of leading the team on his own when Millsap has been out, and when the two have played together, the team has done about the same as it has with neither player.20. Chris Bosh, PF, Miami Heat (Coaches)RPM 5.11, RPM Wins: +8.6Compared to: Dwyane WadeHeat with both: -1.8 | Wade alone: -3.1 | Bosh alone: +3.1 | Neither: +3Two-way WOWY impact: +0.7 points per 100 possessions Bosh has been getting a fair amount of good press, and he’s put up some good numbers this year. However, his WOWY impact has been minimal, and his partnership with Wade is no longer instilling fear in anyone’s heart. 19. Jimmy Butler, SG, Chicago Bulls (Coaches)RPM 4.56, RPM Wins: +8.8Compared to: Pau GasolBulls with both: +2.6 | Butler alone: -4.5 | Gasol alone: -1.1 | Neither: -2.6Two-way WOWY impact: +0.9 points per 100 possessions Butler has emerged as the new star of the Chicago Bulls, which goes to show that if you score 20 points per game for a winning team, a lot of people will think you’re really good. Yet Pau Gasol (Butler’s injury replacement on the All-Star roster) has had a better impact for his team, estimated at 4.3 points per 100 possessions.18. Kobe Bryant, SF, Los Angeles Lakers (Fans)RPM -3.53, RPM Wins: -0.3Compared to: Brandon BassLakers with both: +5.5 | Bryant alone: -18.2 | Bass alone: -10.2 | Neither: -5Two-way WOWY impact: +1.3 points per 100 possessions The most shocking thing about Kobe is that he made it to 18th on this list when he may literally be one of the worst players in the NBA this year, helping make the Lakers one of the most embarrassing franchises in sports. And in the 38 percent of Lakers possessions with Kobe on the floor with no help from Brandon Bass — not exactly a game-changer, but the highest-rated Laker for now — they’ve been losing by 18 points per 100 possessions. Yet, call it good fortune or what you will, but the pairing of Bryant and Bass has been effective for the Lakers, which is enough to elevate Bryant’s contributions from team-destroyer to about neutral.17. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors (Coaches)RPM 1.08, RPM Wins: +4.5Compared to: Draymond Green, Stephen Curry (see below)Two-way WOWY impact: +1.7 points per 100 possessions The other “Splash Brother” has had some great games and flashy moments, but he is loved by neither advanced metrics nor WOWY. Let’s just say it’s hard to know exactly how valuable a shooter is when the other guard on his team gets as much attention as Stephen Curry does.16. James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets (Coaches)RPM 4.74, RPM Wins: +9.7Compared to: Dwight HowardRockets with both: +1.5 | Harden alone: -4 | Howard alone: -5.9 | Neither: -2.5Two-way WOWY impact: +3.0 points per 100 possessions Although the Rockets have been a big disappointment after making last year’s conference finals — with their star big man Dwight Howard even rumored to be on the trading block — Moreyball isn’t completely dead, as Harden’s shooting paired with Howard’s inside presence has at least been keeping the team in the positive.15. Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics (Coaches)RPM 1.99, RPM Wins: +5.7Compared to: Jae CrowderCeltics with both: +7.1 | Thomas alone: +1 | Crowder alone: -0.1 | Neither: +2Two-way WOWY impact: +3.1 points per 100 possessions This is a great example of a situation where two players are only so-so on their own, but excel when they play together. Neither Isaiah Thomas nor Jae Crowder on his own provides much of an improvement on the rest of the squad, but put them on the floor together and the team has been very effective at +7.1 points per 100 possessions.14. Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks (Fans)RPM 3.9, RPM Wins: 6.9Compared to: Kristaps PorzingisKnicks with both: +4.5 | Anthony alone: -7.7 | Porzingis alone: -6.2 | Neither: -7.6Two-way WOWY impact: +5.3 points per 100 possessions Anthony has always taken a beating from statheads, but pairing him with 7-foot-3 rookie phenom Kristaps Porzingis has given the Knicks some quality possessions.13. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons (Coaches)RPM 4.56, RPM Wins: +8.4Compared to: Reggie JacksonPistons with both: +3.6 | Drummond alone: +2.5 | Jackson alone: +0.3 | Neither: -5.3Two-way WOWY impact: +5.5 points per 100 possessions Drummond combines rebounding production that Dennis Rodman might envy with free-throw shooting that makes Shaq look like Steve Nash. But so far this profile seems to be working for Drummond, who has had a big impact on the Pistons whether or not point guard Reggie Jackson is on the floor.12. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs (Fans)RPM 8.83, RPM Wins: +12.0Compared to: Lamarcus AldridgeSpurs with both: +11.3 | Leonard alone: +27.3 | Aldridge alone: +14 | Neither: +10.5Two-way WOWY impact: +7.1 points per 100 possessions The only surprise here is that Leonard is this low, yet he’s still projecting to improve the powerhouse Spurs by about 7 points per 100 possessions — remarkable for a team as talented and as balanced as this one.11. John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards (Coaches)RPM 3.09, RPM Wins: +7.1Compared to: Jared DudleyWizards with both: +2.3 | Wall alone: -5.1 | Dudley alone: -10.3 | Neither: -8.6Two-way WOWY impact: +8.0 points per 100 possessions The rest of Wall’s Washington Wizards are so bad that 30-year-old journeyman Jared Dudley — who plays fewer than 30 minutes a game and averages 9 points — emerged as his most significant teammate by RPM. Although the Wizards are a losing squad, they consistently do better with Wall on the floor.10. Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans (Coaches)RPM 2.66, RPM Wins: +5.8Compared to: Jrue HolidayPelicans with both: +2.7 | Davis alone: -8.7 | Holiday alone: -6.1 | Neither: -17.4Two-way WOWY impact: +8.7 points per 100 possessions The Pelicans have disappointed this year, causing many to question whether Davis is actually the basketball revolution that he seemed to be a year or so ago. Yet they are a winning squad with him and point guard Jrue Holiday on the floor, and a comically terrible -17 points per 100 with neither of them.9. Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers (Fans)RPM 5.24, RPM Wins: +9.7Compared to: Ian MahinmiPacers with both: +4.6 | George alone: +5.4 | Mahinmi alone: -6.6 | Neither: -3.5Two-way WOWY impact: +10.1 points per 100 possessions George has cooled off a bit from his blazing start to the season and clearly benefits here from being paired with Ian Mahinmi (the Pacers with bigger roles haven’t been very impressive). But overall his comeback year after last season’s injury has been spectacular, with him shooting well and often from distance.8. Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder (Fans)RPM 6.43, RPM Wins: +10.0Compared to: Russell Westbrook (see below)Two-way WOWY impact: +10.4 points per 100 possessions Speaking of players who have returned from injury to reclaim their rightful spots among the best forwards in basketball, Durant has been having another remarkable year. Although the Thunder are now widely thought to be Russell Westbrook’s team, Durant has picked up about exactly where he left off. More on this duo below.7. DeMarcus Cousins, Center, Sacramento Kings (Coaches)RPM 6.66, RPM Wins: +9.2Compared to: Omri CasspiKings with both: +7.4 | Cousins alone: -3.7 | Casspi alone: -5.1 | Neither: -13.2Two-way WOWY impact: +11.0 points per 100 possessions Cousins has been a real headline-maker this year, yet his ball-demanding, trail-three-popping style has been one of the great statistical success stories amid all the chaos in Sacramento. Yet it’s worth noting that Omri Casspi — despite playing fewer minutes and having a less-eye-catching statistical and/or public profile, has had a similarly strong effect. With both of them on the floor, Sacramento looks like a strong team.6. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder (Fans)RPM 9.59, RPM Wins: +14.6Compared to: Kevin DurantThunder with both: +13.8 | Durant alone: +7.3 | Westbrook alone: +7.9 | Neither: -7.6Two-way WOWY impact: +11.0 points per 100 possessions Westbrook led the league in scoring last year by shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting (see the second chart in this story), but he has the impact to go with those gaudy numbers.5. Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors (Coaches)RPM 9.49, RPM Wins: +14.2Compared to: Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry (see below)Two-way WOWY impact: +11.3 points per 100 possessions Green is nearly as much of a defensive outlier as Stephen Curry is an offensive one, and he can rebound and shoot open threes when called to as well. Like Curry, he may be the best in his position in the league, while completely redefining what that position means.4. LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers (Fans)RPM 8.23, RPM Wins: +12.2Compared to: Kevin LoveCavaliers with both: +12.7 | James alone: +3.9 | Love alone: -8.1 | Neither: -4Two-way WOWY impact: +14.4 points per 100 possessions Although he seems perpetually frustrated with not winning 100 percent of his games, James is still one of the best players in basketball, and his very existence practically demands that everyone shut up already and accept that “impactful” is a real thing.3. Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors (Fans)RPM 7.45, RPM Wins: +12.0Compared to: DeMar DeRozanRaptors with both: +2.7 | Lowry alone: +20.7 | DeRozan alone: +1.6 | Neither: -7.5Two-way WOWY impact: +14.7 points per 100 possessions Lowry has been an absolute force for Toronto, leading the Raptors’ surge to the second-best record in the East. He’s attempting a career-high seven threes per game and making a career-high 39 percent of them. If these numbers are at all representative, however, DeRozan appears to be dragging Lowry down more than anything. This kind of dynamic isn’t uncommon with mediocre shooting guards playing with good scoring point guards — their contributions may range from redundant to net negative.2. Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers (Coaches)RPM 7.2, RPM Wins: +9.6Compared to: DeAndre JordanClippers with both: +10.3 | Paul alone: +14.7 | Jordan alone: +3.4 | Neither: -11.3Two-way WOWY impact: +16.5 points per 100 possessions Point god Chris Paul has practically perfected the classic point guard skill set on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, classic basketball can only take you so far these days, as the Clippers are on track for another heartbreaking loss in the conference semifinals.1. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors (Fans)RPM 10.97, RPM Wins: +15.4Compared to: Klay Thompson, Draymond GreenTeam with all three: +20.2 | Curry alone: +9.8 | Green and Thompson alone: +1.3 | None: -11.8Two-way WOWY impact: +20.2 points per 100 possessions Just so all three of these All-Stars get their due, here’s a not-to-scale diagram of the on/off combinations for all three players:
