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The Lakers must think like a small market team with big market advantages

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The Lakers catastrophic season can be blamed on many things. Foregoing the strategy that’s always worked for Lebron of surrounding him with shooters to instead have ball handling non shooters was disastrous. They didn’t see the disconnect between Lebron and young players coming when they signed many chemistry squeaky wheels like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

However where it started going wrong was Paul George signing in Oklahoma City. The Lakers risked one of their top prospects in D’Angelo Russell to get cap space for a second player only to end up spending it on pointless one year deals while Russell made the all-star team. That George to LA wasn’t in the bag clearly stunned the team and they struggled to have a Plan B to contend in Lebron’s first year with the team. Their backup plan ended up being to double down on their original plan by signing one year deals and waiting for that star free agent in 2020. This also led to the loss of Julius Randle who they didn’t want to give a 2nd year player option to.

In other words they put all their chips into the free agent strategy. This is before considering that Magic Johnson’s strengths are connecting with players rather than being ahead of the game analytically, and they have paid dearly for Magic’s weaknesses to get to those strengths. There’s nothing wrong with the Lakers leaning into their strengths as a franchise which is legendary history, star recruiters like Magic and Kobe and being the city many players go to in the offseason. The problem is that advantage goes away if they sacrifice prospects like Russell, Randle or Ivica Zubac or fall behind in the analytics department to get there. It’s giving an advantage to the small market teams right back.

What would make the Lakers unstoppable is if they took all the strengths of a small market team like Milwaukee and added it to their natural location advantage. This is how their cross sport twin the Yankees adjusted. Instead of floundering with overpaid contracts while analytics driven small market teams ran circles around them, they decided to build up one of the best prospect pools in the league themselves and use their money to buy international prospects. Now that the Yankees have both great homegrown prospects and a money advantage it will be difficult for the smaller market teams to keep up with them or the Red Sox who have succeeded for the same reasons. Likewise if the Lakers got smart and cared as deeply about analytics, long term controlled prospects and finding free agent bargains as the teams with less location strengths as them they would have an advantage without giving any edge back. They could have planned to add Lebron without risking players like Russell and Randle to do it, but it’s when they started risking their future on the hubris that multiple all stars would want to come there that it blew up in their face.

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Written by jr.

March 28, 2019 at 6:31 pm

Should MLB games be 7 innings long?

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Despite a dream matchup of Boston vs LA the World Series ratings were down 25% from last year. While local ratings remain strong it’s the latest warning sign for the MLB’s long term viewing future that the national engagement with the sports and its stars is waning. It’s better to act before the floor falls out than after.

Baseball has a length problem. Not only does the season run 6 days a week but the games clock in at 3 hours, 5 minutes on average. To watch all your team’s games requires a commitment of 18-20 hours a week compared to 6-8 to a sport like the NBA or 3 for the NFL, and times have changed. It’s not just competing with other sports or other TV shows for that attention, but competing with Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, apps, etc. Even if someone finds the time to watch all of their own team’s games, are they turning into Mike Trout’s Angels game after it ends? In the NFL everyone watches the Sunday night and Monday games even when it doesn’t contain their team. Likewise in the NBA people are interested in seeing league wide storylines like Lebron on the Lakers or the Warriors. This is where the MLB appears to be losing the most ground and it’s a numbers problem. More time watching local teams means less time available to watch anyone else’s.

Reducing the games played in the season would be ideal, but would be near impossible to get owners to agree. A 110 game season would be mean 26 less home games of revenue, and 52 less games on television for each team.

My proposal while radical would be a softer landing: 7 inning games, which would take down the average to about 2 hours 20 minutes. If people miss that extra 45 minutes of baseball a day, they can use it engaging in other team’s games or highlights which is precisely what the MLB needs. At the gate the same price can be charged for 7 inning games as 9, if anything it’s easier for people to fit shorter games in their schedule. Television loses 45 minutes of airtime a game, but perhaps the stations can just play other baseball games. The MLB could also add more games to the schedule as double headers.

