The Rookie Trainwreck

This is a shorter piece as the verdict isn’t very difficult to prove. This draft class is abysmal…

Perhaps I was overzealous. Maybe I was blinded by my unconditional love for the the NBA Draft. Or just maybe I had too much faith in the Cody Zellers and the Kentavious Caldwell-Popes of the world. Nevertheless, the 2013 rookies have been more out of tune than this 11-year-old singing the national anthem.

Well, maybe not THAT out of tune…Jesus.

Look No Further Than PER and VA to Rate These Rookies

For reference, Player Efficiency Ratio (PER) is a well-respected advanced statistic where the average is ratio is 15.0. Generally, the best players in the NBA finish with the highest ratings; for example, the top-3 in PER last season were LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul. As of today, just four rookies are above the NBA average PER: Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.37), Trey Burke (15.42), Mason Plumlee (15.71) and Carter-Williams (19.3).

Just as unremarkable, 13 of the 25 rookies that qualify for Hollinger’s Advanced Statistics, players who average 6.09 minutes per game or more, contribute negative value to their teams according to Value Added Rating (VA).

These rookies have been bad. Historically bad.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any pleasant surprises. Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke are fun to watch. Victor Oladipo shows signs of becoming a future All-Star. Tim Hardaway Jr. has a lot of upside potential on the offense end. Mason Plumlee, Kelly Olynyk and Steven Adams look like future contributors in the paint. Giannis Antetokounmpo, dubbed ‘The Greek Freak’ by Bill Simmons, has massive hands and shows promise. Lastly, we’ve yet to see the former consensus number 1 pick, Nerlens Noel.

Alas, this is where my enthusiasm for the 2013 rookie class comes to a screeching halt.

More Supporting Evidence & Anthony Bennett 

There are 13 rookies with a negative Value Added rating, but none that detracts more value from his team than the 2013 number 1 pick, Anthony Bennett. To put Bennett’s -31.1 VA rating in perspective, LeBron James leads the league with a 309.7 VA.

Quite the juxtaposition! 

Bennett is also dead last in rookie rankings for AST (Assist Ratio: the number of that player’s possessions that end up in an assist), last in PER with a 2.21 rating, last in estimated wins added with -1.0, and second-to-last in true shooting percentage (a stat that incorporates free throw and 3-point percentage).

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ESPN’s Chad Ford recently said about Bennett, “It’s very early, but right now, he’s looking like the worst [No. 1 pick] in the past 20 years.” Remember, the Cavaliers signed Bennett to a multi-year deal worth $22.8 million – all guaranteed money.

Cleveland sports teams just can’t catch a break.

Bennett spoke with the Akron Beacon Journal recently, and when asked about the NBA’s steep learning curve he replied, “I’m still clueless about the whole thing.”

It think Bennett’s quote is representative of this entire draft class.

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For Anthony Bennett, there’s only one song to sing, and one place left to blame…

Bull’s rookie, Tony Snell…or Addams Family veteran, Beetlejuice?

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Any questions, disagreements, or comments communicate with me via Twitter @gregMschwartz

10 Breakout Players Entering ‘The Silver Era’

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It’s the NBA on Christmas, everyone!

What a disaster…at least until the nightcap.

No D-Rose, no Brook, no Melo, no Kobe. Just a bunch of old stars on their way out (Garnett, Pierce, Amar’e etc.), and a few Ryan Kelly sightings. Just before the Knicks and Thunder squared off at the Garden, it was announced that Melo was out. The commentator then quickly attempted to regain interest from his recently dejected Christmas audience by using the cliche, “…but a wounded animal can be dangerous!” In this case, the wounded animal looked, well, wounded – like Amar’e after this (below).

Also notable – the unpopular Chris Smith logged his first minute for the Knicks in this game. That’s how bad it was.

Shifting Gears…

Looking back to the beginning of this season, there’s been tanking, over-performing bad teams, many knee injuries, and the laughing-stock that is ‘Coach’ Kidd. Also, since when are the Pacers and Blazers the best teams in the NBA in the same season? Certainly not under the tyrannical rule of Darth ‘BIG MARKET’ Stern!

The league is transitioning. On February 1st 2014, the NBA will officially enter ‘The Silver Era,’ an era led by current NBA Deputy Commissioner, Adam Silver.

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But who really is Adam Silver?

Well, for starters he’s the tall, thin, Jewish man who announces the second-round draft picks on draft night – after the short, plump, Jewish guy announced the first round (I’m Jewish so I can say this).

He’s also a man who has not released his actual birth date on Wikipedia, making me inherently skeptical of his legitimacy. How can we trust that he is a true US citizen? How can we allow a man, who doesn’t even release his birth certificate to the public, to run an organization that is so very essential to our lives, like the NBA? I demand your papers, Silver, and I demand them now! 

Speaking of demands, my only real demand for Silver is to bring high-schooler eligibility back to the NBA draft. Remember how much fun that was?

How can you possibly recreate the adrenaline rush of not knowing whether your favorite team just landed Kevin Garnett or Kwame Brown / Kobe Bryant or Jonathan Bender? You simply can’t! There’s simply no more exciting way to spend a sticky Thursday night in late-June! By the way, the rest of the ‘High-Schoolers Who Took Their Talents Straight to the NBA‘ list is pretty damn good. Re-open the flood gates to the Ndudi Ebis’ and Robert Swifts’ of the world!

