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Saturday, August 02, 2008

LeBron James: "We Have to Be a No Excuse Team"

The first episode of "Road to Redemption" detailed Team USA's history in FIBA competition since NBA players began participating in 1992: Team USA won Olympic gold medals in 1992, 1996 and 2000 plus a FIBA World Championship in 1994 (Team USA won a bronze medal in the FIBA World Championship in 1998 when college and CBA players replaced NBA players due to the NBA lockout). Since 2000, though, Team USA has experienced a series of failures: a sixth place finish in the 2002 FIBA World Championship, a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics and a bronze medal in the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

The current squad--assembled by Managing Director Jerry Colangelo and coached by Mike Krzyzewski--consists of players who made a three year commitment to turn the program around. The initial result--a 10-0 sweep to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas tournament in 2007--was good but that was just a warmup to the main event: the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Two key additions to the team are Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd, the new starting backcourt. Kidd has an undefeated record in FIBA play, including winning a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, while Bryant--who called himself the "Doberman" after shutting down Lithuanian guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, a longtime Team USA nemesis--has become the team's defensive stopper, something that no one on recent Team USA rosters was willing and/or able to do.

Parts two and three of "Road to Redemption" look at Team USA's bonding process on and off the court during the month leading up to the Olympics. Kidd went on a golf outing with young point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams. As they rode in golf carts, Kidd told them, "Whatever I can do to pass on from who I've learned from--Stockton, Magic and Gary (Payton)--that is my duty, to share with you guys. You guys are too talented and I want you guys to be successful." The three point guards joked around as they staged an impromptu closest to the pin contest, with the losers having to do 25 pushups. "Or we can do your age--we can do 50," quipped Williams to Kidd. Kidd, playing in flip flops, put two balls on the green, but Williams landed the closest shot to the pin, so Kidd and Paul had to do the pushups. "J, we'll give you five off--you get a senior discount," Williams said.

"I think golf is 10 times harder than basketball--50 times," Williams added afterwards.

"I just showed that if you don't practice you will be trash," Paul added with a rueful laugh.

Coach Krzyzewski gave each player a notebook that has a picture of the gold medal on the first page. During one practice he gathered all of the players around to watch a video of Marvin Gaye's classic rendition of the national anthem prior to the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, telling the team, "That is going to be our song."

"I believe in visualization," Coach Krzyzewski explained later. "Let's put a vision in your mind about being on that gold medal stand and hearing our song."

Also, the entire team took a cruise to see the Statue of Liberty. "What we're trying to do is develop a spirit where we're not just saying something, we're showing them something," said Krzyzewski. "And then allowing them to feel something." I agree with Coach Krzyzewski about the importance of visualization and the power of symbols to motivate and inspire people.

"This is the first thing a lot of people saw when they came to this country," said Bryant of the Statue of Liberty. "This is where a lot of dreams started for a lot of different people and families. You have a dream in America where you can literally go from the bottom to the top. This is our dream here now, to bring a gold medal back to this country."

During one of Team USA's meetings, LeBron James delivered perhaps the clearest and strongest message about what this team's mentality has to be. Echoing a theme that is very familiar to anyone who follows James' Cleveland Cavaliers, he said, "When we go across these waters and we go play, we got to be a 'no excuse' team. What I mean is, it's going to be us against the world and we got to look at it that way. We can't blame the refs, we can't blame the crowd, we can't blame anything else on anybody. We are in a position right now where we control our own destiny. I know I'm guilty of this sometimes: I sit at home and say, 'If I had Dwight Howard on my team or if I had Carlos Boozer on my team or if I had Chris Paul as my point guard I would win an NBA championship.' So what's my excuse now? I got all y'all on this team, so what's my excuse now? Do we all have an excuse? We don't. This is everything that we always dreamed of, of having that guy next to you and winning something. I'm excited and I know you guys are. This is what I've always wanted, playing alongside Carmelo Anthony, playing alongside Jason, playing with Kobe. I don't have no excuse now--none of us."

Bryant added, "To me, defense and rebounding wins every time, no matter where you play--you play here, you play on Mars, you play anywhere you want: if you can shut somebody down and rebound the basketball then you're going to win no matter who you are playing against. That's the standard we have to set."

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:43 PM

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Team USA Applies Defensive Pressure, Beats Lithuania 120-84

Team USA concluded the Macau portion of the USA Basketball International Challenge with a 120-84 victory over Lithuania, improving to 2-0 in this event and 3-0 overall on their pre-Olympic exhibition tour. Team USA will play their final two exhibition games in Shanghai before beginning Olympic preliminary round action against host China on August 10. The story of this game was Team USA's pressure defense, led by Kobe Bryant, who set the tone right from the start by completely taking sharpshooter Sarunas Jasikevicius out of the game. Jasikevicius did not make a field goal in the first quarter as Team USA opened the contest with a 24-5 outburst. Jasikevicius finished with nine points on 2-8 field goal shooting, a far cry from his usual numbers against Team USA in FIBA competition (see Historical Note below). That history was very much on Bryant's mind: "He had a great game against us a few years ago, and he was real brash about it, trash talking and things of that nature. So it's my responsibility to bring it to him. He reminded me of it, so we sicced the Doberman on him." Although Bryant referred to "us," he was not a member of the previous teams that Jasikevicius burned and that is the biggest difference between the 2002-2004-2006 editions of Team USA and the current squad: Bryant has made it his personal mission to shut down the perimeter players who have caused Team USA so much trouble and heartbreak in recent FIBA competitions, a job that no one on those teams was willing and/or able to fill. In addition to his superb defense, Bryant scored 13 points on 6-9 field goal shooting, had three assists and did not commit a turnover.

Dwyane Wade scored a game-high 19 points on 7-9 shooting in 18 minutes off of the bench. Dwight Howard powered his way to 17 points and five rebounds and LeBron James had another great all-around performance: 15 points, six assists, five rebounds. Michael Redd added 16 points, including 10 in the fourth period garbage time session. Jason Kidd had two points, two assists and three steals in just 11 minutes. He played a key role in Team USA's opening run but it seems like Coach Mike Krzyzewski is limiting Kidd's playing time to save him for the Olympics. Carmelo Anthony scored 11 points on 4-9 shooting but his poor defense is the untold story so far for Team USA; he is the only starting player of whom it could be said that Team USA plays better when he is on the bench. I know that this contradicts a lot of what has been said and written about Anthony and I will elaborate on this point momentarily.