Junior Sean Melton competes during the 2015 P&G Championships. Courtesy of OSU athletics“If you don’t want it, it’s not going to happen.”This mantra is what junior gymnast Sean Melton lives by. He said it applies to both his team play with the Ohio State Men’s gymnastics team and his personal endeavors to go for gold in Rio.Melton travelled to St. Louis this weekend for the first step in accomplishing his Olympic dream, to participate in the U.S. Olympic Trials. 18 participants were vying for the coveted spot to represent Team USA and to hopefully earn gold at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.With only five gymnasts named to the U.S. Olympic team, Melton’s quest for Rio came to an end Sunday when he finished 12th. Melton was disappointed about his finish.“Trials didn’t go as well as planned,” Melton said. “I wasn’t able to do all-around either day because I was battling with some shoulder problems throughout the year. It kind of just acted up at the wrong time.”Even with battling shoulder injuries, Melton managed to finish ninth in rings and tenth in floor exercise.He feels an Olympic berth is not far away.“I’m definitely headed in the right direction,” Melton said. “It comes between a couple of tenths to who makes the Olympic team and who doesn’t. I just need to get better on everything.”His accolades as a member of OSU’s gymnastics team is what got him to participate in the Trials. A six time All-American and five time Big Ten champion, Melton won 2016 Big Ten Gymnast of the Year. The 2015 team captain also led his team to a third place finish at the NCAA Championship in April.Looking back at his accomplishments this year, Melton said he feels like he has improved immensely.“I became more of a professional in the sport,” Melton said. “I really just dedicated my life to the sport because I know that is what it takes to get to this level and to make the Olympic team.”That same dedication is what fuels his leadership ability. Melton made an extra effort to become a more established leader for his college teammates.“I stopped talking as much and started doing what I thought was right,” Melton said. “They see me having success and they want success also. It made me train harder in the gym just knowing I’m doing it for 20 other guys and not just myself. It really just made me better in all aspects of the sport.”The team is Melton’s next focus after falling short of Rio.“I’m going right back to Columbus,” Melton said. “First, I’m going to get fully healthy again. Then I’m right back to training. Start preseason for college and get ready for the NCAA season.”As for his Olympic dreams, they are still alive and well. Melton now knows exactly what he needs to do to make that leap to Olympic glory.“I know I want it just as bad as everyone else if not more because now I have a taste of it and didn’t get it,” Melton said. “It’s definitely a huge learning process. I just need to take my gymnastics to another level now.”
Colt Sponseller feels the pressure from all angles. At 165 pounds he earned his 18th win on the season in a 4-2 decision over Dan Vallimont of Penn State.Sponseller is a three-time Ohio High School Division II State Champion as well as National High School Seniors Wrestling Champion.However, this season Sponseller and coach Tom Ryan have their eyes on a bigger prize. “Colt Sponseller holds the key to the national title for the Buckeyes,” Ryan said.That’s a tremendous amount of pressure, but Ryan knows that he can handle it. So far, Sponseller is taking it in stride.“The pressure motivates me more than I already am and motivates me to work that much harder,” Sponseller said. After the Buckeyes defeated Penn State in a 21-14 decision Sunday, the team received a day off. Sponseller doesn’t take days off. He hit the gym for his usual workout, which came as no surprise to Ryan.Ryan noted that Sponseller was a frequent participant in optional summer workouts, and that he fills the gym with electricity. Sponseller was hesitant to say he motivates other guys on the team. He doesn’t go out there trying to motivate others, but it seems hard not to be motivated by his work ethic and determination. “He is a true warrior,” Ryan said. “He loves to train and truly embraces hard work.”As the Buckeyes enter their Big Ten schedule, the training really begins.Sponseller says he is pushing himself to clean up the little things, such as his mentality. “I’m focusing on my mental game, going in to the Big Ten and Nationals having a good confidence level and knowing I can beat anyone,” Sponseller said.Ryan asserts that Sponseller’s mentality is right up there with his strength of training.“His heart is his greatest asset,” Ryan said. Sponseller’s strength and mentality are constantly challenging him to live up to his full ability, a value Ryan coaches every day. Sponseller has no problem with nerves, although someone very close to him does.At any given match as Sponseller takes to the mat, a whistling can be heard resounding through the crowd. That whistle is his mother, Sue Sponseller.“I tend to block it out now,” Sponseller said. “It’s been going on for about 16 years. I know she’s there because I can hear it, but it certainly doesn’t bother me.” Sponseller calls it his mother’s nervous habit. He imagines she is more nervous than him.Not only is Sponseller working toward a national title, but he is well on his way to beating the team records he set last season. Sponseller holds the team record for most wins, 28, most takedowns, 132, and most technical falls, five. He and the Buckeyes will wrestle at Purdue and Indiana Jan. 29 and Jan. 31, respectively.
