The NBA’s Sweet Sixteen: Restructuring the NBA Playoffs

The NBA Playoffs tip-off today with four games, including top overall team Golden State taking on the New Orleans Pelicans.  All the matchups seem pretty solid.

Well……except in the East.  On Sunday, the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics face off against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers respectively.  No one expects these to be much of a contest…not even Nets coach Lionel Hollins.  If these go six then most will be shocked and dismiss the Hawks as flukes and the Cavs as choking.  Go ahead and write the East’s one and two seeds into the next round…do it in marker!

Of course, matchups like that lead to some wondering why the hell a team like the Nets, who finished the season 38-44 [0.463], is even in the playoffs.  These question especially arise when you look out West and see a 45-37 Oklahoma City team sitting at home.  Can’t something be done about that?

Most point out that the structure of the NBA, with two conferences further divided into three divisions each, creates this situation.  And, really, there is no better way to divide the teams.  I mean, are we really going to move to a baseball or football format where there are two conferences that span the country?  Imagine the Clippers and Lakers both being in Los Angeles but being in opposite conferences!

Well, short of doing that, there is something that can be done now — simply take the sixteen best teams regardless of division.  That’s what we want, yeah?  But, what would something like that look like?  Is it even feasible?

Necessity?

Well, before answering those two questions, there exist a better question — is it even necessary?  Think about this: every year when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection is announced one of the first topics of discussions is who got snubbed?  Which “deserving” team was left out and which team should NOT be in the tourney.  But, in all honesty, do those complaining about Team 69 really believe that they will go all the way?  Maybe they make it past opening weekend, but it is likely that a snubbed team was snubbed for a reason.  So, the discussion about snubbed teams and undeserving teams is more about just…talking.  It brings hype and interest to the tournament because pretty soon no one remembers the snubs.

Seriously!  Can you recall which teams were snubbed last year?  Hell, can you remember which teams were snubbed this season?  Exactly.

What does this have to do with the NBA?  Simple.  Are a couple of bad teams from one conference getting into the NBA Playoffs really coming at the expense of a team that was a championship contender?  Essentially, aren’t we just trading one mediocre team for another?

Still, the “is it even necessary” needs to be asked and to answer it we need to see how often it actually occurs.  Looking at the past decade, there have been only nine teams that could have been replaced by teams with better records from the other conference.  In two seasons — the 2006-07 season and the 2011-12 season — there were no teams that were “snubbed.”  In 2007-08, there were two teams that were snubbed; all other seasons had only one team snubbed.

So, we established that it happens nearly every season, though it is typically only one team.  Also, it should be noted that in every case over the last ten seasons that it was an Eastern Conference team that got in at the expense of a Western Conference team.  However, it is not simply replacing the worst playoff team with another team that would equally be “8th”…or “16th” as it would be.  In most cases, the snubbed team would be “seeded” higher than the undeserving team.

For example, as the playoff team with the worst record, the Nets could be considered 16th.  However, if Oklahoma City were to replace them, the Thunder would actually be 14th.  Last season, replacing the Atlanta Hawks with the Phoenix Suns would have seen the later go in as the 13th team.

Here would be the year by year exchange:

  • 2014-15: Oklahoma City (14) instead of Brooklyn
  • 2013-14: Phoenix (13) instead of Atlanta
  • 2012-13: Utah (15) instead of Milwaukee
  • 2011-12: none
  • 2010-11: Houston (14) instead of Indiana
  • 2009-10: Houston (16) instead of Chicago
  • 2008-09: Phoenix (13) instead of Detroit
  • 2007-08: Portland (16) instead of Atlanta; AND Golden State (12) instead of Philadelphia
  • 2006-07: none
  • 2005-06: Utah (16) instead of Milwaukee

So, given that there is usually one snub each year, it does seem like going to the best 16 makes sense.  One other consideration is the disparity between the eighth seed in one conference versus the other.  For example, Golden State, the NBA’s best team by record, will face a Pelicans team that has the 13th-best record.  On the other hand, Atlanta, as the Eastern Conference’s top team, faces the Nets, which sport the 17th-best record in the NBA.  Taking the 16 best teams regardless of conferences could potentially avoid this disparity.

(Re)Creating the NBA Playoffs

So…what would this look like?  Well, before i delve into that, keep in mind the following: what lies below assumes that while the Conference structure remains intact, the divisions are abolished.  It is possible to take into account the divisions and award them the top six seeds regardless of record.  However, i wanted to simplify this and only look at the conferences.  Conference champs should be rewarded; division champs should not [remember Denver would have been a seven or eight seed in 2005-06 had it not won the Northwest Division].

Anyway, I think that there are actually a couple of options.  First, let’s do the simplest yet least geographic method before examining how we could overcome crazy “red-eye” series; rank them 1 to 16 and match ’em up!

What would the 2015 NBA Playoffs look like if we ranked the 16 best teams and just slotted them accordingly?  Well…here is the list:

  1. Golden State [0.817]
  2. Atlanta [0.732]
  3. Houston [0.683]
  4. Los Angeles Clippers [0.683]
  5. Memphis [0.671]
  6. San Antonio [0.671]
  7. Cleveland [0.646]
  8. Portland [0.622]
  9. Chicago [0.610]
  10. Dallas [0.610]
  11. Toronto [0.598]
  12. Washington [0.561]
  13. New Orleans [0.549]
  14. Oklahoma City [0.549]
  15. Milwaukee [0.500]
  16. Boston [0.488]

A couple of notes before we look at the matchups.  First, the tiebreakers for the conferences were used to separate teams such as Memphis/San Antonio and New Orleans/Oklahoma City.  In the case of Chicago and Dallas, i gave the edge to the Bulls due to point differential in head-to-head games [they tied the season series at 1-1; Bulls won their game by four points while the Mavs won by three].  Also, notice that Cleveland, a favorite for many to come out of the East, is seventh!!

Now, here is what the brackets would actually look like:

2015 NBA Sweet Sixteen?

2015 NBA Sweet Sixteen?

It would be interesting to see this play out.  Imagine instead of an Eastern Conference finals between the Hawks and Cavs that it actually comes in the quarterfinals!  But what about Golden State?  Yes, they now play the worst playoff team [by record] but that travel…over 2600 miles one way.  Imagine that it went seven games.  And then, imagine that the Bulls upset Portland…1800-plus miles.  And then we have a 12-5 upset and the Wizards somehow make it to the Semifinals…2400 miles or so.  AND THEN…the Hawks are waiting in the Finals.  Well, hope you are using frequent flyer miles because that’s another 2100 miles!

Well, keep in mind that Golden State already has the potential of traveling over 1600 miles to each of its three (potential) Western Conference opponents; New Orleans will be the furthest at over 1900 miles.

But, what would other years look like?  Let’s take a look:

2014 NBA bracket

2013 NBA Bracket

2013 NBA Bracket

2012 NBA Bracket

2012 NBA Bracket

2011 NBA Bracket

2011 NBA Bracket

Before moving on, a quick note, while the 16 best teams are in the playoffs, the top two seeds went to the Conference champions.  There needed to be a reward for winning the conferences.  I debated giving the top two teams from each conference the top four slots, but opted against it.  In the brackets above, the only season where a Conference champion leapfrogged teams with better records was 2014 where the Indiana Pacers actually had the fourth-best record in the NBA.  If i would have carried this out for the entire study period, it would also happen in 2007, 2008, and 2010.

Overall, the challenge is not prominent every year and more subject to certain scenarios playing out.  For example, in the top-half of the 2013 bracket, there is no avoiding an East-West semifinals, one where it could be Brooklyn versus a team in Los Angeles [side note: what a fun first round matchup in LA!].  Nevertheless, it seems like the Golden State issue is more of an anomaly than anything else.  Furthermore, with modern transportation and the way the NBA spaces out games in the early rounds, there should be enough “travel” days to allow players to rest and adjust.

But, there is also that issue of the 2-2-1-1-1 format, where the higher seed has the first two home games then the lower seed with the next two home games, followed by alternating home court over the last three games [if necessary].  Even a six-game series is going to be quite a bit of travel.  An argument could be made that with this sort of tournament that the 2-3-2 format might be best.  But, the criticism is that IF the series was tied at two games of a 2-3-2 format then the lower seed has the home advantage in game five.  In fact, in 2013 NBA owners voted unanimously to change the NBA Finals format away from 2-3-2 and to the 2-2-1-1-1 format that was used in all other rounds.  So, they may not be interested in going that route.

