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Friday, May 17, 2013

San Antonio Versus Memphis Preview

Western Conference Finals

#2 San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs. #5 Memphis (56-26)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Memphis can win if…the Grizzlies slow the game down, pound the ball inside, and keep the final scores no higher than the low 90s. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are arguably the best power forward/center duo in the league and they must be productive and efficient against San Antonio's Tim Duncan/Tiago Splitter tandem.

San Antonio will win because…the Spurs are comfortable playing at a fast or a slow tempo; the Spurs can match up with the Grizzlies in a grind it out game but they are too smart and well-coached to rely on this: San Antonio will push the pace and force the Grizzlies to defend all over the court, spreading Memphis' defense with corner three point shooters and attacking the paint with dribble penetration by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Other things to consider: The regular season head to head record is meaningless; three of the games took place before the Rudy Gay trade and the Spurs sat out two thirds of their "Big Three" (Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili) in the fourth game--though it is worth noting that the Grizzlies only won the latter contest 92-90 even though they were at full strength.

The 2011 first round series when Memphis defeated San Antonio in six games is also meaningless; O.J. Mayo, Sam Young and Shane Battier were key rotation players for the Grizzlies at that time, while Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and George Hill were key rotation players for the Spurs. It is hilarious to hear "analysis" of this series that focuses on some version of "Memphis beat San Antonio without Rudy Gay in 2011 so the Grizzlies won't miss him versus San Antonio in 2013." Both teams have significantly different rotations now, so this series should be evaluated based on the skill sets of the current players and the likely matchups/mismatches.

The Grizzlies enjoyed a favorable path to the Western Conference Finals, beating the overrated L.A. Clippers and then taking advantage of the Russell Westbrook injury to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs essentially had a first round bye against the sleepwalking, Kobe Bryant-less L.A. Lakers but then they faced a surprisingly tough Golden State squad; San Antonio beat Golden State in a high scoring game one (129-127 in double overtime) and then San Antonio closed out the series in a low scoring game six (94-82)--and that is the key factor in this series: the Spurs can play small/fast and they can play big/slow but the Grizzlies can only be effective with a big/slow lineup.

If Parker and Ginobili attack the paint and set up the Spurs' three point shooters then it will be difficult for the Grizzlies to score enough points even if Randolph and Gasol win the battle versus Duncan and Splitter--and it is not at all certain that Randolph and Gasol will significantly outplay their San Antonio counterparts. Memphis will struggle to score more than 90 points per game in this series. The Grizzlies averaged 93.6 ppg versus the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals and the only time they topped 100 points they needed an overtime session to do it. The Spurs will score more points against the Grizzlies than the Thunder scored and the Spurs are better equipped to match up with the Grizzlies defensively.

Could Memphis win the series? Sure; if the final scores are something like 80-75 and if Randolph/Gasol put up 25-12 and 18-10 respectively while the Grizzlies contain Parker/Ginobili without losing control of San Antonio's three point shooters then Memphis can beat San Antonio--but I expect final scores in the 95-90 range or above and I just don't see Memphis scoring 95 points four times in this series.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:10 PM

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Requiem for a Contender: Westbrook Injury Sealed Thunder's Fate

In the wake of the Memphis Grizzlies' victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals, many theories and explanations have been offered for--depending on how you look at it--why Memphis won/why Oklahoma City lost. It has been suggested that Oklahoma City made a mistake choosing to keep Serge Ibaka while trading James Harden for Kevin Martin. The Thunder had a .712 winning percentage in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, finishing with the second best record in the Western Conference (47-19); in the 2012-13 season, the Thunder had a .732 winning percentage, finishing with the best record in the Western Conference (60-22). The Thunder did not miss a beat without Harden and, in fact, proved to be a better team without him over the course of the grueling 82 game NBA season. Ibaka has led the NBA in blocked shots per game the past two seasons and in total blocked shots the past three seasons. He finished second in the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year voting and third in the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year voting. Ibaka is a very valuable player but he should not be expected to replace Harden's scoring; that is Kevin Martin's job and Martin filled that role very well, averaging 14.0 ppg on .450 field goal shooting in 2012-13.

