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Smoking Cuban: Part 1

If a foreign country doesn’t look like a middle-class suburb of Dallas or Detroit, then obviously the natives must be dangerous as well as badly dressed.

 – Lewis H. Lapham
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This post was originally about the flight of big name free agents from the west coast to Texas. Last year, Dwight Howard flew the coop; this year, LaMarcus Aldridge was spurred by unfulfilled championship aspirations to leave Portland for San Antonio.  The final piece of the puzzle was Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan, who was expected to join the Dallas Mavericks after making a verbal agreement during the free agency moratorium.

Only a few hours before free agency ended, it became apparent that DeAndre would not honor that agreement despite Chandsome Parsons making a compelling argument and also being a rad party dude.

As an introduction, I left the full extent of what I wrote about the exodus of talented 7 footers to Texas.  The title was too good to waste:

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I don’t blame myself. You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of ANYTHING.

– Noah Cross, Chinatown

Hallelujah, It’s Raining Big Men

I’m thinking of a team with an all-star guard who doesn’t care whether or not his teammates like him, but only whether or not they pour their souls into the pursuit of rings with the same unflinching intensity as himself.  Our mystery team features a franchise-caliber power-forward whose offensive gifts catapulted this team into immediate contention upon arrival.  The team surrounded this core with veteran talent, and then rounded it all together with a defensive center with explosiveness, rebounding, and defensive presence unrivaled in the league.

Despite league-wide expectations that the mystery team would contend for a championship, a disappointing off-season revealed previously overlooked inconsistencies in the team, creating second thoughts about the team’s strength and chemistry.  During the off-season, these fears were confirmed as smoke became fire, unnerving rumors became disturbing reports, and nightmares became realities.  The defensive center, saddled with thoughts of his unfulfilled offensive aspirations, his untapped potential as a primary option, and his contentious relationship with the team’s demanding all-star guard, decided to sign a lesser contract on a Texas team that ostensibly lacks the glamour and appeal of his abandoned home.

By this point you should have recognize my painfully opaque attempt to imply that the hypothetical team I am referring to is actually 2 teams – more specifically, the Lakers and the Clippers.  The defensive centers? Deandre Jordan and Dwight Howard.

The similarity of both teams’ lamentable situations reveal a greater story of intrigue, front-office dysfunction, and constant conflict over limited resources.  Los Angeles can be a dangerous place for people who don’t keep quiet and accept the role they are offered.  At the end of the day, not everyone is gonna be happy.

In other news, the Clippers are screwed.

Live and die in LA

The'Lake'rs should consider changing their name. It's dishonest at this pointThe ‘Lake’rs should consider changing their name. It’s dishonest at this point

After the “Dwightmare” cluster-fuck, the reeling Lakers fell from a 45-37 (.549) record to a dismal 27-55 (.329) record.  I wrote about Dwight Howard’s decisions in a totally unbiased article titled Dwight Howard is the Worst in Every Single Way.  Rather than get into the specifics of the Lakers’ tragic tale, I’m going to operate under the assumption that you’ve read the article and are familiar with the subject of Dwight Howard being insufferable.

The Clippers will almost certainly face a similar fate.  They captured a 58-24 record, good for second highest in the league during the 2014-2015 season.  Last year, DeAndre was named to the Third All-NBA Team and First All-Defensive Team – he also finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting.  When Blake Griffin was sidelined with a staph infection for 15 games, DeAndre stepped up, averaging 14.9 points and 18.5 rebounds during the period.

The Clippers are as crippled off-the-court nearly as much as they are on-the-court. Clippers’ General Manager Doc Rivers really screwed Clippers’ Head Coach Doc Rivers by mortgaging the future of the team for a slew of players who have no business being on a professional basketball team.

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Ain’t No Sunshine Where Dirk Goin’

Just to be clear, we’re back to the new article being written in response to DeAndre not signing with the Mavericks.

You can stop playing ‘It’s Raining Men’ now.  If you want to play some more fitting music, I’ve provided a good choice below:

DeAndre did a thing.  The thing that DeAndre did pissed a lot of people off in Dallas; the same thing also made a lot of people happy in Los Angeles.  Meanwhile, if you’re part of the greater NBA community, your response is most likely ‘…what?’