Solutions?  There are three.  First, they could go to a 3-2-2 format where the higher seed plays the first THREE games at home.  Yes, the lower seed still gets that pivotal game five at home, but if you cannot defend your home court through the first three games then you deserve to be 2-2 in the series.  The question, of course, is about the fairness of possibly giving the lower seed only one home game in a series [even if they sweep].  Well, it could be used only for the first round before going to the 2-2-1-1-1.  OR, you could just deal with it!  Remember, before there was the five-game series in which the format was 2-2-1 and meant it was possible for the lower seed to only have one game.

Speaking of that, we could return to a five-game series.  But…….while it is a solution it is doubtful that owners would go for it.

So, other than altering the format, what else could be done to ease travel concerns?  Well, there could be a “selection” of teams.  In this case, it is not about “merit” so to speak.  I mean, Duke getting a number one seed is about merit and accomplishments rather than geography.  Imagine the Spurs getting a higher seed simply because of their recent history!  And then, imagine the outrage.

The “selection” would be based on geographic matchups.  But, this does not mean that Golden State should start off with the Clippers or Portland.  The best idea would be to “pod” teams so that there are similarities among a group of teams and then matchups could be determined from there.

For example, with 16 teams there can easily be four groupings of four teams.  If done based solely on winning percentage, the 2015 groupings could look like this:

2015 tiers

The Conference champs are automatically placed into Tier One [in the study period, no conference champ fell into Tier Two anyway].  Tier One teams face Tier Four teams based on geography while Tier Two teams are matched between Tier Three teams.  Tier One and Tier Two teams are seeded one through eight based on winning percentage, though the Conference champs still get seeds one and two.  The Tier Three and Four teams would be seeded based on their matchup.

From there, the NBA in conjunction with the playoff owners, can determine the matchups.  It could be a situation where the top two seeds take the two lowest teams based on proximity.  So, Golden State might start with Milwaukee instead of Boston since the former is closer to Oakland than the latter.  Or, it could be the lowest team in Tier Four from the Western Conference — Oklahoma City.  However, there are scenarios where there may NOT be a team from the same conference in the opposing tier [for Tier Four, that was never the case in the study period].  There is a possibility around that — ensure that at least one team from each conference is in Tier Four.

Regardless of how it is done, it would go in order of record.  So Golden State would be matched up first, followed by Atlanta and then Houston; the Clippers would get the leftover team in Tier Four.  Then, Tiers two and three would be matched up.  It could be done similarly to Tiers One and Four, or it could just do it by record and not worry about distance.  But, this “selection” may want to take into account quarterfinal matchups.  So, some manipulation of the middle matchups could happen.

Here is an example of what a bracket under these conditions might look like.

The 2015 bracket using Tiers

The 2015 bracket using Tiers

In this case, the Warriors were matched up with the Thunder while the Hawks get Boston.  Houston draws Milwaukee and the Clippers still wind up facing the Pelicans — I guess Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis are destined to meet!  The Tier Two-Tier Three games saw Memphis still facing Washington.  But, San Antonio now faces Dallas in what some may argue is tougher matchup than should be.  Cleveland gets the Bulls while Portland is on the short end by having the long distance series with Toronto.

Here is a comparison between seeding based on records and seeding based on tiers:

comparison of 2015

Conclusion

In the end, the NBA Playoffs are an exciting time regardless of the debate over the deserving-ness of a team over another.  No one is going to complain about any of this come June and the NBA Finals [though, people may complain about the participants themselves].

Still, for those that want a change to the selection of teams for the playoffs, there is hope.  While the NBA and its owners might not ever move to a system like the one outlined above, what this article shows is that it is possible to create a format that takes the 16 best teams into the postseason.  It would take some major changes, including canning the divisions, but it is possible.

And that’s all we want…possibilities!

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Chicago Bulls Fan Calls for Taiwanese President’s Ouster

It is one of those things that would easily be overlooked.  A crowd shot during a stoppage in play and a couple of fans holding up signs.  Nothing big.  Nothing newsworthy, at least in the United States.

At the 2:13 mark of the first period of Thursday’s NBA game between the host Chicago Bulls and visiting Cleveland Cavaliers, Cavs center Timofey Mozgov charges into Bulls forward Taj Gibson, drawing the offensive foul and bringing us to a television timeout.  And, we get a crowd shot with two individuals holding up signs.  One, however, does not appear to be really pulling for the Bulls…or the Cavs for that matter.

Apparently Taiwanese fans have a message for their president.  [Photo taken from SETN.com, who apparently got it from the "Internet."]

Apparently Taiwanese fans have a message for their president. [Photo taken from SETN.com, who apparently got it from the “Internet.”]

Written in Chinese are the words “馬英九下台” [Ma Ying Jeou xia tai].  What does it say?  No one in the U.S. or on TNT’s NBA broadcast really cared; maybe it is just support for Derrick Rose.  Well, actually, what the Man in Yellow (as we’ll call him) is significant for people in Taiwan.  馬英九 is the name of the Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and many people in Taiwan are unhappy with him.  And “下台” means to “step down.”  The message is quite clear.

President Ma, who is in the second and final term as leader of the East Asian state, has faced heavy criticism in Taiwan from opposition leaders, especially during his second term.  Much of it focuses on his attempts to foster closer ties with China at the expense of Taiwanese sovereignty [at least, as some see it].  This was encapsulated by last year’s “Sunflower Revolution.”  But charges of corruption and ineptness are becoming extremely vocal over the past couple of years.  Add to this major losses by the ruling Kuomintang Party [KMT] in mayoral elections last December, which led to Ma’s stepping down as party chair, issues concerning food safety, and questions over the residency status of him and his family and it is no wonder his approval rating is under 20 percent.

So, enter the 12 February game leading us into the All-Star Break and Man in Yellow.  His call for President Ma to step down is something that does not necessarily resonate with U.S. fans [though some may argue that they can relate], but it was a sign and a message not lost on Taiwanese viewers and its media, as seen here and here and here.

What this demonstrates is the crossroads of sports and politics.  While that quick shot and seemingly innocuous message might not say much to those in the West, it speaks volumes to those in Taiwan [and to a certain extent in China].  Basketball is rapidly becoming the most played sport among youth in Taiwan and NBA games appear regularly on television in the country.  Man in Yellow utilized the opportunity that (televised) professional sports presented to him — a chance to get out one simple message that a growing segment of the Taiwanese population seem to be thinking:

馬英九下台!

See, despite what the “spirit of the Olympics” might wish for, there is no separating politics and sports.

Beatdown by Stack: Twitter “Wars” and Fans Getting Hit Back

You asked for it.  Poking bears with sticks.  Laughing.  Thinking that you know more about a given sport than the athletes that play it; the coaches that manage it; the referees that regulate it.

You sit in the comforts and anonymity of your home, pounding away at computer or smartphone.  Sending out incendiary messages about your [least] favorite player, or how your team sucks because of x, y, and z.  This is the “privilege” of being a fan — a voice to criticize.  And this is the new “right” bestowed upon those fans — taking to Twitter, Facebook, or blogs to air out those well-crafted critiques.

Back in the day (whenever that “day” was), fans would voice their grievances at bars or around the water cooler (do workplaces really have water coolers?).  Now, they vocalize that anger digitally.  The thing is, before the avenue of criticism was a one-way path down a canopy road out in the middle of nowhere.  Now, those words are travelling down a well-lit highway running right through sprawling metropolises of information…and it is heavily populated.

Now, athletes — long secret targets of criticism — can now see their “fans” lobbing firebombs in their direction.  How does he still have a job?  Two points on 1 of 9 shooting…again!?  Are negative QB ratings even possible????  Well, at least he had one strikeout in his 1/3 of an inning pitched!  All such words of encouragement are floating around for athletes to see…and some are firing back.

That is apparently what happened when Jerry Stackhouse — who surprisingly still has a roster spot [honestly, i thought he was finally out of the NBA] — fired back at smartass criticism from a know-it-all fan.  Or, several fans apparently.

The Twitter exchange is covered well via other venues (see HERE and HERE, as well as the Twitter accounts of this cat and this one).  So, I leave that there.  The dialogue and actual exchange itself is not the purpose of this article.  I’d rather focus on the fact that Stackhouse stepped up and fired back…and fans get all pissy about it!

In full disclosure, I am far from being a fan of Jerry Stackhouse.  I hated him during his days in Chapel Hill, and disliked him as an NBA player.  So, I am not siding with him because of some personal bias or infatuation with Stack.

However, in this minor “Twitter war,” I side with Stackhouse.  The fans that criticize him seemed “shocked” that Stackhouse would become offended that they are criticizing him.  It seems appalling to them that he would even offer up a response.  Apparently, because they are privileged as fans, they can voice their harsh criticism of players without retribution.  Apparently, the freedom of speech only applies to fans.