The Thunder took a 2-0 lead over Harden's Houston Rockets in the first round but Russell Westbrook--one of the top five players in the NBA--suffered what proved to be a season-ending knee injury in the first half of game two, though he limped his way through the second half of that contest. Without Westbrook, the Thunder struggled to finish off the Rockets--going 2-2 the rest of the series--and then lost 4-1 to the Grizzlies; that adds up to a 3-6 record sans Westbrook in 2012-13 after going 62-22 with him. It should be obvious that the Thunder's problem is not the Harden trade but rather the Westbrook injury. Harden performed markedly worse in the playoffs than the regular season in both 2012 and 2013, so the idea that he could have filled Westbrook's role in the 2013 playoffs is speculation not supported by facts--and if the Thunder had elected to keep Harden then, for financial reasons, they likely would have been without the services of Ibaka, one of the league's top defensive players. Under those circumstances, the Thunder would have been worse off than they are now; without Ibaka they would not have posted the West's best record and they would have been even less equipped to deal with Westbrook's freak injury.

Westbrook has been one of the NBA's most durable players. He will return to action fully healthy next season and the Thunder will most likely once again be the best team in the Western Conference. Barring a major move, Harden's Rockets will again struggle to make the playoffs before losing in the first round.

From the Memphis perspective, it has become popular to suggest that the Grizzlies have benefited from the Rudy Gay trade but that assertion is a major exercise in denial. Gay is an 18 ppg scorer who is also one of the top rebounders at the small forward position; the Grizzlies traded him for Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis. Daye and Davis rarely play at all, while Prince--who has taken over Gay's starting role for Memphis--averaged 8.8 ppg while shooting .429 from the field during 37 regular season season games wtih the Grizzlies and he has been even less productive during the playoffs: 7.5 ppg, .354 field goal shooting. Yes, Prince is a better defender than Gay but you would have to believe that Prince is by far the best wing defender in the league in order to suggest that he is not having an overall negative impact in light of his total lack of offensive production. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have dominated in the paint but replacing Gay with Prince has made their job tougher, because opposing teams can leave Prince to trap in the paint--something that opponents would be reluctant to do with Gay on the floor. The Grizzlies beat the overrated L.A. Clippers in the first round and then had to work very hard to defeat the Westbrook-less Thunder in the second round; the Thunder won the first game of the series before the Grizzlies took the next four games, but the Grizzlies achieved three of their victories by just six points each (including one overtime contest) and they won the other game by four points. The offensively challenged Grizzlies averaged 93.6 ppg versus the Thunder but, without Westbrook, the Thunder only averaged 89.6 ppg versus the Grizzlies after ranking third in the league with a 105.7 ppg scoring average during the regular season. In the game five series clincher versus Oklahoma City, Memphis scored 88 points on .370 field goal shooting; Prince contributed eight points on 3-13 field goal shooting and he had a plus/minus number of -21, which is hard to do when you play 31 minutes in a game that your team won by four points! Yet Bill Simmons is gloating that he was right to support trading Gay.

The reality is that if Russell Westbrook had been healthy then the Thunder would have defeated the Grizzlies; he would have changed the result of most if not all of the games that the Grizzlies barely won. The Grizzlies would not have been able to survive while posting low scoring totals with poor shooting percentages--and those scoring totals/shooting percentages would likely have been even worse if Westbrook had been on the court, because the Thunder not only missed Westbrook's scoring and playmaking but also his defense: Westbrook would have slowed down Memphis point guard Mike Conley. This series debunked the theory that Westbrook shoots too much and that he negatively impacts Kevin Durant's game; it should be obvious that without Westbrook on the court it is much more difficult for Durant to post his typically efficient numbers. A good analogy for this is how Kobe Bryant improves the Lakers' overall offensive efficiency even though his field goal percentage is usually "only" in the .450 range. What "stat gurus" fail to understand is that Bryant and Westbrook distort opposing defenses to such an extent that they create many scoring opportunities for their teammates; shot creation is something that the "stat gurus" are not able to quantify, so they don't believe that it matters or even exists (which also may partly explain why the Grizzlies traded Gay).