It’s my impression that the many disparate reactions that his decision to spurn the Mavericks provoked is mostly due to the absurd complexity of what happened.  Trying to process all the different data points, anecdotes, and emojis and then connect them all in a cohesive way is nearly impossible.    If you have an opinion formed as of this point, you should table it for now: it would take some type of Sherlock caliber basketball genius to deduce what exactly happened.  It’s not realistic.

Luckily, I’m a Sherlock caliber basketball genius.

By the way, if you deduced that the paragraph above was just a set-up for me to claim that I’m a genius, then congratulations, reader!  That being said, the prediction you just made?

Elementary.

Death of Two Salesmen

parsonscuban.0.0

I’m a little bit disappointed in my fellow NBA enthusiasts: the vast, as in vast, majority of people jumped to the immediate decision that DeAndre’s decision to go to Dallas was a poor ‘basketball’ decision.  I actually think that a Mavs team with Deandre leap-frogs the Clippers in contending.  JJ Reddick mentioned on the 7/10/2015 edition of the Lowe Post podcast that he considered the Clippers below the highest tier – the Cavaliers, the Spurs, the Warriors, the Rockets, and the Thunder.  The tier below those 5 teams are still legitimate contenders; but 99 times out of 100, the trophy will go to the first-class fliers.

On this flight, the business class would feature teams like the Heat, the Hawks, the Grizzlies, or the Bulls, to name a few.  The Clipper’s seat will find their seat here, have a comfortable flight, but harbor resentment for the bourgeois scum in first class with their flippin’ champagne and flat screens TVs.

The passengers in Economy Class are all Eastern Conference playoff teams that aren’t in the top 3.  Yep.

The Dallas Mavericks made the playoffs in 14 of the last 15 seasons, hit 50 regular season wins from the 2000-2001 season to the 2010-2011 season, and still managed a 50 win season last year despite the fact that they had no business doing so.  Through the duration of the Dirk Nowitzki Era, the Mavericks have been the #1 most consistently contending team – that isn’t in San Antonio – in the league.  That being said, these Mavs are not the 67 win Mavericks of old, nor are they the championship winning team of less old.  They have had their First Class tickets revoked, there’s no doubt about that, but they had the best offense in NBA history (until the Rondo trade) and could still enjoy the amenities of Business Class Seating.

Then some stuff happened, the specifics of which I can’t remember due to repetitive concussions from banging my head against a brick wall every time I watched a Mavs’ game.  Long story short, Mark Cuban ended up in Economy Class Seating, but not before biting a flight attendant’s arm off and using her blood to write ‘SHARK TANK’ across the lavatory doors.

Ball enthusiasts often fail to recognize how remarkable the Mavericks have been over the course of Nowitzki’s career.  DeAndre is hardly the first free agent to feign interest in the Mavericks enough to get fans’ hopes up before signing with a more glamorous team.  The Mav’s organization, particularly Coach Carlisle, Dirk, and the analytics department, have kept the team in contention even as free agent after free agent opts to sign elsewhere.

Consider the 2011 Championship team.  Who was the second best player beyond Dirk?  Was it:

1. A 37 year-old Jason Kidd, averaging 7.9 points a game?

2. Caron Butler, who played 29 games that season and regressed in nearly every statistical category?

3. Shawn Marion, Whose 12.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, and sub 1.0 steals and blocks, marked the beginning of the end for the 32-year-old veteran?

4. Jason Terry, who came of the bench because he was such a defensive liability, and who only shot .362 from 3-point range during the regular season?

5. Tyson Chandler, who contributed 8 points a game average during the post-season?

That team wasn’t very talented, which is impressive considering the absurd talent levels of the teams that have dominated the Finals arena since that season.  The Mavericks were able to play beyond their talent because of the organization’s unrivaled ability to implement a system that brings the best out of players who are not signed to the Spurs.

Last year, Monta Ellis was the leading scorer of the Mavs, and managed to be a reasonably efficient scoring option.  Monta Ellis is not good at playing basketball.

Relatively speaking, I mean.

In today’s NBA, efficiency is the name of the game.  The most efficient shots are close to the basket for obvious reasons.  If you head out to the local YMCA and play pick-up, the worst possible teammate is the dude who chucks up contested mid-range jump-shots despite missing them.  All of them.  Everyone else knows that he isn’t talented, but he won the MVP on his eighth grade B team squad and hasn’t forgotten it.