But, Jerry Stackhouse does not see it that way.  Hell, he’s “never been a fan” so he shouldn’t have a voice in return, according to some.  However, Twitter does give him a voice.  And he decided to use it.  And use it he did!  Why?  Because Stackhouse has a right to speech…and a right to respond!

No one is claiming that fans do not have a right to criticism.  Entertainment, be it sports, film and television, or books, is an industry where open criticism is expected.  But this industry is also populated with actual people with real emotions and real feelings.  They think and react just like you.  So, while fans are allowed to voice their opinions, so are athletes.  Or, at least, they should be able to do so.

Yet, there is a mistaken belief that athletes should remain silent; they should just take criticism because it is “a part of their job.”  It is?  I am fairly certain that nowhere in Jerry Stackhouse’s contract does it state “put up with fans’ shit.”  And, I am not sure why Stackhouse responding to fans is “unprofessional,” as some defenders of these fans have suggested.  Why not hold fans accountable as well?  Why not call their constant complaining “unprofessional”?  If Stackhouse and other athletes are supposed to be “professional” and refrain from interacting with fans, then why not require fans to also act “professionally” and support the team AND its players rather than spewing venom?

And…what is wrong with Stackhouse searching for his own name?  Are you telling me that you have never searched for your own name?  Hell, I bet since all of this broke, ol’ “BSchulzBKN” has searched for her/his name many times.  Or searched for “NetsKiNG.”  Hell, this dude is out posting everywhere s/he can to offer up her/his side of the story.  “Look at what Stack said to me.  Boo-hoo!”

Again, I am not defending what Stackhouse wrote in response.  I hate the “get your followers up” line and the “what if I came to your cubicle and criticized you” blast [Talib Kweli, a rapper I like, drops a similar line on his Gutter Rainbows album…I hated it there, too].  But, what I am defending is Stackhouse’s right to respond.  Hell, he even tried to keep it low key by sending the dude a private message.  This “fan” was the one who took it public and blew it out of proportion.  And, who really knows what this “fan” deleted in response [not claiming that the fan did, but you never know…perhaps one of BSchulzBKN’s 200+ followers can let me know…if one of those followers happen to be one of the six people to actually read this].

So, blast away fans!  Keep up the good work of spouting off your opinions and expert analysis on Twitter.  Just do not be surprised when the targets of your expertise fire back.  Or, to quote the “great” Jerry Stackhouse:

It’s Amazing how people love to spit venom on others until a little bit splashes back on them…then they become victims!!

Thunder Folds: Why Oklahoma City Flopped in the NBA Finals

I carefully worded the title of this article.  I did not want to state that the Thunder “lost” the NBA Finals, insinuating that it was simply handed to the Miami Heat (and that the Heat did not necessarily “win” the title).

But the Thunder’s disappearing act in the NBA Finals merits some examination.  Even if it is a brief examination.

The Thunder did not lose because of foul discrepancies (that was previously covered).  They did not lose because of “inexperience”; they were competitive in four of the five games.  They did not lose because of the no-calls in Games 2 and 3.

If anything, one has to wonder — where did James Harden go?  With the exception of a solid Game 2 performance and the focal point of the non-call (and subsequent foul committed by him) in Game 3, Harden was missing in action.  The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year played like the 12th Man on the Bench for much of the NBA Finals.  Here are his numbers:

  • Game 1: 5 points (2-6 FG; 1-2 3PT); 4 fouls
  • Game 2: 21 points (7-11 FG; 2-3 3PT)
  • Game 3: 9 points (2-10 FG; 0-4 3PT); 4 fouls
  • Game 4: 8 points (2-10 FG; 1-5 3PT); 5 fouls; 10 rebounds
  • Game 5: 19 points (5-11 FG; 3-8 3PT)

Of course, you could point out that Harden had a good game in the closeout win for the Heat.  But, most of those points game in the fourth quarter — 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting; 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.  By this time, the game was already decided and the final quarter was a formality.

The Heat needed Harden’s production earlier, but he failed.  During the first three quarters (as the Thunder were digging deeper into a hole), The Beard was 1-6 shooting for 8 points…0-4 from three-point land.  OKC really could have used those points.  For example, Harden’s three missed 3-pointers in the third quarter led to seven Heat points (a James layup; Bosh three-pointer; and two Mike Miller free throws).

While seven points is still manageable, consider that the Thunder missed out on potentially nine points.  In other words, that is a 16-point swing.  What could have become a 14-point deficit [Harden’s first 3-point attempt in the third] first became 19 points; then a 22-point deficit [after Harden’s second miss in the third would have brought it down to 16].  Huge difference.

This is not to suggest that Harden is the reason for the Thunder’s failure to win the NBA Title.  One cannot simply place blame on one person, in particular someone as vital to the Thunder’s run to the Finals as Harden.  However, the Thunder needed Harden to play like he did earlier in the season and the playoffs.  Without that normally reliable production, the Thunder was silenced in Miami.

Again, maybe even with Harden’s normal production, the Heat still win.  Additionally, remember that the Thunder won Game 1 without Harden’s typical numbers, and were still in Games 2, 3, and 4 regardless [though Harden was his productive self in the controversial Game 2 loss].  But, it is difficult not to look at Harden’s “flop” and not wonder where this series would be had he put up better numbers.

In the same vein, look at the Heat and who stepped up.  With the exception of Game 3, a player outside of the so-called “Big Three” stepped their game up.  In Games 1 and 2, Shane Battier contributed 17 points in each contest in Oklahoma City.  Mario Chalmers put in 25 points in the Game 4 win in Miami.  And, in the series clincher, it was Mike Miller dropping 23 points including seven three-pointers (in fact, all seven of his made field goals were 3’s).  Heat role players stepped up; Harden (though not necessarily a “role player”) did not.

One final note: I hate the 2-3-2 format for the NBA Finals.  The format makes sense for baseball, giving its protocol for playing on consecutive days.  But the implementation of such a format in the NBA Finals is ridiculous, especially considering that all other rounds use a 2-2-1-1-1 format.  I think the 2-3-2 in the NBA gives an advantage to the team with the lesser record.  Indeed, over the past ten seasons, the team with the “lesser” record (and therefore occupying the three middle games of the series) has won at least two of the three games eight times.  The two exceptions are the Los Angeles Lakers beating the Magic twice [in three games] in Orlando in 2009, and the San Antonio Spurs in 2007 sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games, including both in Cleveland.  This pattern holds true even if the team with the “lesser” record loses the series [e.g. 2010 Finals between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics].

Would Oklahoma City had comeback and won the Finals had Game 5 been played in OKC?  I am not going to speculate that far.  But, the Thunder would have had a better chance to at least win Game 5, if not win the series.  Losing Game 4 was gut-wrenching for the Thunder because they jumped out huge early on, but ended up wasting away Russell Westbrook’s 43-point performance.  But they could have at least returned to OKC and that rowdy crowd for a good pick-me-up [see the Thunder’s bounce back at home after the beatdown they received from the Spurs in San Antonio in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals].

A home game could have benefit the Thunder, especially since they had the better record [spare me the “it is only a one-game difference” argument; one game is the difference between being in the playoffs and being in the draft lottery].  But, it is not as though the format is new, so the Thunder needed to play the hand they were dealt…they folded.

In the end, big ups to the Miami Heat and LeBron James.  I guess I can no longer call James a King Without a Crown…though I may anyway since, to paraphrase Shaq, James “couldn’t do it without [Wade].”  Nah…I’ll give James his due.

A Win-Lin Situation?: How Jeremy Lin Will Always Be a Success, Even If He Fails

Yeah, I know…I tried to avoid the cheesy “Lin-ization” of a word for the title of this article, but it is difficult to do.  Especially, if I want a modicum of traffic.  Plus, it is better that my original idea of replacing every instance of “in” throughout this article with “Lin.”  But that thought made my Lintestines hurt.

Anyway, I have avoid jumping onto the bandwagon of writing about the impact and awesomeness of Jeremy Lin.  I mean, writers and sports talk show hosts and television analysts have salivated over the Harvard product enough.  So, why add to the stack?  Well, because I have nothing better to do.