Sophomore right-handed pitcher Travis Lakins (1) delivers a pitch against Illinois on May 2, 2015. OSU lost, 6-5.Credit: Elliot Gilfix / For The LanternWhile the No. 25 Ohio State baseball team is enjoying its best season in several years, a weekend visit from the No. 7 Illinois Fighting Illini stood as a harsh reminder of who the class of the Big Ten is.Illinois (40-6-1, 16-1) won its 19th, 20th and 21st consecutive games with a weekend sweep of the Buckeyes (31-13, 12-6) at Bill Davis Stadium.OSU, looking to salvage the series with a win on Sunday, knocked in a run in each of the first two innings to grab an early 2-0 lead. However, that would be all they would muster off of one of the nation’s top pitching staffs.The Buckeyes were shut out by the Illini the rest of the way, and Illinois scored one in the third and two in the fourth to grab a 3-2 lead. It would remain that way until the top of the sixth, when Illinois blew it open with a three-run inning.A throwing error by OSU senior left-hander Ryan Riga put Illinois up by two runs, and a two-run single made it 6-2, which stood as the final score.Riga, who came into the game second on OSU’s staff in earned-run average, was hit hard to the tune of six runs, nine hits and three walks in six innings. He dropped to 5-3 on the year with the loss.Saturday’s contest was a back-and-forth affair in which the Buckeyes came up just a little short.OSU, just as they would the following afternoon, jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two innings, scoring a run in each of the first two frames. The score remained that way until the fifth inning, when Illinois took advantage of two OSU errors to grab a 3-2 lead.The Buckeyes would answer immediately, as just two batters into the bottom of the frame, the game was tied.Sophomore outfielder Troy Montgomery scored freshman outfielder Tre’ Gantt from first with a double. Montgomery then came in on a two-out RBI single by sophomore outfielder Ronnie Dawson to put the Buckeyes back ahead.Just like the Illini lead, however, that would prove to be short-lived.A three-run top of the sixth put Illinois up 6-4 and chased OSU sophomore right-handed pitcher Travis Lakins from the game.While the Buckeyes would add a run in the bottom of the seventh to make it a one-run game, they ran into the nearly impenetrable force that is Illinois preseason second-team All-American, junior left-hander Tyler Jay.Jay, who is second in the nation with a 0.73 ERA, worked 2.1 innings, allowing just one hit for his ninth save of the season to preserve the 6-5 victory.Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the man who is just a tick behind Jay at third in the nation in ERA also resides in Champaign.Junior left-hander Kevin Duchene actually raised his 0.74 season ERA with an eight-inning, three-hit, one-run domination of OSU in Friday night’s series opener.The Buckeyes fell behind 4-0 after two innings, as OSU sophomore left-hander Tanner Tully was ineffective against the Illinois bats.Tully, the 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, surrendered eight earned runs in five innings.The Illini outhit OSU 13-4 and featured four hitters with multi-hit performances.OSU’s bullpen was a highlight of the weekend for the home team, as five Buckeye relievers combined for 10.2 shutout innings in the three games, allowing just six hits.Over 2,000 fans were in attendance at Bill Davis Stadium for each of the three weekend contests, OSU’s three largest home crowds of the season.The Buckeyes will look to get back on the winning side with a pair of nonconference in-state matchups. They are set to travel to Oxford, Ohio, to take on Miami (Ohio) on Tuesday before heading south to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats the following night. Both games are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.
Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorOhio State announced wide receivers coach Brian Hartline would have his interim tag removed and that he would serve as the permanent position coach for the upcoming season. Leading three redshirt senior wide receivers in Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin, the Ohio State wide receivers caught 291 passes for 4,211 yards and 43 touchdowns, all program records. This year’s unit became the first in school history to have four receivers with at least 1,000 career receiving yards. “Brian is a terrific young coach and mentor to our players and I am thrilled he is on our staff permanently now,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who takes over as head coach on Jan. 2, said via statement. “His efforts coaching the wide receivers this season are a huge reason we are Big Ten champions and headed to the Rose Bowl.” Hartline replaced former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, who was dismissed from Ohio State on July 23 after allegations of domestic violence had surfaced. Hartline was a quality control assistant with the Buckeyes during the 2017 season. Hartline played for Ohio State from 2005 to 2008, earning four Big Ten championships and reaching the BCS National Championship in 2006 and 2007. He recorded 90 catches for 1,429 yards and 12 touchdowns in his collegiate career. After college, Hartline played seven seasons in the NFL between the Cleveland Browns and the Miami Dolphins.