Monta Ellis is the most recent example of the Mavericks’ system being the secret sauce for coaxing the best out of players, but there are many more.  Rick Carlisle is a great coach, and great coaches are great.  It’s great.

Whats Up With Doc?

On the other hand, the Clippers looked like a contender during last year’s regular season.  In a brilliantly written article about potential contenders for the 2014-2015 season, I pegged the Clippers as the fifth most likely team to win it all last year based on the strength of their starters alone:

An article from Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale broke down the NBA’s best 5-man units, and the #1 lineup in the league featured Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick: Minutes Played: 1,173, Net Rating: Plus-17.9, Weighted Score: 20,996.7.  Their bench is garbage, but the Clippers’ core lineup could be good enough to propel the Clippers to their first championship.

– The Prophet, The Ring to Rule the Ball

Since DeAndre’s re-signing, their bench has been upgraded with much-needed veteran talent:

1.  Paul Pierce is the friggin’ man:

Silly Reporter: “Did you call bank?”

Paul Pierce: “I called game.”

He also pulled this rabbit out of his hat, but the rabbit was dead:

“The Truth” speaks for himself.  I have no further evidence to present to the courtroom.

2. Josh Smith.

He signed with the Clippers after a redemptive run with the Houston Rockets.  He was signed with the Detroit Pistons at the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, but was waived on December 7th.  Jason Concepcion of Grantland.com tried to answer the questions:

1. Why Did Detroit Waive Josh Smith?

2. Why Does He Shoot From There?

3. And Where Will He Go Next?”

in an article entitled: “Why Did Detroit Waive Josh Smith? Why Does He Shoot From There?  And Where Will He Go Next?”

Maybe he never even had a chance after he joined a Detroit roster that, with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, pushed Smith out to the perimeter. For a player with shot-selection issues, this was basically like asking a known alcoholic to tend bar.

The result was Smith shooting 3s at a career-high clip (3.4 attempts per game), which he converted at a lead-poisoning 26 percent. This, by the way, was among the better 3-point percentages of his career. Over the last few seasons, there have been few sounds in the world of sports as incredible as the Detroit crowd’s groans whenever Smith lets fly.

Everything wrote in this particular snapshot is true, but the rest of the article goes on to ridicule Smith, blame the team’s poor performance on him rather than on his fit with the rest of the team, and conclude that he’s a dingus:

The crazy thing is, Smith will definitely get another shot (pun intended), and it might be in Houston, where there’s a constitutional amendment against playing basketball like Josh Smith. Is that where this is going? Will Smith prove us all wrong in Houston, or will he just unpack the same old tire fire and burn down that franchise’s dignity too?

Kirk Goldsberry, who co-authored the article.

They were in consensus with their damnations of Smith, but, as usual, the more nuanced reality is buried under superficial sensationalism.  Ho Hum. Sports Journalism, am I right?

The Pistons not only refused to play small-ball hoops, which has quickly become ‘the next big thing,’ they have chosen to play big-ball, a term you haven’t heard of because it’s not a good idea.  I love Van Gundy, I made that clear in my very first article, Dwight Howard is the Worst in Every Single Way.

(That title implies both an intense hatred of Dwight and the opinion that he is a crappy basketball player: in reality, only the first of those beliefs is true.  In my opinion, Howard’s the second best defensive center in history, second only to Hakeem.  And that just makes me hate him more.)

Stan Van Gundy did what he could with the pieces he inherited, but he made multiple mistakes in regards to Josh Smith, particularly in his managerial role.  I’m tabling my discussion of this for now, but I’ll probably address it at some point.  For now, the statistics have to speak for themselves.  On February 27th, fellow prophet-themed sports writer ‘mohamedhoops’ published this analysis of Josh Smith’s performance with the Rockets up to that point:

“He’s shot a respectable 53 percent in the restricted area since joining the Rockets. And he’s improved his efficiency from basically everywhere on the court.

He’s been a much better three-point shooter in Houston than in Detroit. He’s making 35.6 percent of his threes with the Rockets, a perfectly acceptable number, compared with 24.3 percent with the Pistons. And although he’s attempted 90 threes already with the Rockets, it’s fine if he’s hitting it with that efficiency. Not going to lie, I still panic when I see Smith attempt a 3.”

He got even hotter during the post-season.  He shot better than Kyle Korver.

Seriously.  He did.

What are the odds?