The arguments against it would be:

  • Baseball is a 9 inning game, at 7 innings it’s no longer baseball: While the purists would be upset, there’s no easy solution here if the MLB wants to be relevant a generation from now.
  • Statistical history becomes meaningless: Like the first it hurts purists, but there would be a division between the old era and the new era statistically. The PED asteriks have also tainted the record books already.
  • Pitchers lose their jobs as the worst starters and relievers are weeded out: Making the player’s association agree to this would admittedly be one of the biggest obstacles, although it leaves more revenue for everyone else.
  • The relationship of starting and relief pitchers changes: Starters would not go as long, but with a regular 4 or 5 innings they’re still more important than relievers. They would also be available to pitch in more games and would have the star showcase of more complete games and more no hitters. If the MLB doesn’t want teams like Oakland to go “all reliever” and eliminate the starting pitcher, reducing the amount of pitchers teams legally carry on a roster would make it no easier than it is now to use the strategy.
  • Low scoring games: In addition to shorter games, pitchers are well rested, batters see them less and the worst starters and relievers are eliminated, all of which leads to less runs. The other way to see it however is every scoring opportunity they do get is heightened in importance, every home run makes a bigger splash league wide. A tie game in the 5th inning with men on base feels quite different in a 7 inning game with relievers waiting to finish it out than it does now. The drama could increase and a single player can be the hero of a game more often. The relationship between how high scoring a sport is and popularity is overall mixed. The most popular sport in the world soccer regularly has 1-0 or 2-1 scores.
  • It doesn’t change the real problem, the game is too slow: I’d point towards the popularity of football and soccer as examples how “slow” games can be popular. In football there’s so much time with the game stopped between plays, challenges, timeouts, commercials, etc. that it makes the speed between pitches in baseball seem rapid in comparison. The difference is that every football play is more meaningful than every pitch largely due to the season being ten times as short. Likewise in soccer a lot of time is spent passing the ball around the middle of the field but it hasn’t reduced its popularity. Finally I would point out that for most of the 20th century baseball’s pace didn’t stop it from being popular.
  • Is 7 innings enough of a difference? Or should they just go all the way with a draconian 6 inning games? Instead of games being merely as long as NBA and NHL games, being even shorter at 2 hours would make up for playing twice as long a season. On the flip side it pushes starting/relief pitcher strategy closer to the tipping point of no longer being the current game, and this idea is crazy enough anyways that I figured 7 is a compromise for the current fanbase and player’s association.

There’s a lot of risk going to 7 innings of a currently profitable league and the people who love the current league would be unhappy. But without a major change there’s a serious danger of the MLB being horse racing or boxing a generation from now as “your father’s sport” and minor tweaks to the speed of the game aren’t moving the needle. The real difference between baseball and the other sports is being 162 3 hour games a year. Either the length of the season or the length of games may have to be sacrificed.

 

Written by jr.

November 1, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Ersan Ilyasova, the NBA’s most valuable journeyman

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gettyimages-1061420052-1024x1024Every few seasons a team adds Ersan Ilyasova and they take off. First there was the “Fear the Deer” Bucks who rode Andrew Bogut and Scott Skiles to an elite defense while moving the ball for open 3s on offense. A few years later they made another playoff run repeating the formula with Larry Sanders as the defensive center beside Ilyasova. There were some lean years including an Orlando stint that didn’t work and forgettable stints contributing to the first half of a Pistons playoff season and second half of a Hawks one, before becoming a huge mid season pick-up for the 76ers last season as he and Marco Belinelli gave them the shooting they desperately needed. Now he’s contributing to the Bucks 7-0 start as having shooting bigs in him and Brook Lopez are a vital addition for Mike Budenholzer’s spacing system around Giannis.

It’s no secret why he helps teams. The floor spacing he brings at PF fits all-star players who lack range such as Bogut, Sanders, Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Most of these teams had talent, but just needed that extra spot up shooting to take their ball movement to the next level. The Ilyasova spacing lineups acts as something of a final piece to make their team work.