Knotweed engulfs a public footpath in SwanseaCredit:Mark Griffiths The only thing it has to do is grow, which it does, up to four inches a day in summer Her husband, Bill, a butcher, 69, discovered knotweed on a piece of land he owned near their home in Stourbridge, West Midlands, earlier this year. ‘He’d had the land for 30 years and then it [knotweed] just suddenly appeared. He didn’t recognise it immediately. But then he went on the internet. ‘Bill’s biggest worry was the financial aspect,’ she continues. ‘That if the knotweed encroached on neighbouring land, he would be liable. Towards the end he was desperate. He thought we’d have nothing left.’An alarming invasionThe couple had raised four children (now aged between 20 and 30) and had bought their house in the 1990s. On February 13 this year, he went to work. Later that day, he was found at home having attempted suicide. He died the following day in hospital. It’s likely the suicide was an expression of a deeper problem. Helen says her husband had ‘occasionally’ suffered from depression before. But she is convinced the precipitating event was the knotweed. ‘Bill was a very strong character. But this was something he couldn’t cope with.This was something he didn’t have an answer to. He couldn’t sleep. He could hardly eat. He just spiralled downwards.’ Japanese knotweed first arrived in Britain in a box of 40 Chinese and Japanese plants delivered to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, west London, on August 9, 1850. ‘Plant number 34’ was a simple shrub with reddish, hollow canes and heart-shaped leaves on a bowing stem. Fallopia japonica was disseminated throughout the UK by the fashion for ‘wild’ gardens – a departure from the Victorian craze for regimented carpet bedding. There are two methods of killing knotweed: poison (it can take five years of repeated applications, costs around £2,000, and shoots can still rise from a plant you thought you’d killed years earlier); and digging it out completely. This means excavating to a depth of at least two metres and taking the resulting earth to a specially designated landfill. The remaining soil may have to be lined with a heavy-duty plastic membrane.This can cost upwards of £10,000, even for a domestic property. A source of excitement in recent years has been biological control – using natural enemies to keep knotweed in check. The key was to find an insect that only fed on knotweed and didn’t attack any of the UK’s native plant species. Dr Shaw and his team at Cabi tested nine insects and whittled it down to one – the psyllid . Releases have been made annually since 2010. But the bug, a sap-sucker, has not adjusted well to the UK. ‘It has got all the characteristics of a successful agent: it lasts a long time; it produces hundreds of eggs; but it’s not taking off and we don’t know why,’ Shaw explains. ‘It might be because it’s been 140 years under a Japanese summer and then it’s suddenly thrown out in Berkshire in the spring.’ The plan is to collect new stock from Japan. ‘Quite often these things lose their mojo when they’re in the lab,’ he says. Shaw is also investigating a second control agent: a leaf-spot fungus. In the meantime, knotweed professionals worry about an impending cataclysm that will result in unimaginable amounts of knotweed, possibly in our own lifetime. Fallopia japonica (a female plant) has already cross-bred with her cousin, the less intrusive giant knotweed. ‘You can get all sorts of hybrids back-crossing with Japanese knotweed and the danger is that we will eventually end up with male Japanese knotweed,’ explains Brian Taylor, who runs The Knotweed Company, a firm specialising in knotweed eradication, based in Daventry, Northamptonshire. The weed’s seeds, which are currently barren, would, effectively, be switched on. In 1823, Philip Franz von Siebold, a Bavarian doctor and ethnologist, was appointed doctor-in-residence for a community of Dutch traders based in Dejima, a man-made island in the harbour of Nagasaki, in Japan. At this time Japan was a closed country with wide-ranging restrictions on the activities of foreigners (for example, learning to read and write Japanese was against the law). But Siebold’s medical skill won him influential contacts and he was granted unprecedented access to the country.For the next five years, Siebold, with a commercial objective, secretly collected specimens (plants, animals, objects). On September 18, 1828, as he prepared to sail for Europe with 89 crates of illicit goods, a storm forced the ship aground. Siebold hid the