Great question – the odds are 0.06%

So using a bit of math (the binomial distribution) and using Josh Smith’s career average of 28.5% on three pointers 4, Smith has about a 13% chance that he’d hit 19 or more threes given his 52 three point attempts in the playoffs. And when applying the same method for Korver but instead using his three point percentage over the last two seasons (48.3%)5, there’s about a 0.5% chance he’d hit 35 or less threes given his 100 three point attempts in the playoffs. Multiply those together to get the probability of both happening and you get 0.06% chance of Smith and Korver hitting those percentages on the amount of threes they’ve taken.

– Krishna Narsu, What are the Odds?  Josh Smith vs. Kyle Korver and 3-point shooting in the Playoffs

J-Smoove, ladies and gentlemen.

3. Lance Stephenson blows.

I love terrible jokes.  I just can’t help myself around low-hanging fruit; they’re too de-vine!

In all seriousness though, Lance Stephenson is bad; he does, however, have an opportunity for redemption as a basketball player.

As human, he doesn’t.  If there are ‘bad people,’ then he’s on that list:

Indiana Pacers draft pick Lance Stephenson, after pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs, grabbed her and hit her head on the bottom step, prosecutors said Monday.

Lance Stephenson Arrest Detailed, the Associated Press.

I’ll try to put aside my disgust for Stephenson to address him purely as a basketball player.  That being said, his personality has a profound and unavoidable effect on his professional life.

Last season, as a member of the Charlotte Hornets, he was atrocious: In his role as a secondary ball-handler, he stopped healthy movement and took repeated contested shots out his range.  As a result, he was a statistical nightmare – 37-percent from the field, 8.2 points per game, 4 assists per game, and 4 rebounds per game.  That stat line is pathetic, and under further scrutiny, it’s even worse:

In the end, Stephenson ended up taking 47 more pull-ups and 221 fewer shots from inside 10 feet than he did in his breakout season a year prior. Two seasons ago, 50 percent of Stephenson’s shots came from inside 10 feet. Last season, only 38 percent of his shots came from that distance.

Delving further into his shooting distance, more than twice as many of his shots came from the restricted area as it did from mid-range two seasons ago. Last year, he had 22 more mid-range shots than attempts from the restricted area.

Stephenson went from averaging 2.4 pull-up jumpers per 36 minutes with Indiana to 5.6 with Charlotte. Despite playing 17 fewer games last season than he did two seasons ago, he still ended up shooting 37 more mid-range shots. He shot roughly 34 percent on such shots each of his last two seasons.

– Damon Taylor, Clippers’ Lance Stephenson ‘Born Ready’ To Be The Final Piece

What’s worse is that he padded his stats in a pathetic attempt to look less horrible, and did so at the expense of his teammates:

Adj Reb

 

This chart, pulled from an article by Seth Partnow, a writer for a fantastic analytics blog named Nylon Calculus, is the 2013-2014 season’s best and worst players in terms of Defensive Rebounding Percentage (DREB%).

DREB% is a statistical expression of a player’s true capabilities as a defensive rebounder.  The methodology of the stat’s calculus is fascinating, but, in essence, ‘contested’ rebounds are worth approximately twice as much as an ‘uncontested’ rebound.  Though all rebounds are recognized as valuable, players who battle for contested rebounds are rewarded for doing so and players who don’t do so are penalized.

Lance was among the 10 worst players in this regard, justifying his reputation as a player with empty stats.  In Charlotte, Lance’s reputation was made dramatically apparent because of his motivation to compensate for poor performance.

It is, however, undeniable that his precipitous drop in output was not the result of regression, but instead was due to unfortunate circumstances.  The Pacers’ team composition catered to Lance’s strengths and sublimated his weaknesses.  The Clippers website published the article Optimizing Stephenson’s Game, in which the author, Rowan Kavner, details one of the primary reasons that Lance’s career in Charlotte was doomed from conception:

The Hornets got in transition a league-low 9.6 percent of the time last season and averaged the second fewest fast-break points in the league (9.2)…

During the 2014-15 season, Stephenson had 1.4 possessions per game in transition and 1.1 points per game in transition. The year prior in Indiana, he had 2.5 possessions per game in transition and 2.3 points per game in transition.

Lance is a valuable play-maker in fast-break situations, where he can either utilize his strength and size to finish near the rim or warrant enough defensive concern that he can dump the ball off to an open teammate.  Conversely, in a half-court offense like Charlotte’s, his lack of range prompts defenders to sag off of him, which both allows them to play more help-defense, and gives them ample time to respond appropriately to Stephenson’s attempts to slash to the basket.