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I also heard a rumor from an unnamed inside source about a long-term goal to add NBA expansion cities where Mexico City was in consideration. Though after the recent escalator fire/smoke debacle, which postponed the Spurs-T’Wolves game a few weeks ago, Mexico City probably just lost a few votes. Just put a team back in Seattle, Adam.

Silver’s most legitimate initiatives are his interests in getting rid of divisions, and abolishing the lottery. Oh, the horror! Grantland wrote a very thorough article about abolishing the lottery so I won’t take the time to tackle that issue.

Regarding the divisions; this is what the Eastern Conference standings looked like last week…a goddamn bloodbath.

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You may notice that the Celtics should have been the 8-seed given their .417 winning percentage, but were seeded fourth (you may also notice that 12 of the 15 Eastern Conference teams were under .500 at this point). However, if the Atlantic Division continues to under perform like a (insert old guy without Viagra/Cialis joke), which they most likely will, this will be a disastrous situation.

Mark Cuban said it best in his quote in USA Today:

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“What’s happened now is the law of unintended consequences… Because there’s so many underperforming teams in the East, and they have to play each four times, poor teams are going to make the playoffs with better records than they expected to have and good teams in the West aren’t going to make the playoffs and you’re going to have good teams getting better players and this being a good draft… Teams that tried to underperform to get the better players are going to make the playoffs and not be in the lottery. There’ll be a new set of incentives to come out of all of this.”

Basically, weak divisions can lead to decent teams in the West who don’t make the playoffs, getting better draft picks than bad teams in the East, who do make the playoffs. In a draft that’s this stacked with talent, that ain’t fair.

Obviously, Cuban is partly looking out for himself. The Mavericks are a fringe playoff team that will either get knocked out in round 1 or have poor odds to get anything good in the lottery. For the purposes of this argument, let’s support Cuban’s intentions for being a man of the people.

Again, shifting gears…

To go along with this theme of transition, I’ve ranked the top-10 breakout players entering The Silver Era 

10. Arron Afflalo 21.9 ppg / 3.9 apg / 4.6 rpg / 19.80 per

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Afflalo is 18th in the NBA in estimated wins added (4.7), in front of James Harden, and has led the undersized and under-talented Orlando Magic to an overachieving, 8-20 start to the season. Yes, this is overachieving when your roster is constructed as poorly as Orlando’s.

Mo Harkless, Glen Davis, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Maxiell, Tobias Harris. Where’s the diversity (in skill-sets)?

Afflalo is averaging 21.9 points per game (10th in the league), and seems to have confidently assumed the leadership and scorer’s role for the young Magic.  Only time will tell if this is simply a case of ‘well, someone has to score the points,’ or if Afflalo can actually be considered an elite scorer in the NBA.

9. Andre Drummond 13.2 ppg / 12.5 rpg / 1.6 bpg / 22.45 per

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Drummond is currently 2nd in the NBA is field goal percentage at 62.2%, and 4th in the league in rebounding (12.5 rpg). He also recorded some monstrous stat-lines, like his 31-point 19-rebound outing against the 76ers earlier this season. On the flip side, he’s still raw as all hell from the line; however, you can’t argue with his consistency for inconsistency – this will make sense in a second.

He’s shooting 37.1%, which happens to be exactly his average from last year, 37.1%. It’s incredible, he just basically shoves the ball toward the hoop, wishing the damn thing in.

I am pretty confident that he won’t crack 50% from the line for years, if ever, but I do know that his 13 and 13 are making some noise around the league. He’s also 8th in the league in estimated wins added, tied with LaMarcus Aldridge with 5.8 EWA.

8. Jordan Crawford 13.6 ppg / 5.4 apg / 3.1 rpg / 17.35 per

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Coming in at number 8 is the NBA’s ‘Troll in Residence,’ (Michael) Jordan Crawford. He’s known for being an irrational confidence, heat-check guy, and he can be as inspiring as he can be exhausting to watch. While his 13.6 points per game isn’t as gaudy of a number as others on this list, Crawford is dishing out 5.4 assists per game, and has looked like a legitimate NBA playmaker for Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

A few weeks ago Jordan Crawford won the Eastern Conference Player Of The Week Award, averaging 23.3 points on 61% shooting with 6.7 assists and 3 rebounds during the week. However, over his last five games he’s come back down to earth, shooting just 32.2% from the field, and 16% from three. It seems as though Crawford is in the process of regressing to the mean.  If you are a Celtics fan who favors tanking, this is a good thing.

7. J.J. Redick 15.8 ppg / 2.0 apg / 2.2 rpg / 18.23 per

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Seven years removed from his unforgettable career at Duke, J.J. Redick is now in his prime. Coach Doc Rivers has given J.J. the ultimate green light, and Redick is taking advantage of every opportunity. He’s shooting 46% from the field, and should continue to be the x-factor in Doc’s offensive game plan after he returns from his recent injuries.

Enough praise for J.J. – if you have time, I suggest that you enjoy the video below.