Rick Kamla and Fran Fraschilla did the play by play and color commentary respectively for ESPN2. Kamla's high strung and excessive cheerleading are tiresome and it sometimes seems like he is trying so hard to come up with a good quip or to use certain material that he prepared that he is not actually paying attention to the action. Case in point: Deron Williams drove to the hoop and tried to throw down a one handed dunk instead of going up with two hands. Williams was fouled and Fraschilla noted that if Williams had used two hands then this could have potentially been a three point play. Kamla then went off on a whole tangent about how well coached Williams is and how important it is to go up with two hands when you are being contested by a Lithuanian player who has experience as a boxer; when Kamla finished, Fraschilla gently reminded Kamla that Williams had in fact NOT gone up with two hands. I half expected Kamla to offer up an Emily Litella-esque "Never mind."

Fraschilla did his usual excellent job of explaining the differences between FIBA play and NBA play, describing the strengths and weaknesses of FIBA players who may be unfamiliar to the viewing audience and talking about the strategies for both sides but he should place greater emphasis on how bad Anthony's defense is and make note of the impact that this has on the game. Fraschilla has mentioned this at times but he neglected to point out that Anthony was benched for the final 7:25 of the second quarter in Team USA's 114-82 win over Turkey and he did not mention the quick hook that Anthony got in the second quarter of this game or the fact that Team USA again played better in the second quarter with Anthony on the bench. Fraschilla's three keys for Team USA were a solid defensive start, find shooters and half court execution. Team USA did an excellent job with the first and third points and a pretty good job with the second point, though there was some slippage in the early moments of the third quarter.

Team USA won the opening tip and ran an excellent half court play: Howard set a screen for Bryant, who popped up to the top of the key, received a dribble hand off from James and buried a long jumper. After Jasikevicius missed a three pointer, Howard and Anthony executed a screen/roll play that culminated in a Howard dunk. Then Bryant poked the ball away from Jasikevicius, which led to a Howard layup. Team USA nearly forced another turnover but in the scramble Robertas Javtokas recovered the ball and drove down the lane for a thunderous dunk. The teams traded misses and then Kidd penetrated, drew the defense and fed Howard for a layup. James played excellent screen/roll defense, Kidd jumped in the air to get the steal and then while still off the ground he threw the ball ahead to James for a fast break dunk and a 10-2 lead. Lithuania called timeout right after that play. On the next possession, Howard poked the ball free and James had another fast break dunk. After a few misses by both teams, Bryant snared a defensive rebound and threw a great outlet pass to Kidd for a fast break layup. Lithuania had enormous difficulties running their offense because of the relentless pressure that Bryant applied to Jasikevicius.

Lithuania switched to a zone defense to try to contain Howard and force Team USA to shoot jumpers but Bryant foiled that plan by driving to the hoop and nailing a short bank shot. Howard also scored on a drive and made a free throw to put Team USA up 19-5 while tagging Javtokas with his third foul. Kidd and Anthony both sat down at that point. Bryant made a turnaround jumper and drilled a three pointer over the zone to push the lead to 24-5. "Team USA has imposed its defensive will on this team," Fraschilla said. Bryant and James both went to the bench with Team USA leading 25-7. Anthony came back into the game. Lithuania outscored Team USA 8-6 in the last 2:48 of the quarter. Howard (10) and Bryant (nine) scored 19 of Team USA's 31 first quarter points.

Kidd sat out the entire second quarter and James and Bryant began the second quarter on the bench. Anthony was in the game but at the 8:41 mark James came in for him; Team USA had yet to score, though Lithuania had just two points. James assisted on a Redd three pointer but Team USA let Lithuania get loose for a couple three pointers and the score was 38-23 Team USA when Bryant returned to action. Team USA extended the margin slightly to 45-27 by the time that Anthony checked back in to the game. Ramunas Siskauskas promptly launched Anthony out of his shoes with a pump fake and waltzed down the lane for a score. Bryant drove and then dished to Deron Williams who swung the ball to a wide open Anthony for a three pointer but at the next loose ball Krzyzewski removed Anthony from the game; Anthony had only been in for 1:18, during which time Team USA was outscored 5-3. Yes, that is a small sample size but this is the second game in a row that Anthony exited play shortly after making a bad defensive play. More to the point, in the second quarter Team USA outscored Lithuania 22-17 when Anthony was on the bench but were outscored by Lithuania 7-3 when he was in the game. The overall plus/minus numbers are even more revealing: Team USA led 56-39 at halftime but only outscored Lithuania 28-20 when Anthony was in the game--and that includes a 19-5 start to which he did not contribute much (Bryant, James and Howard were the dominant players on the court). In contrast, Team USA outscored Lithuania 37-18 when Bryant was in the game during the first half and 50-29 during James' first half playing time.

Team USA got off to a very shaky start in the third quarter, giving up back to back three pointers, answering with a James three pointer and then giving up another three pointer. The three point shot is the lifeblood of most FIBA teams and it is vitally important to contest these shots or, even better, apply so much defensive pressure that the other team does not even get to shoot from three point range. Team USA did an exceptional job in this regard in the first quarter--spearheaded by Bryant--but the first few minutes of the third quarter looked like a nightmare replay of Team USA's losses in recent FIBA competitions. Lithuania cut the lead to 59-48 after their fourth three pointer in the first 1:45 of the third quarter but Team USA did not panic and made the appropriate adjustments. Bryant had lengthy discussions with Coach Krzyzewski, Howard and several of his other teammates and it sure would be interesting to know what was said during those conversations, as opposed to the banal and irrelevant questions that are typically asked in postgame press conferences. The best that I could figure out based on Bryant's gestures and what Team USA did before and after the three point barrage is that Bryant was trying to get everyone on the same page regarding when to switch on screen/roll plays, when not to switch and who should be rotating to cover the big man rolling to the hoop. This is the stuff that Team USA never could figure out in previous defeats but whatever was said the bottom line is that Team USA promptly went on a 16-8 run to push the lead back to 20, 75-55, after which Lithuania never seriously threatened again. Obviously, that required a total team effort by Team USA but Bryant's fingerprints were all over this game deciding burst: he was credited with two assists during the run, fed Anthony for a three point play with a pass that was not scored as an assist and he provided the punctuation mark with a fast break dunk. Bryant sat down at that point and James went to the bench shortly after that with Team USA still up by 20, 80-60. Wade scored seven points in the final 1:30 of the third quarter to extend the lead to 91-66, enabling Bryant, James, Kidd and Anthony to sit out the entire fourth quarter.