In spite of this since leaving Milwaukee originally in 2015 he’s been the definition of a journeyman, yet to play a full season with any team since then. He’s spent the bulk of his career making mid-level contracts, signing 5 years 40 million in 2012 and then a 3 year, 21 million deal this summer. When the Sixers signed him last year his stock had declined so much that he was a mid season free agent after being waived by the Hawks. It’s not totally unfounded. He is a mediocre rebounder for a big and average defender and at a career 36.6% 3pt is a good shooter but not lights out. In the wrong situation like Orlando he misses enough shots and hurts his team enough defensively and on the glass that teams decide he’s not worth it. Then he bounces around, becomes available for cheap until finding another team that needs a floor spacing power forward to go to the next level.

There won’t be a statue built of Ersan Ilyasova in any NBA city, but in his stints in Philadelphia and return Milwaukee he’s once again proving despite his journeyman status he can shift the tide of a team’s season.

Written by jr.

October 31, 2018 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Basketball, Uncategorized

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The Thunder must consider trading Russell Westbrook

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It’s too soon to panic over the Thunder’s 0-4 start but the time is coming, or should have come already to consider Russell Westbrook’s long term future on the team. Westbrook turns 30 on November 12th and starting this year his next five seasons he is owed: $35,654,150 (age 30), $38,178,000 (age 31), $41,006,000 (age 32) , $43,848,000 (age 33), $46,662,000 (player option, age 34). He has had several knee surgeries or injections in his career after a meniscus tear that cost him the 2013 playoffs and due to related arthroscopic surgery 28 games during the Kevin Durant 2014 MVP season. This was followed by several durable seasons until a PRP injection this summer. Westbrook’s style of play depends on his unstoppable explosiveness and his ability to contort his body finishing at the rim and skying for rebounds, areas of his game most vulnerable to diminish with athletic decline. To his credit all signs are Westbrook’s physical conditioning routine off the court is phenomenal and has even benefitted teammates crossing his path like Victor Oladipo, and immense dedication to their bodies has helped stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant extend their primes to amazing lengths. On the other hand Westbrook has played his whole career like it’s the NBA Finals and no doubt pushes his body to extreme lengths off the court and one has to wonder if this punishment will have some cost down the line.

The risk is clear. By holding onto him deep into his contract, Westbrook may physically decline until his supermax either becomes an albatross or loses most of his current trade value. The upside is hoping for a 2011 Mavericks run, a team who held onto their superstar when some may have already cashed out on his value and had the stars align in his 13th season. However Dirk Nowitzki’s game was built on size and skill, not athleticism making him a tremendous fit for longevity if anyone has been. Furthermore the Mavericks had won 55 games in 2010 leading up to their title year and a few years earlier had shown a formula for contending with a Finals loss in 2006 and 67 wins in 2007 despite no clear second star better than Jason Terry or Josh Howard.

Sam Presti pulled a rabbit out of his hat at the time with the Paul George trade after Westbrook’s MVP season, but with 48 wins and a 6 game playoff loss to the Jazz they only improved by one regular season and playoff win compared to the year before. The loss of Andre Roberson continues to be felt and no doubt they won’t judge this season until he returns, but when Roberson played his last game for the Thunder they were sitting in 5th for the West last season, and their record with him playing was 24-19 for a 50 W pace, a marginal improvement. Roberson’s lack of shooting most likely would have been the target of defenses in the playoffs such as the Jazz which the Thunder had issues solving anyways. With the highest payroll in the league and owing 2020 and 2022 future 1sts to the Magic and Hawks one has to ask where they go from here in terms of assets to improve the team, and whether the George trade was already the equivalent of the Tyson Chandler pick-up for the Mavericks to take them to the next level if it was going to happen.

An MVP caliber player is a virtual necessity to win a title and based on that alone the Thunder could choose to push the Westbrook era as far as it’ll go. It’s unclear when they’ll have another chance at a talent this special. On the other hand with his style of play and starting a 5 years, 205 million contract, the Thunder must seriously consider whether 30 is the right age to move on from Westbrook’s salary while they can and replenish their assets.