6. Kemba Walker 18.7 ppg / 4.6 apg / 4.4 rbg / 18.19 per

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Many doubted whether Kemba’s game would translate to the NBA. ‘He’s just too small,’ or ‘He’s just not a good enough shooter,’ were common criticisms. Say what you will about his weak competition in the East, but Kemba Walker has led a pretty bad team to a 14-15 record, and the 5th seed in the conference.

If you peruse the Bobcats roster you’ll notice that almost nothing has changed. The only real difference is the addition of Al Jefferson, who doesn’t even shoot particularly well for a big man (45.1% fg). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (9.1 ppg / 4.3 rpg) still can’t shoot outside of the paint, Ben Gordon (5.8 ppg) has been regressing for 3 years, Jeff Taylor (8 ppg / 26.9 3p%) isn’t shooting like he did in the summer league, and rookie Cody Zeller (5.5 ppg / 4.2 rpg) isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.

So how the hell are the Bobcats on pace to win 40 games and make the playoffs? Charlotte is currently 3rd in the NBA in points allowed (93.6), Al Jefferson is adding what he’s added for the last 5 seasons (16.7 points 9.6 rebounds), Kemba is becoming an elite point guard and team leader, and of course, there are a lot pathetic tankers in the Eastern Conference.

5. Klay Thompson 19.5 ppg / 2.7 apg / 3.2 rpg / 14.64 per 

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We could all pretty much see this coming, right? Klay is a 6’7” athletic shooter in his third season, showed us that he can compete on the big stage when he went for 34 against the Spurs in game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, and he plays in the same backcourt as Steph Curry. This season he’s shooting 44.9 fg %/ 42.5 3pt %/ 78.2 ft %, and has solidified himself as not only one of the league’s top shooters, but also one of the league’s top all-around shooting guards.

Side note: Klay looks mildly stoned in his photo.

4. Isaiah Thomas 18.9 ppg / 5.7 apg / 2.6 rpg / 22.33 per

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Back in high school I went with some friends to watch Winchendon play South Kent in a battle of two perennial powerhouse post graduate basketball programs. I went specifically to watch Alex Oriakhi (2013 2nd round pick to the Suns – plays overseas), whom I played against in both freshman ball and varsity. Needless to say, I lost both times by many points. In the freshman year matchup, Oriakhi drop-step dunked over my former teammate, and a current hipster.

Anyways, during the game I noticed that the point guard from South Kent was taking over. None of us had any idea who he was. The 5’8” lefty was finishing in the paint over 6’9” D1-commits, popping off screens and nailing three pointers, and slicing through any press that Winchendon threw at him. We found out later that his name was Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas, whose dad named him after the original Isaiah Thomas after losing a bet, has officially made ‘The Leap.’ Over the course of the first 20 games, Thomas averaged 18.2 points and 5.3 assists, but started in only 1 of those 20 games. He was backing up Greivis Vasquez. Why? No one knows.

The Kings recently shipped Vasquez to Toronto, entrusting the starting PG job to Thomas – finally. Now, the only thing left for the Kings to do is to sell the franchise to Seattle.

3. Anthony Davis 19.3 ppg / 10.3 rpg / 3.2 bpg / 27.24 per

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I am comfortable admitting that I think Anthony Davis would be a normal-looking guy without his stupid-looking unibrow. I also think this is a classic example of stupid, but effective marketing. I would want to fire my agent immediately if he recommended that I never wax my uni-brow, but if I were getting as much promotional value out of it as Davis is, I would consider keeping it for a year or two then start waxing the hell out of it. After two years, everyone will know his face anyways, and by that point no one will really care if he waxes/shaves his unibrow. Once you’re famous, you’re famous.

In regards to his basketball performance, Anthony Davis has asserted himself as an elite big man. He leads the league in blocks, and is a consistent double-double threat every night. He’s only getting better and stronger, and if he doesn’t get too banged up too much by bulkier guys inside, he has the ability to live up to his potential, and go down as one of the best big men of his era.

2. Eric Bledsoe 18.9 ppg / 6.3 apg / 4.5 rpg / 21.56 per

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Eric Bledsoe, unrelated to Drew, came into the league as a spark-plug off the bench – think Will Bynum. But over the course of his first 21 games of the 2013-14 season (he was injured for 6 games), E-Bled has made ‘The Leap,’ that Norris never made. He’s averaging 18.9 points 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per contest; thus, the Will Bynum comparison is now insulting to Bledsoe.

He’s also led the Suns, who were supposed to be tanking, to a 17-10 start. Should the Suns be happy or pissed that their team is 17-10? I am torn enough as a Celtics fan in the 8th spot in the East. But maybe the Suns are actually good. But they can’t be. Eh, it’s Phoenix – I feel like no one cares, and that there’s not much passion for indoor sports out in the desert.

E-Bled has the F-U sneer down pat in his picture.

1. Paul George 23.9 ppg / 5.9 / 3.6 apg / 23.96 per

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Hearing about a player who’s coming out of a mid-major, and is advertised as a ’6’9” freak athlete, who can handle like a point guard, shoot the three, and guard LeBron James,’ generally triggers two reactions – ‘What if?’ and ‘Bullshit’ – probably 2/3 of the reaction is ‘bullshit,’ though.