Team USA outscored Lithuania 56-34 when Bryant was in the game, including the 25-4 run to open the game and the 16-8 third quarter run that decided the game. Team USA outscored Lithuania 74-50 when James was in the game and he also played a key role in both of those important runs. Kidd contributed to the 19-5 start and saw some third quarter action; Team USA outscored Lithuania 36-21 during his time on the court. I don't understand how Anthony can be considered Team USA's best FIBA player. While there is no question that he is a tremendous scorer, his defense is poor, so he is not nearly the all-around threats that Bryant and James are. Team USA only outscored Lithuania 45-36 when Anthony was in the game and it is important to remember that he shares some of his minutes with Bryant and James, who are clearly carrying most of the load for this team. Anthony has value as a versatile scorer who must be guarded but it will be interesting to monitor his production--and his minutes--against the elite FIBA teams: although I have yet to read or hear anyone talking about it, Anthony has twice been benched shortly after committing defensive lapses. Maybe that is just a coincidence as Coach Krzyzewski tinkers with his rotation but Anthony sat out the last 7:25 of the second quarter versus Turkey and went to the bench in the second quarter of this game twice after being on the court for less than two minutes and that kind of substitution pattern is an unusual way to handle someone who many people consider to be the best FIBA player on team.

Historical Note:
----------------

Jasikevicius missed a three pointer at the buzzer in the 2000 Olympics semifinals that could have handed Team USA its first loss since NBA players began participating in FIBA play in 1992. Jasikevicius had a game-high 27 points and shot 5-11 from three point range in that contest. Team USA escaped with an 85-83 victory, foreshadowing the end of Team USA's run at the top of FIBA competitions even though Team USA claimed the gold medal that year; Team USA did not win another FIBA gold medal until last summer's FIBA Americas tournament, the first time that Bryant suited up for Team USA.

Lithuania defeated Team USA 94-90 in the preliminary round of the 2004 Olympics. Jasikevicius trashed Team USA's shoddy defense, pouring in a game-high 28 points while shooting 7-12 from three point range as Lithuania shot 13-27 from behind the arc overall. Team USA forced 20 turnovers but did not take advantage of those extra possessions as starting guards Allen Iverson (4-12) and Stephon Marbury (2-14) shot horribly from the field. The teams each grabbed 31 rebounds. Four current Team USA players were on the 2004 squad: Dwyane Wade scored six points in 16 minutes, Carmelo Anthony had five points in 10 minutes and LeBron James did not score in six minutes. Carlos Boozer contributed 10 points in 13 minutes.

Team USA avenged that loss with a 104-96 victory in the bronze medal game. Shawn Marion led the way with 22 points as Team USA overcame Lithuania's 22-37 three point shooting barrage, including 7-12 by Arvydas Macijauskas (who had a game-high 24 points) and 5-9 by Sarunas Jasikevicius, who finished with 17 points. Team USA won by forcing 20 Lithuania turnovers and dominating the paint (40-26 rebounding advantage). Boozer had seven points and tied Tim Duncan with a game-high eight rebounds in 23 minutes, Wade scored nine points in 16 minutes, James had six points in seven minutes and Anthony scored three points in seven minutes.

Summary: In his three previous games against Team USA, Jasikevicius averaged 24.0 ppg and shot 17-32 (.531) from three point range.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:54 PM

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Huge Second Quarter Run Lifts Team USA to 114-82 Win Over Turkey

Team USA closed the first half with a 19-3 run en route to a 114-82 victory over Turkey at Cotai Arena in Macau in the first of four games that Team USA will play in the USA Basketball International Challenge, part of their five game pre-Olympic exhibition tour. LeBron James was selected as the game MVP after scoring 20 points on 8-9 field goal shooting while adding six rebounds, four assists and five steals. He blocked Turkey's first shot of the game and then dribbled coast to coast to score a layup, showing no signs of any ill effects from the sprained ankle that sidelined him from Team USA's first exhibition game, a 120-65 victory over Canada in Las Vegas last Friday. Carmelo Anthony scored 17 points on 5-6 shooting but he had no rebounds in 17 minutes and after a decent defensive outing versus Canada he reverted to the ghastly--or ghostly, as in "invisible"--defense that is the negative flip side of his marvelous offensive repertoire; he sat out the last 7:25 of the second quarter, the precise period when Team USA took command of the game.

Dwight Howard scored 14 points--all of them on rim-rocking dunks--and snared a game-high eight rebounds. He played 24 minutes, while Carlos Boozer scored five points in 10 minutes and Chris Bosh had 13 points in nine minutes, a deceptive total since nine of his points came in fourth quarter garbage time. As I said when this roster was first announced, look for the minutes breakdown of Team USA's three bigs to be roughly 20 minutes for Howard and 10 each for Boozer and Bosh.

Dwyane Wade, who returned to the bench with James in the starting lineup, scored 13 points. Chris Paul played an excellent all-around game, finishing with 12 points, six assists and four rebounds. Kobe Bryant did not look for his shot that often but he had a game-high seven assists and tied James for game-high honors with five steals. On some plays it looked like Bryant was playing with the Lakers: he drew double team coverage, made the correct pass and then the recipient reversed the ball to someone for a wide open shot (a Bryant to Anthony to Jason Kidd sequence of that nature led to Kidd's only basket, a three pointer from the top of the key). Bryant is credited with seven points in the boxscore but an examination of the play by play sheet confirms that he actually scored nine points and that Deron Williams scored four points, not the six that are listed by his name in the boxscore.

Kidd had a very quiet game. His numbers will never blow you away in FIBA competition but his intangible impact on this contest was not at the level that it usually is. He only played 12 minutes and was not particularly sharp offensively or defensively.

Once again, Rick Kamla and Fran Fraschilla handled the broadcasting duties, this time for ESPN2. Fraschilla's three keys for Team USA were defensive cohesiveness, half court execution and rebounding (his keys for the Canada game were build chemistry, establish pressure defense and make outside shots). Taking the last point first, Team USA won the rebounding battle 29-24 after enjoying a 38-24 advantage versus Canada; many people keep beating to death the idea that Team USA is too small but Howard is probably going to be the leading rebounder in every game, LeBron James is as big as Karl Malone was, Bryant and Kidd can rebound from the guard position if necessary and Anthony will hit the offensive glass if nothing else. Boozer and Bosh provide rebounding power off of the bench, so there is no reason that rebounding should be a big problem for this team.

Team USA got off to a slow start versus Canada, only leading 28-21 after the first quarter, and they fared even worse versus Turkey, trailing 27-24 late in the first quarter before rallying to take a 31-30 lead by the end of the first ten minutes. The problem, as it almost always is when Team USA struggles in FIBA play, was poor defensive execution. Scoring and shooting are not problems for Team USA; their only offensive problems happen in the half court set when a lack of familiarity (with each other and with FIBA play) sometimes results in stagnant possessions or turnovers. However, Team USA still has to get better at defensive recognition and defensive execution. A perfect example of this happened at the 1:42 mark of the first quarter when Ender Arslan drained a three pointer against Anthony as the shot clock wound down. "You have to know that," Fraschilla said immediately. "With the clock running down if he's not making a move to the hoop he's setting himself up for the pullup (jumper). He had too much room right there." There were also several instances of bad screen/roll defense, including one time when Bryant forced his man to an area expecting help from Anthony only to notice too late that Anthony had his back turned and was completely oblivious to the play.

Team USA led 24-19 when Bryant sat down at the 3:02 mark of the first quarter but Turkey made an 11-7 run with Bryant out of the game. That brings us to the interesting tale of the plus/minus numbers from this game. I tracked Bryant, Kidd, James and Anthony, none of whom played a minute in the fourth quarter, during which Team USA led by at least 27 points for the entire 10 minutes. Overall, Team USA outscored Turkey 66-40 when Bryant was in the game, 34-27 when Kidd was in the game, 66-45 when James was in the game and 62-43 when Anthony was in the game. Kidd did not have much impact and his plus/minus numbers in limited minutes reflect that. Whether or not Bryant scores a lot this team consistently plays better when he is in the game than when he is on the bench and that has been the case from the moment he joined the roster last summer. It is also not surprising that James' plus/minus numbers were so good: he played an outstanding game and a lot of his minutes overlapped with Bryant's. Anthony's plus/minus numbers look good on the surface but those numbers do not tell the entire story. At the 8:38 mark of the second quarter, Anthony switched on a screen/roll play, enabling his man--Kerem Gonlum--to cut to the hoop and score over the much smaller Paul. "There's a switch and that's what you don't want to do," Fraschilla said. "International teams are very good at reacting to switching defenses." While there are some situations in which it is OK to switch, that was an instance where a switch led to a fatal mismatch, something that could have been avoided had Anthony been in better position to deal with the screen. Gonlum's basket trimmed Team USA's lead to 35-34 and when Coach Krzyzewski benched Anthony at the 7:25 mark of the second quarter Team USA only led 39-34. Team USA closed the quarter with a 15-3 run to blow the game open and the key was not rebounding or outside shooting but rather good defense, spearheaded by Bryant and James. The flashiest play during that time came when Bryant broke up a screen/roll play by stealing the ball. He then pushed the ball downcourt and delivered a perfect lob to James for a fast break dunk. Kamla started screaming like he was a fan watching the game at home on TV but Fraschilla made a very important observation: "You love the highlight but what I like about that is excellent pick and roll defensive execution. They thought they could throw the little bounce pass but Kobe had none of that." Bryant's play is precisely what Team USA did not do in its recent FIBA losses--defend the pick and roll aggressively, get a stop and then score in transition. There is all this talk about how Team USA needs more shooters or more bigs but what Team USA really needs is sound and aggressive perimeter defense, something that Bryant and Kidd have added to the team--and something that James has improved at in the past few years.

Team USA led 54-37 at halftime and they quickly pushed that margin past 20 in the opening minutes of the third quarter: James drove to the hoop and earned two free throws--making both--Bryant got a steal and delivered another nice lob for a dunk--this time to Howard--and then Team USA converted their prettiest play of the game: Kidd made a bounce pass to Bryant cutting along the baseline and then Bryant slipped a pass to Howard, who dove down the lane and threw down a monster jam to make the score 60-39. That was probably Team USA's best half court set of the game. A few minutes later, James returned the favor from the first half by lobbing a pass to Bryant for a reverse dunk on a fast break to put Team USA up 68-46. One interesting development in the third quarter was that Coach Krzyzewski used James at center for a while, creating a very fast lineup that did not suffer at all on the boards. That approach may not work against every team but it showcases once again the versatility that Team USA enjoys, which is far more important than adding a one dimensional player like Tyson Chandler to the roster (no disrespect to Chandler, whose game is much more suited to the NBA style than the FIBA style). Team USA led 87-59 by the end of the third quarter.

After the game, Turkish coach Bogdan Tanjevic said of Team USA,"They had great technique, great effort, and defensively they were much better than the World Championship team of two years ago, and they are definitely in better shape than they were two years ago, and they use a team system--not a star system." The last time these teams played, Team USA beat Turkey 79-67 in a training game prior to the 2004 Olympics. James scored seven points in 16 minutes in that contest, while Wade had nine points in 18 minutes and Anthony added five points in 15 minutes; Bryant and Kidd were not on that squad, a team that settled for the bronze medal in the Olympics. Team USA and Turkey both have made roster changes since 2004 but the main differences for Team USA are the additions of Bryant and Kidd coupled with James' improvement, particularly on defense.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:10 PM

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Jason Kidd's Value Goes Far Beyond Numbers

Jason Kidd is the poster child for the limitations of statistical analysis. He attempted just 10 field goals as Team USA rolled to a 10-0 gold medal performance in last year's FIBA Americas tournament yet he was voted USA Basketball's Male Athlete of the Year. Kelly Whiteside's July 31 USA TODAY article about Kidd contains quotes from several NBA stars who express awe about how Kidd plays the game:

"I can't explain it to you," forward LeBron James says. "I don't know what Jason does, I don't know how he does it. If I could explain it to you, I'd be like a prophet or something."

"He sees things," guard Dwyane Wade says of Kidd's sixth sense. "When you're on the court and you see him do something, you think he had to see that like three minutes ago."

"He just sees the game differently," (Kobe) Bryant says. "He grew up being a passer, understanding the angles. He makes very quick reads, very quick decisions. It's a different role for me and makes the game easier. Some of the shots you get you tend to be uncomfortable with because they're so damn easy. You're used to having guys on your arm all the time. With Jason, you get wide-open looks. He puts the ball right on the money."

Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski says that Kidd's basketball IQ is on par with Magic Johnson's. Kidd's defines basketball instinct as "being able to be creative in a split second." Here is Kidd's description of what he sees when he is on the court:

"When somebody shoots, I take a picture of where everyone is out on the court and then go from there with my whole thought process. There's maybe 100 things I'm going through, a checklist that all happens in two seconds. First is to get the ball, second is, where is the defender? Where are my teammates? Is my teammate tired? If I throw it too far will he quit on me? What type of pass is called for? Is it a bounce pass? Is it a chest pass? If all that isn't there, then what play are we going to run? That (answer) comes where you're probing and trying to find something and that's where your creativity and daring come in because maybe you're going to do something that most people would never think about doing. It becomes a chess match, not with the opponent but with yourself because you're trying to figure out what's the right thing to do in that split second."

Coach
Krzyzewski explains why Kidd, at 35 the oldest player on Team USA's roster, starts ahead of Chris Paul--who finished second in last year's MVP voting--and Deron Williams, who is also a terrific young point guard:

"Being the best means that you have the ability to have the biggest impact in the creation of an environment to win, and Jason has that. With the experience of that many years in the NBA and internationally, coupled with the passion to continue to do it, teamed up with talent around him, I don't think anyone on our team has a better equation. Obviously Kobe and LeBron are better players, but that entire impact, he's as important a guy as we can have."



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posted by David Friedman @ 3:49 AM

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Will Artest Fuel Rocket Launch?

In a deal that has been widely reported and discussed but will not become official (due to NBA rules regarding provisions in Donte Greene's contract) until August 14, the Houston Rockets will acquire 2004 Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Bobby Jackson, Donte Greene, a 2009 first round draft pick and "approximately $1 million in cash considerations" (I've always wondered if that phrase refers to unmarked bills, money orders, savings bonds or something else, because I've never received "cash considerations"--I've received cash and I've received consideration but I've never received "cash considerations"). The Kings may tweak certain elements of this deal to stay under the luxury tax threshold but the gist of the transaction will not change: the Rockets are giving up young, unproven players (and Jackson's expiring contract, which can be a bookkeeping asset for the Kings) to acquire an established player who they hope will combine with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to give Houston a "Big Three" to rival the trio that led Boston to the 2008 championship and the troika that has helped San Antonio capture three rings since 2003.

Sacramento's motivations and plan are not hard to figure out: Artest is a malcontent who led the Kings to one playoff appearance in his two and half seasons with the team and since he announced that he does not want to be there it is a good idea to send him packing sooner rather than later, because "later" could turn out to be "too late," especially if the volatile Artest ended up doing something that completely destroyed his trade value or even the possibility of trading him (i.e., getting suspended). This deal enables the Kings to get younger and to create some financial flexibility in order to make some more moves down the line. Of course, as John Thompson said in reference to Denver getting little in return for Marcus Camby, "'Down the line,' 'potential'--what that does is get the coach fired. All these guys who make these money decisions never factor that into the Ls and Ws that some poor coach has to sit there and work for." For now, Kings Coach Reggie Theus will have to make do with what he has and hope that the Maloof brothers keep him around until their young guys develop into legitimate rotation players. It will also be interesting to see if Kevin Martin is an All-Star who can truly carry a team or just a very talented scorer.

For this season, it is Houston's end of the deal that will be the most interesting to watch. When healthy, Yao Ming is arguably the best all-around center in the NBA. When healthy, Tracy McGrady is arguably the second best shooting guard in the NBA, trailing only Kobe Bryant. When healthy--and when his mind is right--Ron Artest is arguably the best defensive player in the NBA. Needless to say, that is a lot of talent to have on one team and don't forget that the Rockets have some very solid role players in Luis Scola, Shane Battier, Rafer Alston and Carl Landry. Houston had an astonishing 22 game winning streak last season and 10 of those victories came after Yao suffered a season-ending foot injury.

The questions surrounding this deal from Houston's perspective are two parts physical and one part mental. The two physical questions pertain to the annual injuries suffered by Yao and McGrady: Yao has not played more than 57 games in a season since 2004-05 and McGrady has not played more than 71 games in a season since 2004-05. It is difficult enough to win a championship at full strength and at partial strength the Rockets have not even been able to get out of the first round. Of course, last season Boston assembled a star trio, captured lightning in a bottle and zoomed from being a lottery team to winning a title but it is important to remember that a big part of that success stemmed from all of their key players being healthy for most of the season; in 2006-07, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (then with Seattle) both missed a ton of games due to injuries but during their careers they both have been durable players and that proved to be the case in 2007-08. Neither Yao nor McGrady could accurately be described as durable players at this stage of their careers.

The mental question for Houston involves the activity inside Artest's cranial cavity. No one questions his talent but Artest has been in the NBA for nine seasons and he has participated in postseason play just four times, only once advancing past the first round. His meltdowns--on and off the court--have been well documented. The bottom line is that he has proven on numerous occasions that he is not a dependable person and there is good reason to believe that he has problems that can only be dealt with by taking medication; I mean that very seriously and not as a joke or a wisecrack: a lot of what Dennis Rodman did was self-promoting shtick, you could almost see him winking knowingly along the way and he played a major role in helping two different franchises win a total of five championships--but Artest has been genuinely and frighteningly out of control on many occasions.

A positive for Houston is that Artest has a solid relationship with Rick Adelman, who coached Artest for half a season in Sacramento. That was the last time Artest played in the playoffs; the Kings went 26-14 down the stretch after acquiring Artest in a midseason deal in 2005-06 but Artest's numbers were hardly spectacular during that run: he shot .383 from the field, .302 from three point range and .717 from the free throw line. On the positive side of the ledger, he played excellent defense and averaged 16.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.2 apg and 2.0 spg. His playoff numbers were very similar (.383, .333, .696, 17.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.6 spg) as the Kings lost 4-2 to the San Antonio Spurs. It is worth mentioning that Artest missed game two of that series, a 128-119 loss for the Kings, because he was suspended by the NBA for committing a flagrant foul against Manu Ginobili in game one.