Over the past two weeks, Jeremy Lin has gone from being an obscure player on a sinking team to an international star that has helped the Knicks rise like a phoenix.  His explosion on the scene surprised almost everyone associated with the NBA.  While Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey stated that the team “should have kept” Lin, he followed that up with the logical statement that he “did not know that [Lin] was this good.”  Most agreed that the talent was there to be an NBA player, but few knew he was going to explode like this.  Truth is that he was anonymous to most.  And while I knew who he was — my wife is Taiwanese, after all — I am not going to pretend that I knew either.  Kevin Martin said it best:

I couldn’t tell anything about him.  . . . He was cut [with the Warriors]. We cut him. That should tell you something. … It’s pretty amazing. We and the rest of the league are pretty stunned.

But look at his numbers both pre- and post- Mike D’antoni’s epiphany and you can see just how stunning it is.

GP

Min

FG%

3Pt%

FT%

Reb

Ast

TO

Ast/TO

Stl

Pts

Pre-Star

9

6:02

48.14

0.00

84.53

1.11

1.89

0.89

1.50

0.33

3.56

Post-Star

9

38:43

52.96

34.16

69.64

3.78

9.22

5.89

2.40

2.22

25

TOTAL

18

22:23

49.70

32.30

73.60

2.44

5.56

3.39

1.64

1.28

14.28

In addition, he is shooting 15 shots more than over those previous nine games in obscurity, and getting to the free throw line an average of eight time a game (versus just over two times a game pre-star).  Of course, minutes have a ton to do with that.  But his production has been outstanding, especially when you consider the new burden on him for minutes.  Not only that, remember that he only played in nine of the Knicks first 22 games!  And in a couple of those games, he was actually down in the D-League.

But Lin’s sudden rise to stardom has not gone over well with everyone.  Certainly, Kobe Bryant took a dig at him prior to the Knicks’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but that was Kobe being Kobe; not praising anyone.  But, the angles have been everything from questioning the system to invoking race.  And all, of course, miss the point.

For example, Jason Terry’s notion that Lin is a “system” guy ignores the fact that many players flourish because of the system in which they play.  Terry himself benefits from Dallas’s rotation system that allows him to be a spark off the bench, garnering minutes equal to those of starters.  Ben Wallace was a defensive menace for the defensive-minded Detroit Pistons, while teams like the Denver Nuggets produce players with lots of transition points because of their style of offense.  In each case, teams implement “systems” and bring in the players to run those systems.  In other words, those players have the necessary skills to run that “system”; very few players in the NBA are so talented that they can dominate regardless.  We call those players “superstars.”  Lin is NOT a superstar, but neither is Terry.

And then you have Floyd Mayweather’s nonsense about Lin’s race.  When he is not ducking Manny Pacquiao, apparently Mayweather is busy taking shots at Lin and taking a stand “on behalf of other NBA players” [I did not know Mayweather was a basketball player].  Does “race” have something to do with the hype?  Sure.  But, it is because of the rarity of an Asian-American player in the NBA; not because of his ethnicity alone.  But the attention from the media is beyond race, as we are talking about a player waived by two teams, on the verge of being waived by a third team, and whose career was rotting on the Knicks’ bench.

Mayweather is upset because what he sees is a non-black man doing what black men are “known” to do.  That, and Money May’s apparent fear of Asians.  That is all he sees.  What the rest of us see is a man finally getting a chance after so many rejections; a story not just of an Asian man or a black man, but one of many people just looking for that one opportunity.

Additionally, as has been mentioned on sports talk radio, that this is playing out in New York City is what also makes it relevant.  Had Lin received his opportunity with Golden State or in Houston, it would not have been this big.  Maybe it would be newsworthy for a few days, but not to this extent.  I mean, it is the reason why Lin is headlining ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports, while the San Antonio Spurs’ current 10-game winning streak and Kevin Durant’s 51-points are relatively obscured.

Regardless of the reason, Lin’s ascension has been incredible.  And his game against the Dallas Mavericks — arguably the best defense that he has faced since taking over the Knicks’ point guard position — helped solidify his place in the league, as well as wash away the bad taste from the loss to the New Orleans Hornets on 17 February.  Tuffy Rhodes he is not (although Rhodes did have a stellar career in Japan).

But, eventually, Lin’s production will slow down.  It may not go to 10 points a game, with four assists every night.  But his production will plateau.  And it is difficult to imagine that the Knicks can maintain this pace.  Remember that New York was out of playoff contention just two weeks ago, battling the New Jersey Nets for the Atlantic Division’s basement!

Will that team return?  Maybe not.  The Knicks are feeding off of Lin’s energy.  Or, more appropriately, the Madison Square Garden crowd is energized with Lin in the lineup, which in turn energizes the Knicks.  But this momentum will slow.  And when it does, will the MSG crowd turn on Lin and blame him if the Knicks fail?  Will Lin eventually “fail”?

I say no.  And the reason is as simple as tonight’s game.  Tonight, the Knicks take on the team that kick-started Lin’s rise — the New Jersey Nets.  But, more importantly, it is apparently going to also signal the return of Carmelo Anthony.  And THAT return is why Lin will still be viewed as a success, even if the Knicks fall to pieces as the season progresses.

Keep in mind that Lin and Anthony have only been on the floor for long stretches of the game once — 4 February’s game against the Nets.  In other words, they truly played together in Lin’s first significant game.  In that game, Anthony struggled from the field, going 3 for 15 from the field for just 11 points.  Lin shot 10 for 19 for 25 points.  That means that those two players accounted for 40.97 percent of the shots attempted and 35.1 percent of shots made.  Add in Amar’e Stoudemire’s 6 for 11 game and that is over 54 percent of attempted shots and 51.4 percent of made shots.  But, that percentage is far lower than a typical game from the Miami Heat trio of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.  In other words, there appear to be enough shots for them all.

But, if Lin plays the role of a “true” point guard, then his facilitation should work well with Stoudemire and Anthony.  That 4 February game has been the only one were all three played together.  Since that time, the Knicks have won with only Lin on the floor and they have won with Lin and Stoudemire on the floor.  Tonight represents the first time since Lin’s ascension to starter that all three will be on the floor.  What if the Knicks fail?

Well, one only has to look at the variables, combinations and outcomes.  Without Lin (Stoudemire + Anthony), the Knicks were 8-15 on the season.  With Lin only (and counting the 6 February game against the Utah Jazz, since Anthony left early with his groin injury), the team was 4-0.  With Stoudemire back in the lineup (Lin + Stoudemire), New York is 3-1.  So, at this point, the Knicks have been successfully with Lin as the starter versus the times without Lin starting.

Now, of course, the only game where the Knicks’ new Big Three played was a game where Lin did not start.  So, tonight should mark the first time that all three have played together where Lin was the starter (assuming Anthony is not eased back in as a bench player).  What happens if the success ends?  Who is to blame?

Well, the answer is going to fall on the variable that was lacking during this current run — Anthony.  Even if Lin has double-digit turnovers or shoots less than 30 percent from the field, the inclusion of Anthony into the lineup is going to shift the blame from Lin to Anthony.  Lin will be heralded as the guy who got the Knicks rolling and back into playoff contention.  Anthony will be the one crucified for the Knicks’ failure to maintain that momentum.  Lin will be the unselfish energizer, while Anthony will be the equivalent of a black hole on the basketball court.

Anthony does demand a lot of shots, as he is averaging 19.6 shots per game this season.  The problem is that we do not even know how the Knicks will be with Anthony back in the lineup.  Maybe Anthony has not played with a “true” pick-and-roll point guard, but he has certainly played with PGs that dish the ball.  Andre Miller, for example, averaged 8.2 assists per game when Anthony averaged 19.7 shots (26.5 PPG) in 2005-06.  In 2007-08, Carmelo shot an average of 19.2 times per game (25.7 PPG) with Allen Iverson dishing out 7.2 assists per game (while also scoring 26.4 PPG on an average of 19 shots).

But Anthony has become so vilified as a “ball hog” and a selfish player that there is a tendency to believe that he is incapable of “sharing” the ball [all the while ignoring that the role of most small forwards is to score points rather than create assists].  This also ignores that fact that Carmelo is fifth among all forwards in assists per game and has finished in the top 10 in assists among small forwards in four of his eight previous seasons (and top 15 in all eight).

And personally, I do think that Anthony can coexist with Lin.  But, if the Knicks do indeed sputter, the blame will be on Anthony and his “inability” to be a team player, rather than on Lin’s shortcomings.

In other words, Lin will be seen as a hero regardless of how the rest of the season plays out.  For Anthony, he can only pray that the momentum continues.  Otherwise, it will be his head the Knicks faithful will be after and not Lin.

Lockdown After the Lockout: The Scoring Dip in the NBA’s 2011-12 Season

I have not been paying a lot of attention to the NBA this season.  In part, it has been because of the lockout.  Also, my favorite player is busy playing in Russia (Andrei Kirilenko).  And, I have been busy moving [which also explains the dearth of articles and the lack of updates to the U.P Top 23].