Three years ago, Paul George was the ultimate ‘What if?’ / ”Bullshit,’ prospect. Today, the only question left is when he will win his first championship. Leading the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers (23-5), George is averaging 24 points and 6 rebounds, and is the obvious choice for #1 breakout player of this season. If LeBron James didn’t exist, Paul George would most-likely be the face of the Eastern Conference. With that said, he is the last hope in the East to take down LeBron, and the Miami Heat.

Replace the name Obi Wan Kanobi with Paul George in this video, and that’s how I feel…

Disagree with anything? Complain to me @gregmschwartz.

Lessons Learned Through November in the NBA

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Just over one month into the season, the NBA has written many story lines. On his way out, the NBA’s Godfather equivalent, David Stern, is tangling the strings of his metaphorical marionettes in the same way that D-Rose twisted the ligaments in his knees.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 obscure story lines of this season thus far. 

Part 1

Top 10 NBA Story Lines Through November

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1. The Boston Celtics (7-12) have more wins that the Boston Nets of Brooklyn (5-12) and the pathetic New York Knicks (3-13). By game-82 I expect this to change (the Celtics future dealings of Brandon Bass, Rajon Rondo and Geraldo Wallace will help this).

But forget the Celtics for a minute – what the hell is going on in New York? Jason Kidd is intentionally spilling soda for timeouts cause he can’t manage a game (why is he drinking those empty calories anyways?), and somehow Chris Smith is still on the Knicks. Both teams should be pushing the panic button at this point.

2. The Bobcats have willingly started Josh McRoberts in 17 of 17 professional basketball games and he has a respectable PER of 14.50). His PER ranks above Josh Smith, Ray Allen, Lance Stephenson, and more!

In other lesser-important player news, Tony Wroten is tearing it up off the bench for the Sixers. In his second year, the 6’6” guard from the University of Washington averaging 12.8 ppg while shooting 43% from the field, and is the first player in NBA history to have a triple double in his first NBA start. From high volume shooter, to 13 point scorer on a lottery team. Strides are strides!

3. Doc Rivers has decided to unleash J.J. Redick (15.8 ppg). As I write this, I find out he is out 6-8 weeks with a torn UCL. As I’ve torn my very own UCL and can speak from experience, I can say that the recovery is painful. However, I’m confident that J.J. will return to his regular, twine-tickling self – as I did when I returned to the hardwood.

4. Derrick Rose had his second catastrophic knee injury, causing Adidas to rethink/regret/be depressed about their $250 million deal with “Pooh.” This deal has become figuratively a pile of poo(h), and definitely makes the top-5 list for most awkward athlete endorsement deals.

5. The Jazz are 4-15 and the Spurs are 15-3!! Oh yeah, that’s what we expected…

6. Damian LillardLaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers are 15-3 – are the glory days back in Portland?

7. The almost invincible Indiana Pacers are 16-2, and Paul George – not Kevin Durant – has the second best odds behind LeBron to win League MVP.

8. Something about the Rockets being not as good as they should be

9. Something about Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson being good shooters

10. Obligatory comments about LeBron James

Since I just mentioned gambling and can’t turn back, I will choose to forgo the details of 8 through 10, and will make my not-so-smooth transition to part 2 of this blog.

Part 2

A Life Lesson

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So I have a close friend who falls into the same trap every year. Coincidentally, (or not at all) it happens to be right around the start of the NBA season. While he knows that there are WAY more intelligent places to put his money, my idiotic friend insists that even if he does lose any money gambling, he values the entertainment he receives more than any of the financial losses. Fair. But he’s not going to lose money – not this year anyway – so he says.

When his gambling account reaches a certain value he’s going cash it out, and buy the equivalent number of shares of Apple stock ($AAPL) - so he tells himself. Turning sports knowledge and the ability to predict the future into a personal financial asset is simply an alternative investment strategy, and a sign of personal financial responsibility - he explains. But due to the annual whirlwind of “overconfidence and unforeseen circumstances,” I decided to dedicate a set of rules for my close friend in order to try and help him though this NBA season:

Suggestion #1 If you must gamble on sports, do NOT gamble on your favorite players

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For example, my friend has a special affinity for Wizard’s center Marcin Gortat. He’s felt this way ever since Marcin docked his row boat on the shores of Orlando.

Anyways, my buddy bet on Gortat over 9.5 points, and the Polish Hammer trollingly finished with 9. My buddy lost $20 that he said he would “never realistically cash out anyways.”

To be fair, he spends money way less productively on weekends, so whatever, he doesn’t really care. At the end of the day, he doesn’t really hate Gortat for losing a bet by half a point because he knows it happens all the time.

So the learning here is – don’t let gambling ruin your relationships. The relationships you (think you) have (with the players you love) are more important than the money anyway. Same rule applies to money and personal relationships in life. Right?

Too deep – next suggestion.

Suggestion #2 If you MUST gamble on sports, choose your team, and know everything about them

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If you must bet on sports – which I don’t recommend that you do – pick a team and always know when they play, how they play on back-to-back nights, if they’re especially good on national TV etc.