Written by jr.

October 28, 2018 at 11:46 am

Could the Lakers get both Lebron James and Kevin Love?

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The Lakers have been long been rumoured as a Lebron destination. I’ve always taken it with a grain of salt. Remember when Kevin Love was supposed to be obsessed with playing with the Lakers, then laughed it off and resigned with the Cavs? How about DeMar Derozan returning home? The Lakers have a lot of fans, so writing about them conquering all in free agency is a good way to get page views. 

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The biggest obstacle is getting enough talent. Sure Paul George wants to play there, but is that and kids enough to beat the Warriors? They could use a 3rd all-star. What if he’s on the Cavs, available for a trade in the case of Lebron leaving, and happens to be an L.A. native?

Let’s say the Lakers signed George and got both Lebron and Kevin Love, either in a large S&T or in separate deals. Their starting lineup could be Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Paul George, Lebron and Love. Not bad. It’s taking the Lebron and Love combination which was enough to win the East this year without a lot of help and greatly improves their perimeter in a matchup with GSW. Unlike the Cavs perimeter, the combination of Ball, Ingram and George is perfect to defend the Warriors by switching everything to cover their shooters much like the Rockets did in the conference finals. Ingram and George are two of the longest wings in the league and Ball is a 6’6 PG who shined on the defensive end this year. Unlike the last two finals where the Cavs had no answer for Durant 1 on 1, George is one of the best fits in the league physically to defend him.

Offensively the combination of Lebron and Love’s floor spacing and post play remains lethal. The Lakers could even resign old friend Channing Frye to play the same spacing role he did in Cleveland. George gives them a 20 point creator on the perimeter and Ingram is on his way to being one. Much of their fortunes could lie in the hands of Ball’s development as his shooting could make him hard to play if he continues to struggle. Nevertheless they could look for a veteran PG as a ring chaser or shop him at the trade deadline if Ball doesn’t work out.

More than just Love improving the Cavs talent level with a 3rd all-star and offensive creator beside Lebron and George, it’s about experience and trust level. Love faced GSW in the finals three times, he’s seen Game 7s. He was one of the guys Ty Lue started in Game 7 against the Pacers with Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson beside Lebron because he wanted players who’d been there on the championship team. With a player like Julius Randle or Kyle Kuzma in Love’s place there’s always the chance they’re the next Rodney Hood and fall apart consistency wise in the playoffs.

How does LA get Love while retaining the capspace to sign Lebron and George? A requirement may be dumping Deng’s contract to Cleveland. Last rebuild without Lebron the Cavaliers used capspace to get assets and young players knowing they weren’t going to be a free agent destination, so they could do the same by taking Deng for compensation. With assets like Kuzma, Randle (sign and trade), Josh Hart, Cavs 2018 1st, Lakers 2019 1st, there’s a lot of pieces that could make it worth it for the Cavs without trading Ball or Ingram. A deal like Kuzma, Randle sign and trade and a 1st would be a nice rebuilding package for them to swap Deng for Love. With the Cavs at about 102 million without Lebron and Deng making 6.1 million less than Love next year, there should be enough wriggle room for the Cavs to take on Deng, Kuzma and Randle (if they want him) while staying under the tax and apron.

Overall the Lakers with just Lebron, George and kids like Ball and Ingram may not be quite enough, but with another all-star at center in Love it could be enough to put them as a believable contender in Lebron’s eyes. It takes the Cavs two all-stars, but makes their perimeter far more Golden State match-up friendly by giving them a 20 point scoring, Durant defender in George and two other long high potential starters in Ball and Ingram. This is a clear upgrade.

Written by jr.

June 11, 2018 at 11:48 pm

Is Miles Bridges the prospect people think he is?

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Miles Bridges is projected as a mid to late lottery pick. Many are impressed by his potential to be a switchable, 3 and D role player but don’t see a volume scoring all-star. Is this accurate? A closer look shows his stats don’t quite match his reputation.