Nevertheless, I catch an NBA game every now and then and I do see the scores online.  And something crazy is going on in the NBA.  No…I am not referring to “Linsanity”; I am referring to the low scores in the NBA this season.

While certainly the lockout and labor dispute can be blamed, there still appears to be a trend this season where not only are scores low, but also there appear to be more blowouts.  It could be conditioning and the impact of back-to-back-to-back games, but nevertheless scoring — the highlight of basketball — appears to be lacking.

For example, this season there are currently (as of 14 February 2012) four teams averaging under 90 points per game – Toronto Raptors (88.2), Detroit Pistons (87.2), New Orleans Hornets (87.1), and the Charlotte Bobcats (86.1).  You have to go back to the 2005-06 season just to find a team that averaged under 90 points per game [Portland Trail Blazers – 88.8].  The Bobcats’ average is the lowest since Toronto (85.4) in the 2003-04 season.  Just for comparison, the highest scoring NCAA team is the North Carolina Tar Heels, which average 83.5 points per game, but do so in eight fewer minutes.

[Side Note: in 2008-09, Virginia Military Institute outscored the lowest-scoring NBA team 93.8 to 93.6.  In 2006-07, VMI outscored 22 NBA teams!].

On the high end, the Denver Nuggets are the highest scoring team in the NBA by averaging 103.9 points per game.  This is followed by the Miami Heat (103.4) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (101.2).  These are the only three teams averaging over 100 points per game.  Denver’s average is the lowest high mark going to the 2002-03 season (Dallas Mavericks – 103 PPG).  The number of teams scoring over 100 points is the fewest since 2003-04 (two teams).

But how does the trend compare overall?  Let’s take a look at the last few seasons to see if a pattern exist, or is it just a consequence of the lockout-shortened season.  It should be noted that the statistics that I gathered for the 2011-12 season were obtained last Thursday (9 February 2012) and therefore covers 372 games through 8 February.  The total data goes back to the 2006-07 season.

First, let’s see how much scoring is down.  Through 13 February 2012, the average points per game for all teams is 94.7.  Over the study period, that is the lowest, although as will be noted later that is NOT the lowest since the 1976 merger.  But average for all teams does not tell us too much.  What about how much the winning team is scoring, versus how much the losing team is scoring?

On average, winning NBA teams in the 2011-12 season are scoring an average of 100.52 points per game while losing teams are scoring an average of 88.88 points per game.  Over the study period, these are the lowest numbers for average points per game.  Winning teams this season are scoring on average 4.68 points fewer than over the previous five seasons.  Losing teams are doing slight worse, averaging fewer than 5.37 points per game compared to the last five seasons.

Season

Games

Avg Win

Avg Loss

2011-12

372

100.5161

88.87634

2010-11

1230

104.8463

94.25447

2009-10

1230

105.9846

94.90976

2008-09

1230

105.422

94.47967

2007-08

1230

105.6756

94.17073

2006-07

1230

104.0472

93.43171

The highest score by a team was 129 by the Miami Heat; that is by far the lowest over the study period (144 in 2010-11 is the next closest).  The lowest score in 2011-12 was 56 points by the Orlando Magic.  That, however, is not the lowest (54 points in 2007-09, as well as a tie in 2010-11).

In terms of breaking down the scoring by amount scored, only 3.23 percent of winning teams in 2011-12 scored more than 120 points in their wins.  This is the lowest over the study period (2009-10 is the highest with 11.38 percent of winning teams scoring over 120).  Most winning teams in 2011-12 score between 90-99 points per game (41.13 percent), which is on average 15 percent more than any other season over the study period (the next closest is 2006-07 with 28.05 percent).  Typically, based on the previous five seasons, most winning teams score between 100-109 points (on average 35 percent of all winning scores fall in this range).

At the other end of the spectrum, 1.61 percent of winning teams scored between 70-79 points in their victories.  Over the previous five season, the percentage of winning scores falling in this range never topped 0.5 percent!!!  To put this in perspective, through 352 games in 2011-12, there were six winners scoring between 70-79 points.  That is equal to or greater than any of the previous five seasons!!!!!  Additionally, so far during the 2011-12 season, 7.26 percent of winners scored between 80-89 points…the highest over the study period.

POINTS SCORED BY WINNING TEAM, by POINT RANGE and SEASON

Season

Games

> 120

110-119

100-109

90-99

80-89

70-79

<70

2011-12

372

3.23%

11.83%

34.95%

41.13%

7.26%

1.61%

0.00%

2010-11

1230

9.35%

23.41%

34.88%

25.45%

6.50%

0.41%

0.00%

2009-10

1230

11.38%

22.20%

36.67%

25.37%

4.07%

0.33%

0.00%

2008-09

1230

9.84%

22.85%

36.34%

24.39%

6.18%

0.41%

0.00%

2007-08

1230

11.14%

25.04%

34.23%

22.60%

6.50%

0.49%

0.00%

2006-07

1230

8.05%

20.57%

36.42%

28.05%

6.59%

0.33%

0.00%

As for the losing teams, a similar pattern emerges.  On the low end, 2.96 percent of losing teams in the 2011-12 season scored fewer than 70 points in their loss, far exceeding the averages over the previous five seasons.  The 11 games where the loser scores fewer than 70 points is more than in each of 2010-11, 2009-10, and 2008-09 seasons!  Losing teams score in the 70-79 range 13.44 percent of the time.  Most losing teams in 2011-12 score in the 80-89 point range (35.75 percent).  Over the previous five seasons, most losing teams score between 90-99 points in their losses (35.48 percent of the time).

On the high end, no losing team in 2011-12 scored over 120 points.  While that might seem extremely rare — and to be fair it is rare — it does happen 1.61 percent of the time.  Only five losing teams in 2011-12 have scored in the 110-119 range (1.34 percent of the time), compared to an average percentage of 7.04 percent of the time over the last five seasons.

POINTS SCORED BY LOSING TEAM, by POINT RANGE and SEASON

Season

Games

> 120

110-119

100-109

90-99

80-89

70-79

<70

2011-12

372

0.00%

1.34%

13.71%

32.80%

35.75%

13.44%

2.96%

2010-11

1230

1.38%

6.75%

22.28%

35.77%

25.69%

7.72%

0.41%

2009-10

1230

1.22%

6.83%

22.85%

37.97%

25.37%

5.20%

0.57%

2008-09

1230

2.28%

7.15%

21.06%

33.58%

26.75%

8.62%

0.57%

2007-08

1230

1.71%

8.54%

19.51%

35.93%

24.31%

8.29%

1.71%

2006-07

1230

1.46%

5.93%

21.06%

34.15%

26.67%

9.51%

1.22%

If you combine the data from above, typically a winning team scores between 100 and 109 points, while a losing team typically will score between 90-99 points.  However, for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, we see a complete jump down to a lower point range for both winners and losers; winners now fall in the 90-99 range and losers are in the 80-89 range.  Given that the numbers were fairly stagnant but trending towards more scoring (for both winners and losers), the drop this season is not part of a longer trend and therefore does seem to be caused by the lockout.

Now, what about blowouts?  Are there more blowouts this season when compared to the previous five seasons?

The average point differential in 2011-12 is 11.639 points, which is the highest over the study period.  But the difference between this current season and the previous five seasons is minuscule.  In fact, the 2007-08 numbers are quite close to this seasons differential (11.504 in 2007-08).  The average point differential over the last five NBA seasons is 10.946.  So the 2011-12 season seems to generally fall in line with the previous seasons.

In fact, if we breakdown the point differential into ranges, most games tend to fall in the same range.  Over the study period, most games fall in one of two ranges: 6-10 points and 11-20 points.  In 2011-12, 30.47 percent of games were between 11-20 with 29.92 percent of games between 6-10 points.  The 2007-08 and 2006-07 seasons had percentages similar to this current season, while the other three seasons (2010-11, 2009-10, and 2008-09) had slightly more games in the 6-10 point range than the 11-20 point range.  So, in this case, the 2011-12 season is no different than previous seasons.

However, it is when we start to look at the extremes that the current NBA season separates itself from previous seasons.  Over the last five years, one-point margins of victory occurred in four percent of NBA games.  However, this season, one-point wins are only occurring 2.15 percent of the time.  At the other side, the percentage of margins of victory between 31-40 points is close to double the average over the previous five seasons (3.76 percent in 2011-12 versus an average of 2.02 percent in previous years).