precious specimens in false-bottomed flower boxes. The ship sailed but Siebold was detained, interrogated and later banished from Japan for life. He moved to Antwerp, in Belgium, and then to the Netherlands, where he tracked down his scattered collection.In 1842, he opened a nursery in Leiden and began to market his collection of ‘exotic’ plants across Europe. And so it was that in 1850 he sent an unsolicited package to Kew Gardens. At the time of Siebold’s death in 1866, his nursery boasted 1,000 different species and varieties of plants. When FW Burbidge and P Barr, two well-known English horticulturalists, visited the nursery in 1883, they found a neglected jungle, overrun by just one plant: Japanese knotweed. Some would go a bit further and put a bit of diesel on it. They’d say, “Whatever I do, it just comes back.”’ Three years ago, he decided to investigate. ‘Some of the infestations had reached the point where the tenants were unable to enjoy their gardens,’ he reveals. One garden was two-thirds knotweed. In 2013, Sawyer decided he needed to spearhead what he describes as a ‘strategic approach’ and ask his board for funding. I wonder how difficult it was to get money for what some might say is just a weed. ‘They’d gone beyond that. They know it’s the dark force,’ he replies. He asked for £90,000 and got £15,000 a year, for a five-year programme of repeated applications of herbicide in 25 properties. ‘What worries me is we’re just tinkering at the margins,’ he admits. ‘Knotweed will develop. We’ve seen how it spreads and it’s very aggressive. We don’t have the budget to deal with the entire estate. We are treating 25 properties. Next year I know there will be 35, and the year after there will be 45. We can probably add 10 every year.It’s almost like trying to resist gravity. It has taken over the valleys. It’s not a battle that we are ever going to win. ‘In the quiet hours of the morning when I can’t sleep and I think of all the roofs leaking, all the central heating I need to put in, I’m now thinking about knotweed and how we have got properties that back on to council-owned land and private land. We are trying to do our bit, but unless every landowner is prepared to do theirs, it’s no good. And we have very little control over private landowners, and almost no working relationship with the council because they say they are almost skint. Meanwhile I am just watching this vast army advance towards us.’ Knotweed leaves absorb the summer sun Credit:Mark Griffiths Taylor goes on to present compelling evidence of knotweed’s growing immunity to herbicides, which is another worry. Taylor is interesting to listen to, if unbelievably alarming. ‘If we’re to get evolution and resistance, what could we do?’ he asks. ‘We are literally just looking at excavation as a control measure.’ I meet Sean Hathaway, an agile, fleece- wearing man, in mid-August – when the knotweed is starting to produce frilly, white blossomy flowers. ‘One of its few benefits – if it has any – is bees love it,’ he says.The battle continuesHathaway works for Swansea council and is known locally as the ‘knotweed officer’, owing to his 20-year battle with the plant. Swansea, Wales’s second city, has for decades now been beset by knotweed. Its history of copper mining and processing, combined with widespread redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, when derelict factories were turned into enterprise parks and shopping centres, is, Hathaway suspects, behind the apparently unstoppable infestation. Officially, Swansea has around 250 acres of knotweed. But the last survey was done back in 1998. He describes the battle against knotweed as ‘stable’. Every year he poisons a few thousand square metres, every year it takes hold elsewhere. He takes me on a tour of knotweed sites. This includes a very considerable hillside, rising from the site of an old quarry, not far from the city centre, which is so uniformly green it’s hard to tell from a distance what is knotweed and what is not. Close-up I realise it is all knotweed. Denise Rees in the graveyard at Caersalem Chapel,Swansea: she struggles to find the graves of her parents because of the knotweed infestationCredit:Mark Griffiths The potential cost of trying to eradicate the plant in Britain has been estimated at more than £1.25 billion It’s almost like trying to resist gravity. It has taken over the valleys. It’s not a battle that we are ever going to win In the mid-1800s, when Japanese knotweed was a ‘new’ exotic species just becoming available here, gardeners were urged to consider its benefits. It was reliable, hardy and had ‘great vigour’. It was fodder for cattle (untrue), a reliable screen for the outdoor privy; its underground stems or rhizomes were an effective means of stabilising sand dunes and, especially versatile, its canes could be used to make matches. ‘A capital plant for the small town garden,’ wrote John Wood, who went on to open a nursery in Leeds.Today, Japanese knotweed is Britain’s most destructive invasive plant, costing around £166 million a year to clear and control. It cracks through roads, undermines buildings, eats up property values. It is deeply disgruntling to wildlife: insects can’t feed off it; birds rarely build nests in it. But the animal it most clearly affects is us. Birmingham couple Nasreen and Sajid Akhtar claimed recently that they were unable to sell their home, after an infestation of Japanese knotweed in a neighbour’s garden. Despite 20 viewings with three estate agents, they could not to find a buyer.It was only when they tried to remortgage the terraced house – and were turned down – that they learnt the reason why. The weed was threatening the foundations of their property, meaning that no bank would lend against it. The couple were now ‘in limbo’, according to Nasreen. ‘It is putting my future and my children’s future on hold and it is totally out of control.’ ‘It does seem trivial but for some people it has become a big worry,’ says Helen Jones, 60. ‘It’s choked everything else,’ he says, explaining the harm that would have come to the shrubs and grasses. ‘It is impressive,’ admits Hathaway, who, like many who make a living killing or studying Fallopia japonica, is simultaneously horrified and awed by its power. The council received its first knotweed complaint in 1970. But since 2012, mortgage lenders have started rejecting loans outright if knotweed is found on a property (even an infestation on a neighbouring property can be enough to put them off). Liz Wakeman, a project manager from Bristol, had a great-aunt who lived in Swansea. ‘She was bedridden with quite severe dementia and about 18 months ago, it got to the stage where we had no option but to get her into a nursing home. So we decided to sell her house to raise money for her care,’ she explains. The estate agent went to value the property. ‘He called me,’ Wakeman recalls, ‘and said, “You’ve got a massive problem.”’ After enlightening her about the knotweed, the estate agent estimated the value of the house – not £100,000 or so, as Wakeman had anticipated, but £45,000. ‘Unfortunately, I don’t think people understand the impact not only on property prices but also on what it’s doing to their property. When we got Environet [a firm specialising in the eradication of Japanese knotweed] to do the first treatment and they cut it back, we saw the extent of the damage: there was a wall at the bottom of my great-aunt’s garden and the knotweed had literally pulled it over.’ After treatment (costing £10,000) the house sold for £73,000. Wakeman’s great-aunt died while the sale was going through. ‘Some of the neighbours have got it up to their back door and they don’t seem to care,’ she says. The Reverend Grenville Fisher stands at the graveyard at Mynyddbach Chapel, which has recently been treated for Japanese knotweed Credit:Mark Griffiths Half a mile away, on Llangyfelach Road, is Caersalem Newydd Baptist Chapel. Denise Rees, 75, has been a member of the church since she was a child and she swears knotweed has been in the churchyard for as long. ‘As children we used to go up there, cut off a piece and use the tube as a pea-shooter,’ she says. ‘Many years ago, when we had more members, the youngsters used to go up and try to clear it. But they never got rid of it. And now it’s just got worse and worse.’ The knotweed is so advanced it has smashed up gravestones and tipped them over, like a violent intruder.For the past two years, the congregation of 40 has funded a professional knotweed killer out of the collection money. But the cost – £700 so far – only covers the lower end of work. ‘My parents are buried right at the top and my grandmother’s grave is next door,’ says Rees. ‘We try to keep it clear, so we can visit. My husband sprays it with Roundup [the systemic herbicide], but it’s awful.’ Thirty or so miles north-east of Swansea is the valley town of Merthyr Tydfil, once a centre of iron production and now one of the 10 most deprived areas in Wales.Mark Sawyer works for Merthyr Valley Homes, the social-housing company, and is responsible for 4,200 houses and flats in the area. He’d been receiving knotweed complaints for some years, but, initially, placed the blame on the tenants. ‘When a tenant says, “I’ve got weeds in my garden,” you tend to think, well cut them back then. Or look after your garden, because we don’t provide that service. We do roofs, kitchens, bathrooms. ‘And the tenants would say, “Well I have been cutting it back.” The only thing it has to do is grow, which it does, up to four inches a day in summer. The other problem is the ease with which it spreads – not by seed, the plant is infertile. It reproduces by regenerating its rhizomes, which creep out horizontally deep underground, and sends up shoots. And even a tiny bit of rhizome (just 0.7g, the size of a fingernail) can generate a new infestation. ‘We are a small island with a lot of people and we move soil around a lot – to build roads, develop brownfield sites – and that is how it spreads,’ points out Dr Richard Shaw, regional coordinator for invasive species, at the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (Cabi), an intergovernmental research organisation. ‘The main issue is redistribution through human intervention. ‘It’s definitely spreading and the spread is exponential,’ he continues. It is also a problem across Europe and America, but is more extreme in Britain. The potential cost of trying to eradicate the plant in Britain has been estimated at more than £1.25 billion (just clearing it from the 10 acres of the Olympic Park for the London Olympics in 