A better scorer, but worse defender than expected

A sample of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony and Gordon Hayward averaged 10.3 reb, 2.55 ast, 1.75 stl, 0.95 blk per 40 minutes in their draft year, and 16.4 pts per 40 on .57 TS% as freshman (I favor freshman numbers over draft year for scoring as aging makes a significant difference in this category). If you’re ready to call Jayson Tatum a future all-star, his split of 20.2 pts, 8.8 reb, 2.6 ast, 1.6 stl, 1.4 blk, .566 TS% and his physical build fits into that group very neatly. Compared to them Bridges rates surprisingly well as a scorer. He averaged 21.1 pts per .58 TS% as a freshman and 21.8 pts .572 TS% as a sophomore. The only freshman who scored at a higher rate were Durant (28.8 pts, .59 TS%) and Carmelo (24.4 pts, .54 TS%). Even including the other prospects sophomore and junior seasons, none scored at a higher rate than either of Bridges’ seasons. Another category Bridges rates well is assists at 3.4 per 40. This only rates behind Iguodala and George (playing at a mid major) in their draft years. On the down side his free throw rate of 4.1 FTA per 40 is pedestrian for his scoring volume.

Bridges steal rate is disappointing at 0.8 stl per 40, in fact this is incredibly worrying as none of those players were even below Gordon Hayward’s 1.4 per 40 and everyone else was 1.7 or higher. Bridges was a slightly above average shotblocker compared to the above players at 1.0 per 40 as a sophomore, and did 1.9 per 40 as a freshman. His rebounding at 8.9 is also below average and only higher than George on the above players and tied with Deng. Compounding his disappointing steal and rebound numbers is Bridges only has a 6.9’.5 wingspan, below average for a SF let alone for a PF where he is expected to either play full time or play on switches.

Underrated shooter

Bridges is a good not great shooter for the NCAA at 36.4% as as sophomore and 37.5% for his college career, however it’s his 85.3% from the line and strong volume of 7.3 attempts per 40 minutes, that really makes him one not just decent but of the best shooting prospects in the class. His ability as a ball handler could also be underrated for someone not expected to create his own shot at the next level, which would make sense with his positive assist numbers.

Overall

The oddity of this draft is the soup de jour is Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown type long SF/PF wings, as teams move towards the NBA’s switching defenses taken to an extreme level in the Houston/Golden State series. Despite that the top 5 NCAA prospects taken could be bigs in Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter. Nevertheless, the idea of Bridges may fit this desire more than the real one. In reality his poor wingspan and steal numbers could suggest stuck between positions in a bad way as easily as a good one on defense. On the other hand his offensive resume is fairly strong with volume scoring, passing resume in college, and combination of elite athleticism, great shooting and solid ball handling skills.

Written by jr.

June 3, 2018 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

How the Phoenix Suns could sign Lebron James. Yes, you heard that right.

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hi-res-c71e666a7980c4985b17632699fe712e_crop_northNobody will be surprised if Lebron decides he’s sick of carrying this older tired Cavaliers team on his back and packs his bags like he did with the 2014 Heat, but none of the destinations are perfect. The Sixers are an not an ideal fit with the non shooting, young Lebron-esque Ben Simmons running PG, the Rockets would likely need the Cavaliers help in a sign and trade, the Lakers would struggle to put enough firepower around him. None of these are deal breaker flaws enough to be ruled out, but none are perfect either.

The sleeper nobody is talking about? The Phoenix Suns.

Despite their decade long ineptitude and misery, if you look close enough you can see a team in a nearly identical situation as the 2014 Cavs. Devin Booker is at the same point of his career as Kyrie Irving was in 2014. One of the most gifted young scoring prospects in the game, but it hasn’t translated to wins as the man. Like the Cavs, the Suns won the #1 pick in the lottery. Aside from having the opportunity to draft Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic, it also gives them the primo trade asset on the market. In 2014 there was a star who was on the way out of his team in Kevin Love, in 2018 deteriorating the Kawhi Leonard relationship with the Spurs makes him a potential target to be traded and the Suns #1 pick puts them at the front of the line if the Spurs decide to rebuild. 