Artest is an excellent defender, a decent rebounder, a willing passer and a good ballhandler; the only technical weakness in his skill set is that he is an erratic shooter. The problem is that Artest does not seem to recognize this and he has often expressed the belief that he should be his team's primary scoring option. It should be quite obvious that he cannot be the primary scoring option on a team with Yao and McGrady, so it will be interesting to see how well Artest buys into the idea of being the third scoring option. It is also reasonable to wonder what exactly Houston's rotation will look like. Artest is ideally a small forward who can guard players at multiple positions but Shane Battier is an excellent defensive small forward and McGrady sometimes plays small forward as well. If Artest shifts to power forward then he will be playing closer to the basket than usual and cutting into Scola's minutes.

If Artest stays out of trouble, utilizes his all-around skill set and is content to be the third scoring option then Houston could be very, very good--60+ wins would not be out of the question. However, Artest has not played more than 70 games in a season since 2003-04. How realistic is it to assume that he, Yao and McGrady will play at least 70 games each and that all three players will be on the court when the 2009 playoffs begin?

Despite the risks and the questions, the Rockets were absolutely correct to make this deal for one simple reason: they did not give up any assets that were likely to contribute in a meaningful way this season in exchange for a player who has the ability to significantly upgrade the roster and who could very possibly turn Houston into a championship contender. Yao and McGrady are not getting any younger or any healthier, so the Rockets have to be in a win now mode; if this does not work then in a couple years they could be looking at making deals from Sacramento's current point of view.

One funny aspect of this story is that for weeks now the "experts" have been talking constantly about Artest being traded to the Lakers and no one said anything about Houston being in the mix. Sometimes the "insiders" do not have quite as much inside information as they think that they do. By the way, although I think that the Rockets made the right choice in pulling the trigger on this deal, I am not convinced that the proposed Lamar Odom for Artest trade would have been good for the Lakers. The Rockets did not give up anyone who was going to be a big part of their rotation this season but Odom is a solid 15 ppg-10 rpg player and it would be risky to ship him out with Andrew Bynum's health status still up in the air, especially for a player like Artest who could end up missing 20 or 30 games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:45 AM

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ETB's Scribes of the NBA Interview Series

Andrew Thell of Empty the Bench recently interviewed me (via email) as part of ETB's "Scribes of the NBA Interview Series." He just posted that interview and I think that he did a wonderful job putting everything together; he added special touches including a video of Dr. J's best dunks, several photographs and links to some 20 Second Timeout posts that were relevant to the issues being discussed (I did not provide those links, so he did that research on his own). I look forward to seeing who else ETB interviewed for this series.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:34 AM

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Donaghy Sentenced, Key Questions Remain Unresolved

The judicial portion of the Tim Donaghy scandal came to a conclusion on Tuesday as the former NBA referee was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for accepting thousands of dollars to provide inside information to gamblers. Last week, Donaghy's partners in crime--gambler James Battista and middleman Thomas Martino, both of whom attended school with Donaghy in Springfield, Pennsylvania--received 15 months in prison and one year plus one day in prison respectively for their roles in this criminal enterprise.

Earlier this summer, Donaghy attempted to lighten his sentence by bringing forth a slew of allegations about the NBA league office and other NBA referees; NBA Commissioner David Stern has steadfastly maintained that Donaghy was one "rogue, isolated criminal," while Donaghy wanted Judge Carol Amon to believe that many other referees have engaged in various kinds of misconduct, including fixing games at the behest of the NBA. Donaghy faced a maximum 33 month sentence but instead received two 15 month sentences that will be served concurrently, so it seems that he did manage to take at least some of the bite out of his punishment. The NBA filed a suit requesting that Donaghy pay $1.4 million in damages to the league but last week the judge ruled that the three co-defendants will have to pay a total of $217,266 in restitution. It is strange that Judge Amon stated that Donaghy is "more culpable" than Battista and Martino and yet Donaghy's sentence is the same as Battista's and the league will receive a fraction of the damages that it sought.

At one point during the second half of last season, I remarked to a fellow writer that I was very surprised at how quickly the Donaghy story disappeared from public view: there was not any widespread fan heckling of referees, there was not wall to wall coverage of Donaghy and for the most part the season took place as if the scandal had never happened. Of course, that changed a bit during the Finals when Donaghy excited conspiracy fans coast to coast by obliquely suggesting that the NBA conspired to fix game six of the 2002 Lakers-Kings series but even that tempest in a teapot seems to have settled down. Then there was a report that Donaghy had made well over 100 brief phone calls to referee Scott Foster just before and just after various games that Donaghy officiated; the only people that Donaghy called more frequently during the period of time in question were his criminal co-conspirators. The FBI and the NBA eventually issued statements indicating that Foster was not suspected of any wrongdoing and then that story died out as well.

The apparent public apathy about the Donaghy story can be interpreted several different ways:

1) Most people already thought that NBA officiating was poor and/or fixed, so they are not surprised.
2) Most people believe Commissioner Stern that Donaghy was one "rogue, isolated criminal" and thus they discount anything that Donaghy alleges about the NBA and other referees.
3) Scandals have become so commonplace now that people just have a cynical attitude about public figures and public institutions.

The problem with assessing the true meaning and impact of the Donaghy scandal is that this is a complex issue but the 24 hour news cycle abhors complexity, depth and intelligence; it is much more important to be the first to "break" a story than to be the first to accurately report and/or analyze a story. What this leads to are lot of stories that are literally "broken" and very few that are covered with sufficient thoughtfulness.

For instance, Donaghy has not been convicted of fixing games; he has been convicted of providing inside information to illegal gamblers. So, when people wonder why it was the FBI and not the NBA that discovered Donaghy's wrongdoing the answer may very well be that he did not engage in any conduct (i.e., making bad calls and/or bad non-calls) that the NBA could reasonably have detected. The NBA graded Donaghy as a good referee and it is possible that he was in fact good--in the sense of being competent at his job, not in the sense of being morally upright. Of course, there are many borderline calls in an NBA game so it is also possible that Donaghy was exceptionally skillful in manipulating such calls to the benefit of his co-conspirators without arousing any suspicion; however, as a practical matter it would be almost impossible to carry out such a balancing act--fixing games successfully by making bad calls without grading out poorly or looking suspicious--for several years.