If we define a blowout as margins exceeding 20 points, then 15.32 percent of games this season would qualify as a “blowout” versus an average of 12.24 percent over the last five seasons (second highest is 14.39 percent in 2007-08).  If we define a blowout as margins exceeding 30 points, then the percentage of games in the 2011-12 season that are blowouts would be 4.03 percent (versus an average of 2.42 percent).

MARGIN OF VICTORY, by POINT RANGE and SEASON

Season

Games

1-pt

2-5

6-10

11-20

21-30

31-40

>40

2011-12

372

2.15%

23.92%

29.03%

29.57%

11.29%

3.76%

0.27%

2010-11

1230

4.63%

24.07%

30.57%

29.84%

8.46%

2.03%

0.41%

2009-10

1230

4.07%

21.46%

31.54%

30.73%

9.51%

2.44%

0.24%

2008-09

1230

3.50%

24.23%

30.98%

29.59%

9.27%

1.95%

0.49%

2007-08

1230

3.09%

22.52%

28.05%

31.95%

11.87%

1.95%

0.57%

2006-07

1230

4.88%

25.45%

28.46%

29.19%

10.00%

1.71%

0.33%

What is this telling us?  Simply put, there does tend to be fewer close games and more blowouts, but not exceedingly so.  Most games still tend to fall in the middle ranges (6-10 and 11-20) and the average margin of victory is not far off of the average.

What does stand out is that scoring in general is much lower.  But if the lockout is to blame, how is it truly translating on the court?  Sloppy play?  While turnovers per game are at the highest since 2006-07 (15 per game this season versus 15.1 five seasons ago), it is not far off the trend (average turnovers per game since the 2000-01 season is 14.55).  More personal fouls?  Actually, the average number of personal fouls per game is at the lowest since the merger in 1976 (20 fouls per game).  So, it is not necessarily sloppy play.

But, if we look at field goal shooting — the heart of scoring — we can see part of the problem.  The average field goal percentage across the league this season is 44.3 percent.  That is the lowest since the 2003-04 season, when it was 43.9 percent.  Not surprisingly, the 2003-04 season had the second-lowest scoring average since the NBA-ABA merger (93.4 points per game).  The lowest since the merger?  The 1998-99 NBA season, where teams average 91.6 points per game.  That season also had the lowest field goal percentage since the merger — 43.7 percent.  At the current rate, the 2011-12 season will have the third-lowest points per game average and the fourth-lowest field goal percentage since the merger.  Low free throw shooting also leads to lower scoring (intuitive, i know, but worth noting).

The 2011-12 season does share something in common with the lowest-scoring season; the 1998-99 season was also a lockout-shortened season.  Thus, the lockout does indeed seem to have an adverse effect on field goal shooting, which in turn affects scoring.  Additionally, both lockout-shortened seasons had more back-to-back games and the atypical back-to-back-to-back games.  So, does the three games in a row really matter?

Well, unless I overlooked a series, back-to-back-to-back games have occurred 18 times for 17 teams (the Denver Nuggets have had it twice).  In those series, two teams have gone 3-0 (Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder); seven teams have gone 2-1, eight teams have gone 1-2, and only one teams has gone winless (Detroit Pistons).  In other words, it is split right even with nine back-to-back-to-back sequences producing winning records and nine producing losing records.  Teams are also 10-8 on the back end of that series.

In terms of scoring, it is also not clear if such grueling games decrease scoring as the three days progress.  The average score on the third game of the back-to-back-to-back is 95.3 points, with the high being 109 and the low being 78.  The average for the opening game of that series is 96 points (high 112 and low 74); so the difference is marginal.  The toughest game may actually be that middle game, where teams average 92.7 points per game (112 the high and 78 the low).

In four cases, the team gradually improved their scoring (or equaled the first games score in the third game), whereas a team gradually decreased its scoring only once (Orlando Magic).  In most cases, the scoring simply fluctuated with the highs and lows in the three straight games occurring in any of the three games.  And, in seven series, the team scored more points in that third game — even in losses — than in the first game.

So, in the end, it appears that the general fatigue and rustiness affects shooting and therefore scoring more so than the grueling back-to-back-to-back games.  Of course, the increase in back-to-back games plays a role in this, as does the fewer days off.  Hopefully, for NBA fans used to high-scoring games, this is only a temporary, one-season setback.

If previous precedent prevails again, scoring will return next season!

Picking Up the Pieces: a look at the Past 10 NBA Drafts

There is a disparaging comment that is often used when someone accomplishes an unimpressive victory against a weak opponent: “it’s like winning at the Special Olympics; even though you are in first place you are still a retard.”

Insensitivity aside, is this how someone like Kyrie Irving supposed to feel after being selected first overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, a draft that many are calling the weakest in quite some time (if not the weakest ever)?  But drafting is an inexact science.  Despite scouting and video sessions and interviews and private workouts, the Draft is still hit-and-miss.  Not every player can be LeBron James or Derrick Rose or Nikoloz Tskitishvili.

So, how well have teams selecting in the NBA Draft?  Have previous drafts been so outstanding that it makes this year’s version “weak”?  Or, is it simply the lack of a single dominant player in the draft and there are more question marks rather than exclamation points?  And, to this latter point, is the concept of a “weak draft” simply a construct of the media and the abundance of those question marks, all the while ignoring recent ho-hum drafts?  Let’s take a look.

I looked at the last ten NBA Drafts (2001-2010) and took only lottery picks.  I focused solely on lottery picks because the initial reaction to any draft tends to focus on those top picks (i.e., lottery picks).

Over the last ten years, lottery picks play an average of 27.7 minutes per game, with a 12.3 point per game average (PPG), a 5.17 rebounds per game average (RPG), and 2.37 assists per game average (APG).  Not surprisingly, more recently drafted lottery picks have lower averages than older lottery picks, namely because the longer a player is in the league, the more likely they are gaining more minutes and/or starting games.  For example, 2010 lottery players averaged 8.13 PPG versus 14.9 for those in the 2003 lottery class (the one with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony…oh, and Jarvis Hayes.

However, the differences are not as great as one might think.  The 2003 class had the highest PPG, followed by the 2008 class (14.01).  However, most of the classes are fairly close to the average, with the low being the 2006 class (10.71 PPG).  So, is there a big difference?  What about other measures?

How about accolades?  There are 21 All-Stars among the ten sets of lottery classes, which accounts for about 15 percent of those players.  A little more than 13 percent (18) of the players made the All-NBA team.  Only two — LeBron James (twice) and Derrick Rose — have won the league MVP, which granted is very limited.  And only one (Wade) has an NBA Finals MVP award.  Of these, the All-Star stats are telling as there is an average of 2.1 players (out of 14 lottery players [or 13 between 2001 and 2003]) making it to that level of play.  That is a very small representation that does not deviate too far from the average (five from the 2003 class is the most; 0 from 2010 is the fewest).

~Shelden Williams: second-best basketball player in his marriage!~

What else can I throw at you?  Champions!  Yes, how many of these 137 players (135 if you count only those that have actually played in the NBA) have actually won an NBA title?  Try ten, with a total of 13 rings.  Again, a tiny sampling of these players.  And while some, such as Pau Gasol, Dwyane Wade and most recently Tyson Chandler have played a significant role in their respective team’s success, what about players like Adam Morrison and Melvin Ely?  Hell, even the Human Victory Cigar (Darko Milicic) has an NBA ring!  So, of those ten, only three really contributed greatly, making the percentage out of the lottery players even smaller.

Speaking of Morrison, has anyone seen him lately?  That’s right, he was not on an NBA roster last season.  Just like 17 other former lottery players from 2001-2010.  That means that 13.3 percent of lottery players over the last ten years are no longer in the NBA!!!  All 18 of those players were drafted between 2001 and 2006.  This is likely because players drafted since 2007 are still in their rookie contracts; some (2007 and 2008) are in option years while others (2009 and 2010) are in guaranteed years.  With those contracts expiring, one has to wonder how much of a market there is for a player like, say, Brandan Wright.

Therefore, if you take just those 18 players and compare them to their lottery peers from 2001-2006, that percentage jumps up to 22.5 percent!  Furthermore, if you expand it to cover all players drafted between 2001 and 2010, then 161 out 485 players (33.1 percent) are no longer in the league!  Just in the past five years, 51 out of 240 players (21.6 percent) are not on an NBA team.*

Certainly there is a reason that players are no longer in the league.  Of those players no longer in the league, they averaged 17.1 miunutes per game, with 6.37 PPG, 2.93 RPG, and 0.97 APG!  That’ll get you out of the league!  Those that are still active average 28.5 minutes per game (12.73 PPG; 5.33 RPG; 2.47 APG).