If at Lebron’s beckoning the Suns traded the #1 pick for Kawhi, a big 3 of Booker, Kawhi and Lebron is immediately competitive with anyone’s in the league if Kawhi returns to borderline MVP form. The 21 year old Booker is just tapping into his potential and would be in the right situation to take his game to the next level on both ends benefitting from the attention Lebron and Kawhi receive. Unlike the Sixers, the fit is flawless with Booker’s off ball shooting, Kawhi’s defense, creating and shooting and Lebron’s playmaking.

The Suns would still need to complete the lineup with a PG and C, but they have the assets to do it. They have other draft picks to dangle such as the #16 pick this year from Miami, Milwaukee’s 2019 1st and Miami’s 2021 pick, along with interesting prospects like Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. One option I would consider is expanding the Kawhi trade to get the Spurs to include Patty Mills. Mills would be a great fit at PG beside Lebron and should be expendable in San Antonio in a post Kawhi world with DeJounte Murray as their future at PG. With the Suns having the expirings contracts of of Tyson Chandler (possibly a player the they would want to keep as a veteran starting C), Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, Alan Williams’ unguaranteed deal and the potential to stretch Brandon Knight, along with T.J. Warren’s 12 million per year extension and Bender and Chriss’ rookie contracts, I believe they have the flexibility to trade for a bigger package like Kawhi and Mills and still have the cap room to sign Lebron.

With a starting lineup such as Mills, Booker, Kawhi, Lebron, Chandler, the Suns would be ready to go. Kawhi and Booker is legitimate firepower beside Lebron and the team has quality spacing and fit. Off the bench the Suns would retain the high upside piece of Josh Jackson as 6th man and Bender and/or Chriss if they stay on the team. Bender could be the guy who emerges at the Suns C spot with his ability to spread the floor and defend pick and rolls. Veteran ring chasers could join the team and the Suns could shop its extra draft picks if not a prospect like Chriss, much like how Cleveland used extra 1sts and Dion Waiters to trade for Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov during Lebron’s first season back.

From a lifestyle standpoint Phoenix is also a warm weather city for Lebron to play his last act in, much like the retirees who go there. Free agents have often treated it as an enticing option, Tyson Chandler signed there, Eric Gordon tried to push his way there, they went to the wire with the Spurs for LaMarcus Aldridge. In the past they’ve signed players like Steve Nash or Penny Hardaway. The Suns also have a strong basketball history dating back to the 60s and are one of the most successful teams to never win a ring, allowing Lebron to leave an important legacy in another city if he goes all the way. If the talent is there such as having Kawhi and Booker there’s no reason why Phoenix the city and franchise couldn’t land the biggest fish in the pond in Lebron.

Perhaps the biggest downside is Phoenix plays in the West. Lebron would be forced to go head to head with powerhouses such as Golden State and Houston. In the East he has a greater opportunity to make a record amount of Finals appearances, and signing with Philadelphia would give him one less team he has to beat. Nonetheless it’s going all the way that matters and a Western finalist like Golden State or Houston will still wait for him in the Finals even if he signs in the East. In addition getting through the Celtics revamped roster with Irving and Gordon Hayward back and the development of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is only going to get more difficult. Putting himself in the best situation possible could matter more than which conference he plays in. The other concern is whether Kawhi’s health is a guarantee if the Suns are risking trading a #1 pick for him. The Suns do have a longtime excellent reputation for conditioning and players recovering from injury, helping both Kawhi and Lebron to maintain his body going forward. 

Overall if they traded for Kawhi, Phoenix has many of the elements that caused Lebron to go to Cleveland in 2014. He would be rebooting with a younger pair of stars without the playoff miles on them Wade and Bosh had in 2014 or Love has now. If the pieces come together it could be a great spot for him.

Written by jr.

May 24, 2018 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized