An asset is an asset: How the shifting market has stifled the Milwaukee Bucks’ best intentions
September 25th, 2016

This week, Milwaukee Bucks wing man Khris Middleton suffered a torn hamstring, and will miss the majority of the upcoming season. Over the last three years, Middleton has made himself into a quality player. Coming into the league as a sub-par outside shooter, Middleton is now one of the league’s best, and retains the quirky off-the-dribble game that got him to this point to now be a valuable and versatile scoring presence. He is not a star, but he is an asset on any team, and particularly on the one he is on. Last year, the Bucks had only the fifth-worst offense in the league, based in large part due to their bad shooting. They made the most two pointers in the league, but both made and attempted the fewest three-pointers, and only because of Middleton were they close to being the second fewest. Only two players made more than 100 three-pointers (Middleton 143; Jerryd Bayless 101; the third highest was O.J. Mayo at a lowly 52.) The whole team made only 440 three pointers – for context, Steph Curry alone made 402. Moreover, excluding the lone attempt of Johnny O’Bryant, Middleton and Bayless were two of the only five Bucks to shoot over 30% from three. Of the other three, Mayo’s 52 for 162 recorded a lowly 32.1%, while Tyler Ennis and Steve Novak combined for only 15 of 45 all year. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and (to a much smaller degree) Michael Carter-Williams are all key rotation, future and offensive pieces, but all three do it without the three, shooting a combined 52-199 from there in a combined 6,880 minutes. Middleton’s absence, then, will decimate the shooting. Making it worse, Bayless and Mayo have already left – Bayless has gone to the Philadelphia 76ers as a free agent, while Mayo is beginning his two year suspension. Novak is also […]

Posted by at 11:14 PM

Golden State’s efficient inefficiency stunned Cleveland in game one
June 7th, 2016

In game one of the NBA Finals, the defending champion Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in relatively comfortable fashion. Leading almost the whole way throughout the game, the Warriors led by as many as 20 points, and ultimately won by 15. And they did so with unanimous MVP Steph Curry far from his best, recording only 22 minutes and 11 points on 4-15 shooting, with a +/- rating of a compact 0. The Warriors won this game with their depth, and specifically the depth behind Curry. Backup point guard Shaun Livingston scored 20 points on 8-10 shooting, while backup shooting guard Leandro Barbosa made all five of his shots in scoring 11 points. That is 31 points on 15 possessions from two players who normally contribute 12 on 10. There is a reason Steph only played half the game. This is not to say that the duo did this entirely unexpectedly. Barbosa has long been a scoring super-sub, winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award in 2007, and Livingston has been a fine NBA player for the last five years or so since finally finding his health and his niche in this league. They are key rotation players on a historical great because they are good at what they do, so it should not be news when they are good. They also did not do anything stylistically that they did not already do. Livingston was not pulling up from 30 feet and bombing away like Curry, and Barbosa was not crossing people over and finishing in traffic at the rim. Rather, they just picked their spots, found where to go, and did what they did best. What is noteworthy, however, is the juxtaposition between how they do it, and all that which was focused on before […]

Posted by at 10:39 AM

Bismack Biyombo: A walking contradiction of Charles Barkley’s pessimism
May 30th, 2016

Earlier this week, former NBA great and current analyst Charles Barkley did that thing that former NBA greats do, and lamented the present while reflexively celebrating his era. In an interview with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, and at a weirdly ill-timed juncture in light of the genuinely exciting and unexpected Conference Finals series taking place, Barkley had the following to contribute: “People think us old guys hate when we talk about it. It has nothing to do with the Warriors’ greatness, LeBron’s greatness. But I’ve never seen the NBA as bad as it is, and I’ve been saying it the last three or four years. We’ve got too many young players coming out of college that don’t know how to play. It’s frustrating for me because I want to see competitive basketball.” Apparently not seeing the competitive basketball currently being played, or perhaps misremembering his own playing career and somehow thinking that everything was far more competitive back in an era where the same team won the title six out of eight years, Barkley rustles up the well-used mantra that the NBA is not as good as it was. Many have stated this before, yet here, Barkley states it more bluntly, and in his own inimitable way. He later attempts to speak forebodingly of this summer being “do or die” for the NBA, as if ‘die’ were ever an option. (Maybe it would ‘die’ in Barkley’s mind. But on the basis of the evidence thus far, I suspect this will be his belief anyway.) In contrast, not one week earlier, former NBA great and current Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird pretty much did the opposite when speaking to the New Yorker, championing the current era and celebrating the diversification of different styles over time: “It’s funny how the […]