Lastly, to be fair not all picks are the same.  A number one pick is expected to eventually perform better than the 11th pick.  So, how has each slot fared in the NBA?  Well…

PICK

Games

Minutes

PPG

RPG

APG

1st

62.09

32.88

17.24

7.96

2.98

2nd

63.72

28.83

12.26

6.84

1.32

3rd

71.33

32.31

16.50

5.48

3.44

4th

66.50

30.12

14.18

5.81

3.43

5th

60.18

30.74

15.23

4.78

3.76

6th

56.27

29.21

10.99

4.90

1.92

7th

65.11

29.85

12.79

4.86

2.76

8th

52.52

21.64

8.39

4.26

1.57

9th

54.71

26.75

12.69

5.36

2.14

10th

56.18

30.08

13.48

4.98

2.59

11th

43.29

20.26

6.64

3.76

1.34

12th

49.36

21.11

7.54

4.43

0.97

13th

52.81

23.87

9.23

3.39

2.04

14th

55.90

20.52

8.43

3.67

1.09

Indeed, not all picks are created equal.  In fact, I’d be nervous if I were Minnesota (and Derrick Williams) as the number two pick tends to far underplay his fellow top five picks.  While players like Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge have tried to turn it around for the number two pick, players like Hasheem Thabeet, Jay Williams, and Milicic bring down the slot.  The number eight pick is the next one that takes a hit (watch out Brandon Knight), which is likely a case of teams either reaching or just in a spot with limited choices [or just that players like DeSagana Diop and Rafael Araujo bring it down].  Then, 11 through 14 sees a consistent drop, but an expected one (unlike two and eight).

So, what does all this mean?  Simply put, the draft is still a crapshoot, whether it is perceived to be strong like the 2003 draft or weak like the 2006 draft.  But in both of those cases, there were several players that went against the norm (Milicic, Mike Sweetney, Hayes, and Marcus Banks in 2003; Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay and even Andrea Bargnani in 2006).  The point is that no one knows how the 2011 NBA Draft class will turn out.  Maybe Kawhi Leonard and Jimmer Fredette turn out to be solid players.  Maybe Kyrie Irving turns into a stellar point guard.  Perhaps Kemba Walker makes the other eight teams regret passing him over and rewards the Charlotte Bobcats with numerous All-Star seasons.

Or, maybe not.  Maybe Enes Kanter is out of the league in five years.  Maybe Bismarck Biyombo becomes another in a long line of failed African “projects.”  Maybe Derrick Williams becomes another second pick flop.  Perhaps Klay Thompson following the trend of lottery picks average less than 10 points a game in their career (71 of 135)…or less than 15 (101 of 135).

No one knows.  At least not yet.  So, do me a favor…give them five years before you call the 2011 NBA Draft class the weakest ever.  After all, who in 1998 would have thought that a player named Dirk would be a champion and a Finals MVP?  Yeah, the same guy chosen after Michael Olowokandi!

Bosh’s “Big Game”?: It is Still the ‘Big Two’ in Miami

Let me preface the following piece with this useless line: I like Chris Bosh.  Not in a mantasy kind of way, but I have been a fan of Bosh going back to his years — ERRR, year at Georgia Tech.  I liked his play with the Toronto Raptors and on the 2008 U.S. Men’s National Basketball Team in the Beijing Olympics, albeit in a reserve role (his perimeter play was more valuable than Dwight Howard’s interior game, in my opinion).

That stated, Bosh is still the third wheel on the Harley that is the Miami Heat.  It is not a “Big Three” in Miami.  Dwyane Wade had already established himself as a star and a champion with the Heat; LeBron James took his talents — and MVPs — from Cleveland to South Beach.  Because Bosh played north of the border, his “star” value was mostly unknown among casual NBA fans.  In Toronto, Bosh flourished — 20.1 points per game; 9.3 boards per game; 2.2 assists per game; and 1.2 blocks per game.  He was a stud.

In Miami, however, even though he has put up strong numbers — 18.7 PPG; 8.3 RPG — his numbers are below his average.  His scoring is the lowest is has been since 2004-05 (16.8 PPG) and his rebounding is the lowest since his rookie season (7.4 RPG in 2003-04).  His blocks per game average is half his Toronto average — 0.6 — and is the lowest of his career.  To be sure, his numbers would make him the second option on the Mavericks and Bulls (third on the Thunder).  In fact, of the 16 playoff teams, he’d likely be the second or third options on all of the other 15 (and probably the first option on teams like Denver or New Orleans).

The problem, however, is that most of the other playoff teams have reliable fourth and even fifth scoring options.  This is not an attempt to call out the overwhelming percent of scoring that runs through James, Wade and Bosh — the Thunder get by with a very similar structure relying more on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook than other players.  But the thing with the Heat is that Bosh is the last option.  It is like winning the bronze medal in the 100 meters when there are only four runners — yeah, you got a medal, but the odds were great that you would medal anyway.

Again, this is not a knock on Bosh himself.  He is still producing solid numbers (save the blocks), but when compared to his company in Miami and the dearth of production beyond Bosh, his numbers become less impressive.  In Toronto, he was a Benz in a parking lot full of Toyotas; in Miami he is still a Benz, but there are two Bentleys in that lot now.  [Or, if you prefer to return to the earlier motorcycle reference, he is a Honda while James and Wade are Harleys.]

This all gets back to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and Bosh’s “outburst” to help the Heat take a 2-1 series lead on the Chicago Bulls.  Yahoo! Sports columnist Marc Spears attempts to paint it as though Chris Bosh finally emerged as an intricate part of the “Big Three.”  However, you have to wonder what is Spears watching.

First, Bosh has been there all season producing strong — yet virtually unnoticed — numbers…remember, 18.7 and 8.3.  It is not like Bosh emerged from a 6.3 PPG and 4.7 RPG season to score 34 points in Game 3.  As noted above, Bosh becomes that spare because (1) of how dominant the “Big Three” are in relation to the rest of the team, and (2) Bosh is the third option of the “Big Three.”  So his numbers are easily overlooked.

But more importantly, Spears ignores that Bosh has turned out strong games in the playoffs — six 20+ point games; seven 10+ rebound games — as well as producing a strong playoff average –18.2 points per game; 9.1 rebounds per game; just under a block a game.  But that Bosh had a big game in Game 3 does not mean that he has emerged from the shadow of the “Big Two.”  Spears notes that Bosh has two 30+ point games in the Conference finals, but one of those came in a Game 1 loss.  In that case, Bosh’s effort did not factor into the game’s decision — the “poor” play of James and Wade did play a role in the Heat’s loss.  In Game 2 Bosh only scored ten points — the Heat won that game.  Both James and Wade played well in Game 2.  Game 3, Bosh was the leading scorer for the Heat, but James played well and Wade played decently.

In other words, the success (and failure) of the Heat still hinge on the “Big Two” and not the “Big Three.”  Consider the following: during the regular season, Bosh led all scorers in a game only five times, with the Heat going 4-1.  Compare this to James, who led all scorers 32 times (23-9), and Wade, who did it 27 times (22-5) and it becomes clear that the success of the Heat STILL resides in the success of either James or Wade (45-14 when they are the leading scorer).  This patterns has continued in the playoffs, with Bosh leading all scorers three times; the Heat are 2-1 in those games.

Again, this is not a knock against Bosh.  But when you are the third option in the three-man game that is the Miami Heat, your game is less important than that of the other two.

Bosh’s words, cited by Spears in his article, even reflect this.  After the game, Wade congratulated Bosh on a solid game, to which Bosh replied,

Just trying to be like you, No. 3.

Exactly…it is still the “Big Two” in Miami, where everyone not named James or Wade is trying to emulate number 6 or number 3.

~~NOTE: image from Getty Images, via Daylife…big ups!~~

Unwrapping the Christmas Games: the NBA, Phil Jackson and Playing on Christmas Day

How often is it that you see a coach from one team and a player from another agree with each other about an upcoming game between the two?

Miami Heat forward Lebron James and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson both question the NBA’s desire to have games on Christmas Day.  But to both, it should be clear as to why they must perform for the masses on the second holiest day in Christianity.

Look at the trend in the NBA with regards to Christmas games.  The NBA notes that Christmas games go back to the 1940s and really became more of staple in the 1980s when the games were televised on CBS and ESPN.  But these Christmas “gifts” generally consisted of one game or, at most, two.

Then in the 2000s things changed.  In the 2002-03 season and the 2003-04 season the NBA went to three games before reverting back to two games.  In 2006 there was only one game — Heat v. Lakers.  This single game was due to the “rivalry” between Kobe Bryant and then-Heat Shaquille O’Neil, the latter not playing in the game.