I referenced earlier how Lance’s increase in pull-up jumpers has taken its’ toll on Lance’s shooting percentages.  Changes like this don’t happen in a vacuum; they are almost always symptomatic of a change in how the player is utilized.  Like Josh Smith, Lance was asked to fulfill a role he wasn’t equipped to fulfill.

On the Pacers, Lance was never asked to be a first or second option on offense.  Each element of his role on the team played off of his individual strengths:

  • Make plays in transition
  • Make corner 3-pointers off of catch-and-shoot opportunities
  • Be an off-ball threat as a slasher who can finish at the rim
  • Use his size and mobility to be a man-to-man defensive bulldog
  • Use defensive rebounds to start fast-breaks
  • Be the team’s Jack-of-all-trades and utility ‘glue’ player.

The Clippers needed this type of player desperately, and won’t ask him to do much of anything beyond this.  It’s a perfect fit.

4 and 5. Wesley Johnson and Cole Aldrich

Now that I’ve covered the 3 players with nicknames, it’s time to turn to the less flashy role players that round this team out.  The Clippers lacked wing depth the last few seasons, and that was just what the doctor ordered.  What I mean is, Doc Rivers ordered a whole slew of really dumb trades, signings, and releases that financially crippled the Clippers for the last few years.

There’s some fuzziness when it comes to team building in the NBA: good organizations tend to build good teams through good decisions in acquiring good players, which in turn, attracts more good players.  Bad organizations, meanwhile, tend to build bad teams through bad decisions in acquiring bad players, and ultimately attracting more bad players.   However, the fuzziness is apparent when a team does everything right, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.

On even rarer occasions, a team’s management will make all the wrong decisions, but still futz their way into a very talented team.

Meet Doc.

doc-rivers

Doc is a solid NBA coach.  He’s better than good, but not quite great; but that hasn’t stopped him from being a mind-bogglingly inept general manager.

Doc won an NBA championship coaching the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics team, which featured Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and our friend Paul Pierce.  After a few profoundly mediocre seasons with the post-championship Celtics, he became head coach of the Clippers in 2013.

Because of a certain virulently racist owner, Doc Rivers was thrust into a power vacuum in which he was the only functional party in the team’s front office: for a time, Doc was the head coach, general manager, and acting owner.  After buying the team, Steve Balmer entrusted Doc Rivers with the fate of the Clippers by letting him retain control over both management and coaching duties – Greg Popovich and Stan Van Gundy are the only other men who are trusted enough to operate in that dual capacity.

Allowing a single person to wield that degree of power in the structure of an NBA team is a risky investment.

Apparently, not all of Steve Balmer’s investments work out as well as his one with Microsoft.

Rivers evaluates talent as if it were performing in a galaxy three light years away. Everything is delayed and warped and totally out of focus. From Glen Davis to Hedo Turkoglu to Danny Granger to Sasha Vujacic, in Rivers’ view, these players remain competent and trustworthy. More importantly, they’re worth the valuable roster spots he’s had them fill on a team with championship aspirations.

Here’s the entire star-studded list of free agents Rivers has brought into the fold so far: Stephen Jackson, Vujacic, Byron Mullens, Darren Collison, Antawn Jamison, Davis, Granger, Jordan Farmar, Turkoglu (MAKE IT STOP), Chris Douglas-Roberts, Spencer Haws, Joe Ingles and Ekpe Udoh.

Doc Rivers Shouldn’t be in Charge by Michael Pina, writer for Sports on Earth

doc

Despite his questionable decision making, Doc Rivers somehow pulled a great bench out of his ass, granting the Clippers first-class seating with the cool kids.  Still, the serendipitous circumstances beg an important question – could the Mavericks have built a team around DeAndre that could have potentially done the same?

Part 2

In part 2, I’m going to build the hypothetical Mavericks’ team that would likely have been part of the Mavs 2.0.  DeAndre Jordan’s irreversibly altered the Mavericks’ trajectory in a whole slew of ways, and a significant chunk of that slew is the free-agent/trade chain-reactions that did/did not happen because of his decision/indecision.

The entire hypothetical is, by nature, based on conjecture and vulnerable to chaos and unexpected circumstances.

Sherlock wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

the prophet