Therefore, it is natural to wonder exactly what information Donaghy was providing and if it is in fact true--as some outlets have reported--that Donaghy's partners won an extraordinarily high percentage of their bets. Apparently, Donaghy would tell them which referees were working specific games, provide inside information about injured players and mention possible grudges between referees and coaches/players. It has been suggested that the only way that knowing the identities of the referees could be important is if certain referees were engaged in misconduct but that is not necessarily the case; gamblers know that some referees call a tighter game and some call a looser game and those factors work in the favor of some teams and against other teams: for instance, if a referee who tends to call more fouls is working a game contested by a very physical team and a less physical team one might assume that key players on the physical team could get in early foul trouble. It is not realistic to expect every referee to call the game exactly the same way; the problem is if some people know get advance knowledge of who the referees are and then wager accordingly but the NBA has made this issue null and void by changing its procedures regarding when the general public finds out which referees are working a game.

As for grudges, this is something that no one wants to think about but the reality is that in all lines of work personality clashes can have an impact on the job environment. Obviously, when things get out of hand--like Joey Crawford with Tim Duncan or Jake O'Donnell with Clyde Drexler back in the day--the NBA must act swiftly but, as I indicated above, I think that stylistic differences among referees are probably a more important factor than grudges. To use a baseball analogy, if I am a pitcher I want to see a plate umpire who has a big strike zone but if I am a batter I want just the opposite--and, either way, I can adjust as long as that umpire calls the game consistently and the same way for both teams. In basketball, players and teams can adjust to a loosely or tightly called game as long as the officiating is consistent (but the very nature of a particular game may be a little bit more in favor of one team, which could influence the type of bet that someone places).

I think that the most important information that Donaghy provided pertained to injuries; there is a reason that pro leagues require teams to issue accurate and timely injury reports and it is not so that fans can send get well cards to their favorite players: knowing the health status of players is a big part of being a successful gambler.

It is a good bet--pardon the pun--that not long after Donaghy gets out of prison he will write a book about this whole sordid affair. After all, he is apparently destitute and he is not likely to ever get a job in his former profession. Nowadays, any kind of fame is considered a positive thing and if disgraced, plagiarizing journalists can write best selling books then a convicted ex-referee can certainly write (or dictate to a ghostwriter) a book. Donaghy will likely expand upon his allegations regarding the Lakers-Kings series and his other accusations of NBA/referee misconduct. Therefore, although the NBA certainly would like to see this whole matter fade away, it is important for the league to get in front of this story and clarify some issues as opposed to always being caught flatfooted and forced to react.

To that end, I would like to see the NBA take the following actions:

1) Publicly divulge the grades/evaluations of the officiating crew from game six of the 2002 series between the Lakers and the Kings. Commissioner Stern has implied that the game may have been sloppily officiated but he has vigorously denied that it was fixed. I realize that the NBA feels that publicly revealing aspects of their grading system could be a start down a slippery slope but if there is really nothing to hide then at some point it becomes counterproductive to be so secretive about a matter that has been so widely debated.

2) Revive the NBA TV show "Making the Call With Ronnie Nunn" or create a new show with a similar format. Most NBA fans--and even many people who cover the league--do not really understand concepts such as the "lower defensive box" and "the restricted area" and this kind of ignorance leads to people thinking that calls are bad or fixed when they are in fact correct. The NBA needs to do a better job of educating the public about the rules of the game and what exactly referees are supposed to be doing.

3) Explain the whole Donaghy-Foster connection. Obviously, it looks suspicious when the "rogue, isolated criminal" apparently has another referee in his "Fave Five" but if there really was nothing nefarious going on here then the NBA should issue a simple statement clarifying this situation. I can think of innocuous reasons that two co-workers in a high stress job would be in frequent contact with each other and I can think of not so innocuous reasons for all of that phone tag but the point is that a lot of people are going to assume the worst in the absence of some kind of explanation.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:04 AM

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"The Ongoing Stupidification of America"

It may not be immediately obvious how this post pertains to basketball, so bear with me. Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts just wrote a column in which he decried what he calls "the ongoing stupidification of America." He is specifically referring to a comic book recently created by Brent Rinehart, the commissioner of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. The comic book is riddled with spelling errors and claims that Satan is trying to sabotage Rinehart's election campaign--but Pitts makes a larger point that is much more important than the shenanigans involved in a small, local political race:

"I am not talking about ignorance. Ignorance is a lack of information; we're all ignorant in one way or another. Nor am I talking about people who are prone to punctuation and spelling errors; we all make mistakes. No, I'm talking about stupidity, which I define as an inability to analyze, draw conclusions from or otherwise 'use' information even when one has it. And stupidity is often characterized by smug indifference. When a CNN anchor drew Rinehart's attention to his spelling errors, his reply was, 'I don't necessarily care.'"

Right after I read that sentence I started to draft this post, because I am quite familiar with the "smug indifference" of which Pitts speaks--that is a perfect description of the guy who I dealt with a while back who tried to cover a SlamBall conference call without tape recording it, got several pieces of information wrong and who responded to my polite corrections by creating an elaborate post to mock me, at one point scoffing that the conference call was "not an interview to save Darfur." In other words, this conference call was not important enough to him to bother to get his information straight or even to make corrections after the fact. "Smug indifference" and "stupidification"--two perfect descriptions of how he conducted himself. It is worth mentioning that after Jim McKay passed away one of the things that was most often said about him was that he made every interview subject of his feel important and he never mocked or disrespected any of the offbeat sports that he covered on "Wide World of Sports."

Pitts closes his column by referring to "Idiocracy," a movie about stupid people inheriting the Earth. Remember when the year 1984 ended and many people gloated that George Orwell's nightmare visions had not come to pass, ironically oblivious to the many ways that modern society in fact does contain many of the ills that Orwell described? I look at the traffic numbers of certain websites and the garbage that passes for "entertainment" in many different media (books, TV, movies and music) and it occurs to me that "Idiocracy" is not about some post-modern society but a pretty apt description of the world today.

The question is what will intelligent people do about this situation? The most important thing, to borrow from Jim Valvano's famous speech, is to never give up. Jeff Sack just took over management of the site that treated me so shabbily and literally within minutes after I called his attention to the offensive post he took it down. I am proud to recommend that basketball fans check out his work at two sites, SlamDunkCentral and LeBasketbawl. If enough intelligent people join forces we can transform "Idiocracy" into a cautionary tale instead of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:08 AM

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Carnival of the NBA #58 Hosted by Will Ferrell

Carnival of the NBA #58 is being hosted by Will Ferrell (aka J.E. Skeets of Yahoo).