In the 2007-08 season, the NBA went to three games again.  Then the NBA got greedy and went to five games for the 2008-09 season!  That trend was repeated in 2009 and appears again in 2010.  This season we have Bulls-Knicks, Celtics-Magic, Heat-Lakers, Nuggets-Thunder, and Trailblazers-Warriors spread out across ABC and ESPN.

Why not just have 15 games going and have them all play?  The NBA is already a third of the way there.

Jackson complaints focus on family, which is fair, and Christianity.  Huh?

It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean to them anything anymore.  Just go out and play and entertain the TV.

Mmmm! Those white jerseys taste better than Sunday dinner!

Well, that is disingenuous.  As noted above, the NBA has scheduled Christmas Day games basically since its inception.  It is not as though the NBA suddenly decided to schedules such games.

Additionally, where are the outcries for games played on Sundays?  The Lakers will wear their pretty white uniforms for Sunday home games.  The only team that avoids Sunday home games are the Utah Jazz, based primarily on late owner Larry Miller and his Mormon faith [this season the Jazz have four scheduled Sunday games — all on the road].

And what of Easter?  Easter is considered by some Christians to be holier than Christmas.  Yet, the NBA schedules playoff games on Easter Sunday.  Where is the outcry there?

This Sporting News article also notes that Jackson points out that the NHL and “other major sports” usually take Christmas off.  That is not entirely accurate.  Yes, the NHL takes both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off (the NBA also avoids scheduling games on Christmas Eve).

But the NFL, perhaps the major sport in the U.S., does not take off for Christmas Day if that day falls within the normal NFL schedule.  The NFL is not going to randomly schedule a game on a Tuesday Christmas, but this season it has one game scheduled for Christmas, which is on Saturday.  Last season, the NFL scheduled one game for a Friday Christmas.  And in 2004, while the NFL scheduled most of its Week 16 games for a Saturday Christmas Eve, there were still two games on Sunday Christmas Day.

Additionally, in years past there have been college bowl games on Christmas Day.  The Blue-Gray Classic — a college football all-star game — used to also be played on Christmas Day.

Easter is not sacred to other sports either.  The NHL allows for hockey games on Easter Sunday while Major League Baseball had a full slate of games on Easter Sunday 2009 [Easter fell on 4 April 2010, which was the end of spring training.  However, the first game of the 2010 season was played on Easter Sunday].

About the only sport that truly holds holidays sacred is NASCAR.  NASCAR avoids running races on Easter weekend and until 2005 did not schedule races for Mother’s Day weekend.  Since 2005, NASCAR has held races on Mother’s Day weekend, but does so on Saturday rather than Sunday.

But NASCAR still does not hold Sunday sacred — most races are held on Sundays.

And maybe family would be a better argument than attempt to float Christianity out as a reason for avoiding Christmas games.  The commercialization of the holiday as strip it of much of its original Christian meaning.  So the holiday is about being with loved ones.

But then again, this is coming from an industry — sports — where being on the road and away from family is the norm.  It cannot mean that much more than it means to others who work on the road.

Now, it may seem cold-hearted to write that; as if athletes do not deserve time to be with their family on holidays.  They do.  But so do truck drivers and Waffle House waitresses.  Many of them work on holidays, including Christmas.  Is Kobe Bryant really that much better than Edna the Waffle House waitress?

She’s just like Kobe Bryant!

Actually, they are more alike than you realize.  Both work in the service industry.  Elite sport is a form of service.  Restaurants provide a service.  Both are products of the capitalist economy.  And as such, the goal of both is not necessarily to provide that service but to make money, both for the worker  — NBA players and the WH waitress — but also for the owners.  However, they must earn that money and to do so must provide their particular service — serving up food or serving up dunks.

Waffle House exists because the market exists.  People want food quickly; WH provides that “want” and in turn makes money.  Supply and demand.

The NBA exists because the market exists.  People want professional basketball; the NBA provides that “want” and in turn makes money.  Supply and demand.

Christmas Day games are all about making money, as if that needed to be stated.  I think it is well understood that the NBA knows there is a captivated audience of people at home and maybe someone — the gambling uncle, for example — will turn on the game just because you can only take so much of A Christmas Story.

Okay, maybe there is a difference between the Waffle House waitress and NBA players.  A multi-million dollar difference.  While waitresses struggle to get by off of petty tips, NBA players get millions for each tip-in they make. Their million-dollar position also gives them a platform to complain about working on Christmas while the Waffle House waitress (and the cooks) must smile and pretend to enjoy pouring your coffee.

On the other hand, that million-dollar difference is also the reason why NBA’ers play on Christmas.  The NBA is not stupid; and neither is Jackson.  The NBA, like Christmas, has become commodified  and commercialized.  It has become big money and the NBA and its respective sponsors know this.  Hence why the NBA trots out marquee games in the middle of December.  We are not talking about the Milwaukee Bucks versus Los Angeles Clippers.  As Jackson’s Saturday counterpart Erik Spoelstra stated, “If you play with a team that doesn’t matter, you never play on a holiday.”

Take that Memphis!

Perhaps James has the most rational quote in all of this.

The fans, we always say it’s good for the fans.  But the fans get an opportunity to see us all year.  We’ve got TV games all year.  We’ve got a TV game on Thursday [in Phoenix].  I don’t care for it too much.

Good point.  Again, it is not about the fans or being anti-Christian or anti-family.  It is about money.  The NBA knows that Heat v. Lakers will be a big draw.  Forget the fans who have “nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game” [Magic coach Stan Van Gundy’s words; not mine].  It is about money.

And honestly, despite James’s rational quote, he and Jackson and Van Gundy and all of the NBA players have no room to complain.  Maybe Jackson and James are simply tired of playing on Christmas every year, the latter seemingly coaching on the 25th every season.  But the system that creates a situation where the NBA schedules Christmas games also created James and Jackson and the rest of the NBA’ers.  The commericialization of the sport made them who they are today and the Christmas games are simply a consequence of this creation.

So go forth and entertain the TV!  Provide the service that basketball fans demand!  You created this game; revel in it!  Millions are going to be watching.

Not me though.  I will be at Waffle House ordering up some hash browns…scattered, smothered and chunked, of course.

Quick Snap: LeBron James Plays Just Another Game in Cleveland

Tonight, the Miami Heat square off against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a battle of mediocrity.

Sorry…wrong word.  Of media-crazy!

Obviously this game will NOT be about just the Cavs and the Heat.  This will about LEBRON JAMES and his return to cleveland.

I have a feeling of what the reaction will be like, and it will sound something like a Chick-Fil-A commercial.  But what is the appropriate response.

At first, I thought it would be awesome if no one showed up for the game.  Have the fans not show up and abandon James.  But that would actually punish the Cavs.  The better response would be fans showing up for all 41 Cleveland home games in full force regardless of the team’s record.  It would show that the city of Cleveland is behind its team and not an individual.  Sell out the Quicken Loans Arena every home game and stand behind the team, unlike what James did.

So far, Cleveland fans have done that as through nine games the Cavs had the highest average home attendance (20,562), which is at 100 percent capacity (tied for sixth).  So bravo to the city of Cleveland.

But I am not sure that is the best way to stick it to LeBron James, who honestly will never truly “care” about what Cleveland fans do.

I think the best thing for those fans to do is, when James is announced, to stand and applaud him.  Remember the positive things that James did for the team.  He took helped lead Cleveland to the NBA Finals.  He brought attention to a down-trodden team.

So stand and applaud him before the game.  Such a move would be classy.  And given that many around the country hold James’s move to Miami as a classless move (at least the way he did it; not the move itself), the response would be a stark contract to The King’s classless move.

And then, cheer like mad for the Cavaliers to win the game.  Don’t boo James every time he touches the ball.  But cheer for the Cavs.  Let Cleveland be the focus of fan energy; not a player who is no longer on the team.

To me, that would be the ultimate jab at LeBron.  Show that he is appreciated, but that the city has moved on and will stand behind the Cavaliers as they move on without James’s services.  After all, Cleveland is only three games back of Miami.  Cleveland may not be doing as well as they did when James was a part of the team, but he is not doing so hot without Cleveland either.

Certainly, we have to expect that Miami will improve.  But for one night, Cleveland can show that they are better than James and his Evil Empire in South Florida.

So applaud LeBron James for what he has done.  And hopefully by the time the game ends, Cleveland can be cheering for Mo Williams leading the Cavs to victory (behind a triple-double).