While this rule isn’t foolproof, narrowing your scope can help you mitigate your risk. There are certain intangible factors that you can pick up on if you watch your team often – see National TV Rondo vs Non National TV Rondo. Wait, what? Vegas factors that stuff into the lines also? Really?

Damn – well I guess that leads me to my third, and final suggestion.

Suggestion #3 Don’t gamble on sports

There’s only one rationale in which you should ever legitimize gambling on sports, and that rationale is if you think of your inevitable monetary losses on gambling in the same way as paying for any other form of entertainment.  You spend money, and receive entertainment.

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But since Vegas possesses the world’s first functioning crystal ball, always expect to lose in the end. Well, it’s either a crystal ball or a mathematical term called expected value, but you get the point.

So if you’re content gambling for the entertainment value, then go right ahead. However, if you’re convinced you can make a vats of cash gambling on sports then I suggest you convince yourself otherwise.

Michigan +7.5 @Duke

Any comments or questions? Feel free to comment below or reach out to me via Twitter @gregmschwartz. 

Three Questions Entering Opening Night in the NBA

NBA Opening Night!

NBA Opening Night!

 

Who cares about watching the Orlando Magic get pummeled by the Indiana Pacers (-12)?

I do! I do!

Is it because the Magic have no one who can cover Paul George, and I happen to enjoy his dynamic offensive game? Is it because I wagered on Victor Oladipo to win rookie of the year at 9/2? Or is it because I want to take the Pacers in a 4 point teaser?

Editor’s note: I’m not addicted to gambling; I’m just addicted to fun. 

Can the Bulls back up Bill Simmons and make a statement in game 1 against the Heat (-5) with D-Rose back?

It’s not a question of whether or not the Bulls can win in Miami – we know they can. They made the second-round last season without their fearless leader and former-MVP. Additionally notable, sources say Derrick Rose has added 5 inches to his vertical leap - is that even fathomable? The real question is, “can the Bulls take it to the Heat and win by double digits in Miami?”

Excited? Me too.

How many shots will Nick Young take for the Lakers (+9.5) in tonight’s pseudo home game against the Clippers?

Fresh off mojo-boosting performances in the Drew League, LA’s culty’ Pro-Am summer league, Nick Young is ready to hoist up some J’s – cough cough. Cue the dented rims! He’s actually not a bad shooter (43% FG / 36% 3PT), he just seems to shoot too much.

To run a quick test – Nick Young averages 9.7 shots per game in 23.1 minutes per game. A comparable, but better high-volume shooter that came to mind when thinking about Young, opposing guard, Jamal Crawford, averages 13.1 shots per game in 31.6 minutes per game over his career. But who is the more frequent shooter?

And, the numbers say…. Nick Young by a nose!

Nick Young – .419 shots per minute / 2.38 minutes per shot

Jamal Crawford - .414 shots per minute / 2.41 minutes per shot

Tanking: A Praiseworthy Strategy in the NBA

I’d like to tip this off with a story.

Caron Butler was addicted to Mountain Dew, and drank at least a 6-pack every waking day. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night, pop a top, down a Dew and go back to sleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I generally just pee or drink a glass of water – the absolute last thing anyone wants or needs is to down a can of carbonated sugar-water. Anyways, he claimed that it was an addiction that he could not control.

However, one day, Caron mustered up the strength to go cold turkey on “Doing the Dew.” Predictably, he lost 11 pounds, and drastically improved his overall health and conditioning. Despite his love for the chemical-infused, artificial beverage with a disconcerting amount of Yellow 5 (the rumors about Yellow 5 were actually mythical), he knew that giving it up would benefit his future.

Where is this going? Well, some NBA GMs have a similarly unhealthy addiction – the addiction to mediocrity. If a franchise continually makes the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, the GM may keep his job; however, that shouldn’t be the overall objective. Bryan Colangelo arguably set the Raptors franchise back another 5 years by trading for Rudy Gay. The trade made them better – no doubt – but no better than a 7 or 8 seed, and certainly not a legitimate contender. Luckily for Raptors fans – all 13 of them – the board realized this, and fired him soon after.

In reality,  a GM should want to be known for architecting the perfect roster that contends for a title year after year. When the stars age, the youth takes over. When the team needs a big man coming off the bench to help them in the playoffs, he orchestrates the perfect trade at the deadline. He passes on Michael Beasley to take Derrick Rose. These are examples of what an NBA GM should strive for – because in the NBA, mediocrity is actually rock bottom.

As the upcoming NBA Draft is so rich with talent, the 2013-14 season is a great one to be really bad, but a horrible one to be average. Ultimately, the only way to transcend continual mediocrity as an NBA franchise is to exercise some patience, bottom out, and find a franchise-changing talent through the draft.

NBADraft.net Top-7 prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft:

1. Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), 2. Jabari Parker (Duke), 3. Marcus Smart (Okla St), 4. Julius Randle (Kentucky), 5. Wayne Selden (Kansas), 6. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), 7. Joel Embid (Kansas)

There are five Tankers that are sacrificing success over the next 82 games for one of these franchise-saving, ticket selling phenomenons. They choose to sacrifice because they see the bigger picture – to prove that there is a method to the Tanking Madness. But as some teams are better Tankers than others, I decided to rank the Top-5 Tankers of 2013-14.