I contributed Part I of my Exclusive Interview with ESPN's Fran Fraschilla.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:14 AM

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Defining Sasha Vujacic's Value

After giving serious consideration to following Josh Childress' lead and signing with a European basketball team, restricted free agent guard Sasha Vujacic signed a three year, $15 million deal to stay with the Lakers. Vujacic, who averaged 8.8 ppg in 2007-08 and ranked eighth in the NBA in three point field goal percentage (.437), made $1.76 million last season, so his dalliance with playing for a Russian team helped him to nearly triple his salary. From a purely objective standpoint, it could be argued that the Lakers overpaid Vujacic but that is the nature of the NBA's salary structure, a fact that economists and fans alike repeatedly fail to understand. Sure, the Lakers could have let Vujacic walk and kept their costs down by replacing him with a more affordable player. It is even possible, though perhaps not likely, that they could have acquired a player who has a similar skill set. However, Vujacic has been a Laker for three years now and has played in 32 playoff games. Thus, he has not only been tested under fire but he is very familiar with Coach Phil Jackson's system. Vujacic is comfortable playing with Kobe Bryant and the NBA's reigning MVP trusts Vujacic to make open shots.

Therefore, even if the Lakers could find a similarly skilled player at a slightly lower cost they would in fact be throwing away all the time and money that they previously invested to develop Vujacic into the player that he has become. The Lakers would, in effect, be saving a small amount of money to start that process all over again, with no guarantee that they could develop their new player to the point that Vujacic is already at, nor that they could retain this player's services even if he became as good in the Lakers' system as Vujacic already is (even if the theoretical new player is as skilled as Vujacic it would still take him time to learn to apply those skills in the confines of the Triangle Offense). Meanwhile, the Lakers are paying Bryant well in excess of $20 million a year, which means that the team's primary goal should be to win now.

When all of the relevant factors are correctly weighed, it makes much more sense to "overpay" Vujacic by a small amount than to "save" a few dollars and seriously weaken the team, a move that could rightly be described by the old cliche as "penny wise and pound foolish."

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:50 PM

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

So You Think You Can Be A GM? Here is the Game for You!

PASPN.net has launched what Ngozika Nwaneri describes as "off-season fantasy basketball, the first fantasy basketball game governed by the rules of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement." You can find the game at http://paspn.net/default.asp?p=90. Nwaneri explains, "Users can either take over the GM duties of an NBA team or create a Sport Agency based on the end of the 2007-08 regular season. The object of the game is to re-tool your team for the up and coming Fantasy basketball season and to find new homes for NBA free agents during the free agency period. In addition to traditional trading (which involves matching player salaries), GMs have to decide team options, create a draft list for the rookie NBA Draft, negotiate player buyouts, and work with agents to sign free agent players during the free agency period. Agents decide player options (like Baron Davis, or Gilbert Arenas for example) and look out for the best situation for their clients. The game is pretty involved as it captures all the elements and drama of an NBA off-season from both the GM and Sports Agent prospective which is why it starts in the summer time (now) unlike traditional fantasy basketball games. The game is unique because it crosses into the business of sports as it tests a user's business savvy both from an NBA GM's prospective as well as from an Agents prospective. We created the game because many NBA adult fans think they have what it takes to be an NBA GM, but in reality the task is very demanding." This is the perfect fantasy game for any fan who grumbles that he could run an NBA franchise better than the GM of his favorite team; ESPN.com's Bill Simmons often brags about how he could run an NBA team better some real GMs do, so it would be interesting to see him try his hand at this game.

Here are Nwaneri's replies (via email) to several questions about "PASPN.net Mock GM 2008":

1) What initially inspired you to create a game that incorporates the real-life financial aspects of running a team?

Having studied and operated an NBA fan site the last 12 years, I realized that nothing brought together an NBA community better than discussing the possibilities of player movement during the NBA Offseason. With so many opinions from fans about what a team should or shouldn't do, an environment needed to be created so that NBA fans could effectively answer the question: "What would I do if I were an NBA GM?"

2) How did you decide on the rules and parameters for how the game works?

In order to effectively answer the question, "What would I do if I were an NBA GM?", a user had to play by the same rules as an NBA GM which are enforced by the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). To make the game a bit less restrictive and more fun, some slight adjustments were made to the NBA salary cap in the game and some of the CBA rules policies regarding trades, but other than that, the basic rules of the game are the same as if a user were an NBA GM.

3) Have you applied the information that you used to develop the game to evaluate how effective real NBA GMs are? In other words, if real NBA GMs were playing this game how well would they do based on the decisions that they have made?

In developing the game, I realized that there are many different ways to evaluate the effectiveness of real NBA GMs. If you think about it every year only one GM can win the NBA Championship, but that doesn't mean the other 29 GM in the league weren't effective. Every year the question NBA GMs are faced with is how much will it cost my franchise to produce a winning product and will that winning product equate to a profit. The fundamental goals for every NBA GM is to produce a winning product without overspending. If a GM manages to win without overspending, one can say they were effective.

4) What kind of feedback have you received so far from players in terms of the game requiring them to understand the collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap, etc., as opposed to just picking the best fantasy players?

Players are thrilled about the rules of the game being governed by the collective bargaining agreement because it adds to the experience of playing fantasy basketball. There is a sense of ownership because of the commitment needed to understanding the rules and loopholes of the CBA and if a user does happen to produce a wining product, they can say they built their team just like a real NBA GM would have.

5) Do you have any plans to create similar games for other leagues, like the NFL or MLB?

The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement is one of the better governing rules models in professional sports as well as the most intriguing. The issue with creating a similar game for MLB is that there is no cap on player spending so as far as rules are concerned there really isn't any boundaries. The issue with the NFL is that contracts are not guaranteed and only skill set players are included in todays fantasy football model.

6) Have certain statistical systems proven to be more effective in creating a winning roster? For instance, Hollinger's PER, Berri's Wages of Wins, NBA EFF--do you know of any players who are basing their decisions on any of those metrics and, if so, which of those metrics have proven to work best in "real life" scenarios?

The Mock GM games uses a slight variation of the NBA's Efficiency rating in correlation to a players' salary as an effective way of measuring a teams potential for winning. Teams with a mixture of efficient players and superstar players tend to do better than teams with one or the other. Mock GM players look at the efficiency rating as a factor in determining what that player can provide them once the regular season starts.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:29 AM

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