Posted by at 10:38 AM

Dwight Howard’s recent ESPN interview shows he needs to take a long, hard look at himself
May 24th, 2016

This week, Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets (for five more weeks, at least) was the subject of a rather illuminating interview with Jackie McMullan at Although contracted through the end of next season, Howard has the ability to opt out of his deal this summer, and considering the huge salary cap spike that is about to galvanise the upcoming free agent period, he is almost certainly going to do so. This does not prohibit him from remaining in Houston, but in light of the lacklustre Rockets season, his own reduced role and his supposed terse relationship with James Harden, it has long been assumed that he was going to leave the team this summer. And if anyone still thought there was a chance, there probably won’t be now after this interview. Asked why he was (by his own admission) clearly disinterested at parts of this season, Howard responded in part by calling out Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey: “I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to Daryl and said, ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect to what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.’” This is what you do when you have no intention of staying. When a situation is irretrievable, and you really need people to think it wasn’t your fault. And Dwight really does need that. In his 12 year career thus far, Dwight has played for three teams, yet he will now leave all three under a cloud. […]

Posted by at 10:32 AM

Scott Skiles: Risking his and Orlando’s future with yet another early departure
May 17th, 2016

Yesterday, a particularly bizarre day in the NBA, began with the surprise resignation of Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles, who had been with the team for less than one year. “Surprise” might be a bit of an understatement there. Skiles and those within the Magic who knew of this news managed to keep it entirely under wraps until the official statement was released – as can be ascertained from guard Evan Fournier’s slightly off-colour reaction, not even the players knew. In the Twitter era, this is no small feat. There are few genuine shocks left. However, the unexpectedness of the announcement came only from the outside. Inside, the key players in the Magic’s front office set-up knew. Soon after the announcement, rumours inevitability filtered out as to why, and seemingly, discontent had been bubbling under for a while. As the story goes, despite at one point heavily campaigning for the role, Skiles regretted taking it fairly soon after doing so and said as much to his hand-picked assistant coach Adrian Griffin (whom Skiles hired twice as an assistant and had twice as a player). In the first instance, it seems Skiles did not tell owner Rich DeVos, president Alex Martins or general manager Rob Hennigan, but instead only Griffin. And Griffin, caught in between a rock and a hard place, was the one to tell management. (Seemingly, at the behest of Martins, it never filtered up to DeVos. We will never know if he reacted like Fournier.) Skiles not knowing what he wanted is fine. We all do that. Skiles or any coach having bad days at work and speaking out of turn is also somewhat fine. We all do that too, albeit perhaps not to this degree. Skiles having second thoughts is fine, even if airing them might not have been. […]

Posted by at 10:30 AM

Frank Vogel: An unfortunate victim of the NBA’s ever-changing landscape
May 9th, 2016

After being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Toronto Raptors in a game seven decider this week, the Indiana Pacers and their president of basketball operations Larry Bird announced head coach Frank Vogel would not have his contract renewed. Tantamount to a firing, the news has raised many eyebrows, these ones included. Vogel has long been revered as one of the better coaches in the game, a defensive craftsman who has maximised the limited amount of talent available to him over the years and made the once-disappointing Pacers into a consistent threat in the Eastern Conference. In announcing the news, Bird said he felt the team needed a “new voice”. But he did not say what that meant, or why he felt it. He just felt it. At the start of the year, it was felt that the Pacers needed a new direction. Specifically, that direction was to abandon their largely half­court game and play a higher tempo, full­-court brand of basketball with quicker offence and smaller, faster, more athletic players. Notwithstanding the fact that such an offensive strategy generally relies on high efficiency outside shooting (which key acquisition Monta Ellis does not bring), this is the task Vogel was charged with. He tried. He tried to convince superstar small forward Paul George to play power forward, to be the key piece in the Pacers’ paradigm shift to keep pace with the new NBA. When George would not concur, Vogel played one­time shooting guard C.J. Miles as a really, really small­ball power forward. He tried to pair up George Hill and Ellis (and, up to a point, Rodney Stuckey), despite them being in many ways the same player and an ill­fitting pairing. And he tried to make do with only one good big man (rookie […]