5th Best Tanker – Milwaukee Bucks - Projected Record: 26-56

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 20 North Carolina at Boston College

Milwaukee is never going to land a big-time free-agent because Milwaukee looks like this, and not like this, or like this. Realistically, tanking the 2013-14 season is the only option left for this limbo-ridden franchise.

Allowing Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick to skip town, signing O.J. Mayo, and then executing The ‘Brandon Swap,’ trading Jennings for Knight, puts the Bucks in the running for a top lottery pick next summer with the opportunity for bright future soon thereafter.

All this said, the Bucks have some nice parts to their unfinished puzzle.

John Henson played his painfully thin body off in the Summer League, averaging 14.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, O.J. Mayo has the tools to be a dynamic 20 point scorer, Brandon Knight will have a chance to grow as an NBA point guard, and Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders will both be double-double threats every night.

Jesus, this team isn’t too bad… Well, except when you consider that the Eastern Conference will most-likely have 5, 50-win teams for the first time in this millennium. I also think there’s no doubt that this team finishes behind the Celtics and Bobcats unlike ESPN’s Predictions.

I almost forgot – they also signed the ‘Pizza Guy,’ Zaza Pachulia. I know, I know. Bad Joke.

4th Best Tanker – Utah Jazz – Projected Record: 22-60

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When I think about this Jazz team I can think of only questions. Unfortunately, I have no answers. Here are my questions:

Will Trey Burke struggle like he did in the Orlando Summer League (likely), or will he contend for Rookie of the Year (less likely)?

Will either former number 3 overall pick, Enes Kanter (2010) and Derrick Favors (2011), ever improve and live up to his potential?

What happened to Andris Biedrins after the 08-09 season when he averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds per game?

How pumped was Burke when Raul Neto announced that he’d be playing in Spain again - so he didn’t have to worry about possibly being the second-best rookie point guard on his own team?

Can Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks generate enough offense to be considered an adequate NBA scoring tandem?

Is there such thing as fun nightlife in Salt Lake City?

SOMEBODY GIVE ME ANSWERS! In all seriousness, the Jazz could be slightly better than a 22-win team, but I doubt they make it to 30.

3rd Best Tanker – Phoenix Suns – Projected Record: 20-62

8513_Gortat

The Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, recently returned to the US from his native, Poland, to find out what’s actually wrong with his foot because apparently Poland doesn’t have adequate doctors. As he’s been trade-bait for a while now, I’m guessing that many NBA teams are taking an interest in Gortat’s foot.

For the Suns, getting rid of Gortat for a few draft picks or young players would help them bottom out. It’ll also allow for the young nucleus of the Morris Twins and Alex Len to develop to eventually take over the paint in Phoenix.

(Phoenix also just traded Luis Scola to get Plumlee, Gerald Green and Indiana’s first rounder.)

Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will be a cute little backcourt – as in really small – and depending on the play of Archie Goodwin, the Suns may ship Dragic out-of-town as well. The youth movement in Phoenix is officially a work in-progress!

2nd Best Tanker – Orlando Magic – Projected Record: 18-64

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No need to smile, Glen, you’re going to lose a lot of games this season.

Overall, this roster is just weird. It’s heavy with tweeners, light on players that can create offense, short in height… and in talent. With Glen DavisArron Afflalo and Tobias Harris taking 15 shots per game, I just don’t see the Magic getting to 20 wins this season – there are about 28 better ‘big-threes’ in the NBA…

That being said, I recently watched some Tobias Harris single-game highlights and noticed 2 things: first, Marquis Daniels didn’t box him out once which definitely inflated his 30 and 19, and second, Harris has improved a lot. He should put up some decent numbers this season – I’d say 15 and 7 is a good guess for where he’ll be.

Regardless of any positive comments I’ve made about Orlando, the Magic will be crossing their fingers on lottery night in 2014, with good odds in the Wiggins Sweepstakes.

Also notable - Victor Oladipo is 9/2 to win ROTY which might be the only thing besides the lottery that the Magic will win this year. ZING.

Best Tanker – Philadelphia 76ers – Projected Record: 14-68

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DING! DING! DING! We have a winner! Hats off to the 76ers!

Here’s how they did it:

They let Andrew Bynum and his bad knees/contract go to Cleveland, traded Jrue Holiday for the (at one point) consensus number 1 pick, Nerlens Noel, and the Pelican’s 2014 1st round pick, they decreased their payroll by a lot, and are now toying with the idea of sitting Noel for a majority of the season.

Brilliant on all accounts – the Sixers have perfected the art of tanking!

Additionally, the future looks bright for the 76ers. Michael Carter-Williams won’t have much competition at PG, and should naturally progress throughout the season. Evan Turner will get a lot of shots as he looks to take his game to the next level. And who knows? Royce White may surprise the world, and actually play an NBA game this season. I can’t wait to hear his first interview as an actual NBA player with anxiety disorder – his interview/article with Chuck Klosterman was absolute dynamite.

All in all, the Sixers should end up with a lot of the ping-pong balls on lottery night.

Here’s a tank.