2012, cost more than £70 million). Last year, George Eustice, an environment minister, said there were ‘no plans to attempt a national eradication’ because of the cost. Combatting the enemy‘Our strategy is really focused on trying to stop the next Japanese knotweed from getting into the country and from spreading,’ says Olaf Booy, technical coordinator of the Non-Native Species Secretariat, a team based within the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which works on behalf of the Government. ‘But the Government is investing in a bio-control agent [more about this later] and has been helping to fund local groups that are dealing with Japanese knotweed,’ he adds. Defra (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) spent £1.5 million on such groups from 2011 to 2015. It is currently employing a Local Action Groups coordinator to assist with funding bids. ‘We ought not to forget the quick growing ways of the great Japan Knotweeds growing fast and tall,’ wrote Gertrude Jekyll, the influential horticulturalist, in a 1900 edition of Home and Garden. Jekyll thought it was an excellent flanking plant for a woodland walk. And when, inevitably, the weed breached the garden walls, and began to run amok in someone else’s garden, break into someone else’s drains, qualifications began to creep in. Japanese knotweed, warned William Robinson, the Victorian gardener, in 1898, ‘…springs up everywhere’.Nevertheless, it was sold as a fashionable exotic until the 1930s. It was first spotted growing in the wild in Maesteg, a small town in south Wales. Japanese knotweed, noted John Storrie, a curator at Cardiff Museum, in The Flora of Cardiff (1886), was ‘very abundant on the cinder tips’ near the town. It has since colonised just about every corner of the British Isles (with hotspots in London, Wales, Cornwall and the West Country), growing in all sorts of places plants are not supposed to grow: sandy, salty beaches; heavy asphalt; swamps and marshes. The source of its almost supernatural resilience lies in its native habitat – it was dug up from volcanic fumeroles, outcrops of volcanic ash, near Nagasaki, where it thrived amid lava and poisonous gases owing to an extensive network of underground stems (rhizomes) that sucked up the limited nutrients available. But in Japan it has enemies, specifically 186 bugs and about 40 fungi. Here, it luxuriates in being predator-free. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
Greeted by Dr Nicholas Cullinan, the gallery’s director, when she arrived, the Duchess was escorted up glittering golden stairs to a champagne reception.She has been a patron of the gallery since 2012.There, she was shown around an exhibition by Howard Hodgkin, entitled Absent Friends, including the last work he painted. Mr Hodgkin died at the beginning of this month. The Duchess, wearing a dark green lace Temperley gown, met artists, trustees and donors in an hour-long tour of the gallery in London.In one line-up, she met parents from pre-prep Thomas’s school in Battersea, which Prince George will attend from September, telling them: “I’m not sure George has any idea what’s going to hit him.” The Duchess was then given a lengthy tour by artist Gillian Wearing of her exhibition, Behind the Mask, Another Mask, which also includes work by Claude Cahun. Prince George on his first day at the Westacre Montessori nursery school, near SandringhamCredit:The Duchess of Cambridge/PA Dr Cullinan gave a speech to guests to launch the gallery’s major fundraising project, Coming Home, which aims to loan works of art to the regions they are linked with.”It could enable sitters such as Sir Francis Drake to return to Plymouth, the Bronte sisters or David Beckham to Essex,” he said.Moving upstairs, the Duchess was shown 10 masks by artists and designers, including Philip Treacy, Maggie Hambling and Dame Vivienne Westwood, which are due to be sold to raise funds.A series of 100 new postcards, by artists who have produced the works anonymously, are also being sold for £250. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their children Prince George and Princess CharlotteCredit:Andrew Matthews /PA At the glamorous National Portrait Gallery gala dinner, the Duchess of Cambridge was always going to bump into a few famous faces and key figures from the art world.But last night she made a new – and potentially useful – acquaintance, after meeting a fellow parent from son Prince George’s new school. The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at the National Portrait Gallery in LondonCredit:Beretta/Sims/Rex/Shutterstock The Duchess went on to speak to Phillip Chung, the father of television presenter and model Alexa Chung, who remarked on the collection of art he had built up, thanks to his children.She told him that she too had begun gathering her children’s artistic efforts together. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Architect Richard Found and his wife Jane Suitor, an art consultant and collector, told the Duchess that it was a “great school”.”We were chatting about Thomas’s, the school George will be going to,” said Mr Found after meeting the Duchess.”We’re parents there as well. She just said, ‘I may see you at the school gates.'” The Duchess of Cambridge with artist Gillian WearingCredit:Neil Hall/Getty