Posted by at 10:28 AM

Dissecting a difficult season in Houston
May 2nd, 2016

Earlier this week, Houston Rockets guard Jason Terry guaranteed that his team would beat the defending champion and legitimate candidate for best team in history, Golden State Warriors, in game five of their playoff series, a game which would end the Rockets’ season if they lost. And yet despite missing defending MVP Steph Curry, the Warriors won at a canter by 33 points. Terry was held scoreless. The above is both a fitting conclusion and a damning microcosm of the Rockets’ season. They were expected to compete because they had just done so, making the Western Conference Finals last season losing only to those same juggernaut Warriors. But from the very off, when James Harden could not hit a jump shot to begin the season and the team waddled listlessly through high profile early season match­ups on international television, they never got going. Indeed, they never got especially close to going. The team finished 41­-41, an unimpressive eighth seed without even much of a crescendo or a sign that it would suddenly snap into life. They were the Western Conference version of the east’s Chicago Bulls and nothing like what they so recently were. Any title-­less season requires a post­season post­-mortem, especially disappointing seasons. The coach has already taken his share ­- head coach Kevin McHale was fired back in November after the 4­-7 start – and the marginal improvements under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff will not stop him from having to interview for his own place again. The players have been scrutinised, Harden especially, and will continue to be. But if players do not fit together, it must be explored why they were put there, and who by. Two weeks ago, I looked back on the body of work of former Philadelphia 76ers general manager and vice president […]

Posted by at 10:24 AM

The Mid-Level Exception rule is essentially redundant, and that could just be the start
April 27th, 2016

The Mid-Level Exception was introduced in the 1999 Collective Bargaining Agreement, and quickly became a vital tool in the interminable team building struggle, if not for many, the most vital. For teams over the salary cap, the Mid-Level Exception (also known in its infancy as the Middle-Class Exception, and never since then) was a way to continue to sign players for significantly more than the minimum salary, thereby enabling themselves to add players of decent to good quality despite having already spent the theoretical maximum any team could spend on players. In practice, then, the MLE was, to an extent, the most powerful weapon most teams could have – with it, there was less incentive to stay under the cap. However, the 2011 CBA shifted the balance back and provided a far greater incentive to stay under the cap. By introducing the post-cap room MLE and other mechanisms (such as the ability for teams under the salary cap to make amnesty waiver claims, which does not matter anymore but which certainly did to begin with), there was more reason to stay under the cap; concurrent as it was with the rules shortening contract length, and a much-heightened awareness in the internet era of the importance of salary cap management, it was not only preferable to stay under the cap but much more important to do so. Far fewer teams had cap room in years past compared with today – compare the three that had cap room in the summer of 2009 (under the 2005 CBA, where the MLE ruled the day) with the 15 in the summer of 2013 (when the benefits of the new 2011 CBA were ripe for the taking). Simultaneous to that shift in the balance came big revenue spikes in the league, which drove the salary […]

Posted by at 11:32 PM

Given ultimate freedom, Sam Hinkie did half the job
April 15th, 2016

Last week, Philadelphia 76ers general manager and president of basketball operations Sam Hinkie announced his resignation from the team. The move came a few months after the Sixers’ ownership hired long-time NBA executive Jerry Colangelo as chairman, a move that precipitated a reduction in Hinkie’s role and influence and which ultimately led to his departure. Hinkie announced his resignation to the franchise’s owners via a 13-page internal letter, one almost immediately released publicly by ESPN’s Marc Stein. It is a letter well worth reading in full, providing as it does a first-hand insight into the mind of arguably the NBA’s most unique, enigmatic, reclusive and polarising executives. Hinkie’s resignation was a surprise, and the public release of his resignation letter even more so. But the contents of it should not be. That letter is in style, tone and content, a final report from a hedge fund manager to his investors, a management consultant restricting a struggling business, an interim CEO brought in to get the college ready for Ofsted inspectors. Only briefly touching on the basketball side of the operation, the end product is described in terms of asset management and ‘repositioning’ because that is the task with which Hinkie was charged (or at least, the one he chose to take on). The largely triumphant tone of Hinkie’s letter speaks to a job description, real or perceived, that was primarily if not exclusively concerned with taking apart what went before and accumulating as many assets as possible. To that end, Hinkie primarily chooses to evaluate himself on how he did that half of the job. However, that job description is at best only half of the job required of a successful basketball front office. And while Hinkie may not have been brought in to do only half the job, it […]

Posted by at 11:19 PM