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Examining Bloodlines in the NBA

The Van Arsdales

The Van Arsdale Twins

After both NBA Summer Leagues and the signings of all major free agents (except for Nikola Pekovic, likely to re-sign with the T’Wolves), the NBA is officially in a lull. There are no steroid controversies (MLB), no lockout threats (NHL) and no desperate measures to avoid folding as a league (WNBA). Since there isn’t much action in the NBA, I’d like to explore a topic that peaks my interest – the relevance of family genetics in the NBA.

Starting with a real world example…

If your mom, dad or close relative works on Wall Street, you can most likely follow in their footsteps – that’s just how the business world works. I know, I know – not everyone whose dad works on Wall St has the same career aspirations. Some want to be musicians, artists, doctors, lawyers, actors, hipsters etc. I’m just saying that if your pops works for a big bank on Wall Street, you have the genetic in” to the finance world in NYC.

But that’s not how professional basketball works… right? With the exception of Coby Karl or Luke Walton, NBA dads can’t just hook their sons up with an NBA roster spot (Coby and Luke weren’t very good – look at their statistics). However, NBA fathers can pass on their 99th percentile athletic genes to their kin.

Diving into secondary research

An article written by Stanford Ph.D., Ed Feng aims to pinpoint the role of NBA-genetics in college basketball. After some research and careful estimates, Feng concludes that high school basketball players with NBA fathers are 62-times more likely to play basketball at the collegiate level than players without NBA genes. Below is the excerpt explaining the numbers:

There are 1.5 million young men that graduate from high school each year. Since anyone who graduated over the past 4 years could play on a current college team, this gives a pool of 6 million young men that could potentially play college basketball. With 4,511 rosters spots from a pool of 6 million, there is a 1 in 1330 chance that a typical high school graduate plays college basketball…

Wikipedia lists a total of 4,699 players in the history of the NBA. Let’s assume that 1 in 10 of these players had a child between 1990 and 1994, giving a pool of 470 college aged young men.

Now, let’s be honest. 470 is an absurd overestimate. In 1990, the NBA only had 324 players total. However, that’s part of our strategy. We underestimate the actual number of college players but overestimate the pool of young men. This gives us a lower bound on the odds that a child of an NBA player makes a college basketball team. With 22 players from a pool of 470, the odds are 1 in 21, significantly higher than the population at large. The real odds could be as high as 1 in 10.

With these odds, you are at least 62 times more likely to play college basketball if your father played in the NBA.”

Now, this is simply a numerical estimate of the chances of the son of an NBA player playing college basketball, and it doesn’t consider other variables like preferential treatment etc. But let’s not get nitpicky – the point of Feng’s article is that Shaquille O’Neal’s kids have a higher chance of playing college basketball than Lil Wayne’s.

But before we get to the numbers, I want to point out a few interesting items.

A fun tidbit about NBA twins

After they were selected back-to-back in the 1965 NBA Draft, Dick (10th) and Tom (11th) Van Arsdale became the first twins to ever play in the NBA. Back in ’65 there were only 9 teams, so the Van Arsdale’s were actually second-round picks.

Decades later, Markieff and Marcus Morris were selected with the 13th and 14th picks of the 2011 NBA Draft, making them the first twins ever to be selected in the first round, and first twins selected back-to-back since the Van Arsdales. In between the Van Arsdale Twins and the Morris Twins were three other notable sets of twins: the Grant twins (Horace and Harvey, drafted in 1987 & 1988), the Collins Twins (Jason and Jarron, drafted in 2001), and the Lopez twins (Brook and Robin, 2008).

The NBA relative list

I’ve compiled a list that consists of all of the brother-brother/father-son, and a few notable cousin combinations that played in the NBA since the league’s inception in 1947. It’s a pretty comprehensive list, but undoubtedly I’ve missed a few.

Estimates and conclusions

The list has 90 pairs of relatives with shared NBA blood. 24 of the 90 pairs have at least one active professional basketball player that has played in the NBA. 6 pairs of brothers will be active NBA players in 2013-2014.

If I counted all of the relatives of NBA players throughout history who have brothers that played or currently play overseas, I would estimate that list would be about 20% larger - let’s round it to 110 pairs. Of the 90 pairs, 10 have 3 relatives and 1 has 4 relatives. The Jones brothers Wil, Major, Caldwell, and Charles Jones all went to Albany State and all played in the NBA. The Murphy family  could be the next family to have 4 immediate family members to make it to the NBA. The father, Jay Murphy, played in the NBA for 4 years, his wife played professionally overseas, the oldest son Erik just signed with the Bulls, Alex is a former top-recruit and redshirt Sophomore with Duke, and the youngest, Tomas, is a 6’7” incoming high school freshman, who is already making a name for himself in the AAU circuit.

Back to the numbers - like Dr. Feng I’m going to underestimate, and say that there are 220 total players in history that have immediate or close relatives that also played or play professional basketball. In the history of the NBA there have been approximately 4,700 players, meaning that about 4.7% of NBA players have a relative in professional basketball – about 1 in 20. That means that in every NBA game, on average, at least 1 player’s father/cousin/brother played or plays professional basketball. I didn’t look into the other sports, but professional basketball seems to be a type of unique genetic fraternity.

I understand that it’s common for family members to take an interest in similar professions, but when that profession happens to have just 450 total jobs, it’s not easy to just enter the “family business.”  Ultimately, the chances of making it to the NBA with a NBA-genes aren’t guaranteed, but they’re a hell of a lot better if your last name is Zeller, Plumlee or Murphy.

2013 NBA Las Vegas Summer League Finals: Warriors Win 91-77

The 2013 Las Vegas Summer League Champion Golden State Warriors

The 2013 Las Vegas Summer League Champion Golden State Warriors after their convincing 91-77 win over the Phoenix Suns

Guys like Ian Clark and Kent Bazemore are what Summer League ball is all about.

Ian Clark began his Summer League journey as an un-drafted roster invitee with the Miami Heat in the Orlando Summer League, and ended it as the Las Vegas Summer League Championship Game MVP. But Clark isn’t a stranger to success. During his collegiate career at Belmont University, he was twice selected as The Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and four times to the All-Conference First Team. The rule of thumb is that if you can shoot and are not a complete defensive liability, you have a spot in the NBA. After his 33-point performance going 7-10 from beyond the arc, the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Warriors have all expressed interest in Clark.

Kent Bazemore "499"

Kent Bazemore “499″

Last season, Kent Bazemore was ranked 499th out of the 500 players in ESPN’s 2012 player rankings. The only player he was ranked above was the always <choose your adjective>, Eddy Curry. The metaphorical chip on Bazemore’s shoulder now manifests itself in the form of a stitching on the tongue of his sneakers (see above), and serves as a constant reminder of the time The Experts ranked him behind the likes of Josh Harrellson (493rd), and a semi-retired, Brian Scalabrine (487th).

After leading the Warriors to the Summer League Championship, the un-drafted second-year guard from Old Dominion finished with averages of 18.4 points 4.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists, and made the Official LVSL All-Tournament Team. In my opinion, he’s well on his way to disproving his haters.

Also relevant to Bazemore - in an interview regarding his role on the Warriors in the upcoming season, Mark Jackson told a reporter that “there are five better perimeter players on our roster,” and included Toney Douglas. Ouch. I would agree with the first four, as they’re all past or future All-Stars (Curry, Thompson, Igoudala, Barnes), but come on man, not Toney Douglas. Ask any Knicks fan.

Bazemore’s future in the NBA may not be as a Warrior, but he’s shown that he has the ability to be a rotation-guy in this league.

TCT’s 2013 Las Vegas Summer League All-Tournament Team
(Note: Players must’ve played in at least 4 games)

MVP - Jonas Valanciunas: 4 GP / 18.8 PPG / 56.1% / 10.0 RPG

Looked bigger, stronger and more mobile than last season. Dominated every one-on-one matchup. His huge numbers were a good indication of his huge performances. Definitely the most impressive player in this tournament.

Cody Zeller: 4GP / 16.3 PPG / 52.0% FG / 9.3 RPG

Looking more like he could be the best prospect in the 2013 Rookie Class… His ability to stretch the floor with a mid-range jumper, and willingness to rebound prove that Zeller is NBA-Ready.

Mike Scott: 5 GP / 18.6 PPG / 46.2% FG / 6.2 RPG

Valuable on the pick-and-roll, Scott shot the ball well from mid-range and was able to take advantage of smaller defenders on the block. He was also spicy from the line, going 91.2% from the line in 34 attempts.

Kent Bazemore: 7 GP / 18.4 PPG / 44.0% FG / 4.6 RPG

Showed drastic improvement from last season, but I suppose it’s still The Summer League. Can he find a spot in Mark Jackson’s rotation, or will he have to get his chance somewhere else?

Austin Rivers: 5 GP / 18.2 PPG / 48.6% FG / 3.6 RPG

Showed that he can score in many ways (we knew this), and that he can be efficient while doing it (we didn’t know this).

TCT’s 2013 Las Vegas Summer League Honorable Mention Team

Marcus Morris: 7 GP / 14.3 PPG / 47.2% / 3.9 RPG

Deciding between Markieff and Marcus, I chose Marcus based on this move alone. Not many 6’9” guys have that move in their bag-o-tricks.

Jeffery Taylor: 4 GP / 20.3 PPG / 47.5% FG / 36.8% 3PT

We knew about his smooth shooting stroke, but we didn’t really know that he could finish at the rim like this.

Dennis Schroeder: 10.8 PPG / 34% FG / 5.8 APG 

He’ll be the most-exciting rookie to watch in 2013. I can see him breaking ankles with his handle, and threading the needle with his passes in the upcoming season for the Hawks.

C.J. McCollum: 5 GP / 21.0 PPG / 36.6% FG / 3.4 APG

Proved that he can score, and take most defenders one-on-one. Jury is still out on his court-vision, but he’ll have more weapons to dish to in the regular season for the Blazers.

Marquis Teague: 4 GP / 18.3 PPG / 44.0% FG / 4.8 APG

Showed poise, scoring ability, and leadership. Should run a tight ship for Chicago’s second unit.

Questions? Comments? Disagreements? Post one below or start a conversation on Twitter @gregmschwartz