The best thing that can be said about the Gay trade is that even though it left the Grizzlies offensively challenged it did not damage their team more than the absence of Westbrook hindered the Thunder. It will be interesting to hear what Simmons says when the Grizzlies struggle to score 40 points in a half in the Western Conference Finals--and they are trailing instead of leading because in that round they will be playing a full strength contender.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:49 PM

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

All-Defensive Team Questions Answered...Partially

In my article about the All-Defensive Team voting I noted that the NBA's official press release only lists 149 First Team votes (instead of 150) and that Memphis center Marc Gasol made the Second Team even though Milwaukee center Larry Sanders received more total points that Gasol. I sent an inquiry to the NBA office about these two discrepancies and I have been informed by the league that the missing First Team vote belongs to Kawhi Leonard, who was correctly listed in the press release with two points even though his First Team vote was not indicated in parentheses (a First Team vote is worth two points, while a Second Team vote is worth one point).

I have also been informed that "the coaches' point total for Sanders was for the forward position." The NBA did not provide an explanation for why Sanders was considered a forward in the All-Defensive Team voting. The Milwaukee Bucks' roster at their official NBA.com website designates Sanders as a center. Sanders is also listed as a center at ESPN.com and every other website/publication that I have seen.

EDIT: After originally posting this article, I reread the NBA's All-Defensive Team press release and noticed that Leonard's First Team vote actually is listed in parentheses but in the next row of the notes after his point total so that my eyes somehow scanned over it when I initially added up all of the First Team votes. So, all 150 First Team votes were actually noted in the press release from the start--but the positional designations are still odd and that is a much larger concern. Since the NBA considered Sanders a forward, the First Team voting totals are as follows:

Forwards (61):

LeBron James 25
Serge Ibaka 17
Paul George 7
Larry Sanders 4
Tim Duncan 3
Luol Deng 1
Kenneth Faried 1
Nic Batum 1
Metta World Peace 1
Kawhi Leonard 1

Centers (27)

Tyson Chandler 9
Joakim Noah 8
Marc Gasol 5
Dwight Howard 3
Roy Hibbert 2

Guards (62)

Tony Allen 25
Chris Paul 15
Avery Bradley 10
Mike Conley 4
Andre Iguodala 2
Thabo Sefolosha 2
Kobe Bryant 1
Russell Westbrook 1
Mike James 1
Tony Parker 1

If Sanders were correctly listed as a center and if the vote for Mike James at guard was actually a clerical error by someone who meant to choose LeBron James at forward then the First Team votes would make more sense positionally, but even in that scenario the totals would be 58, 31 and 61 instead of 60, 30, 60 as they should be.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:49 PM

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Tony Allen Leads All-Defensive Team Voting, Larry Sanders Snubbed for Center Spot Despite Receiving More Votes than Marc Gasol

Tony Allen and LeBron James each received 25 First Team votes for the All-Defensive Team; the NBA's 30 head coaches select the All-Defensive First and Second Teams by position and are not allowed to vote for their own players. A First Team vote is worth two points, while a Second Team vote is worth one point. Allen received three Second Team votes, meaning that only one coach did not select Allen (since Allen's Coach Lionel Hollins is not permitted to choose Allen). Allen's 53 points pace this year's All-Defensive Team. James received one Second Team vote and thus finished with 52 points. James also finished second (to Marc Gasol) in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, which is conducted among media members; Allen finished fifth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Serge Ibaka is the other All-Defensive First Team forward (17 First Team votes, 12 Second Team votes), while Chris Paul (15 First Team votes, seven Second Team votes) completes the First Team backcourt. Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah each earned 24 points, so they split the First Team center spot; Chandler received nine First Team votes and six Second Team votes, while Noah received eight First Team votes and eight Second Team votes.

The All-Defensive Second Team consists of forwards Tim Duncan and Paul George, center Marc Gasol and guards Avery Bradley and Mike Conley.

The NBA's official press release states that Larry Sanders finished with 16 points (including four First Team votes); it is not clear why he is not listed as the Second Team center over Marc Gasol, who earned 12 points (five First Team votes, two Second Team votes). Sanders is designated as a center at the Milwaukee Bucks' official website and at every other website/publication that I have seen.

Another irregularity in the press release is that only 149 of the 150 First Team votes are noted; the listed point totals correctly add up to 450 (30 coaches multiplied by five positions multiplied by two points for each First Team vote and one point for each Second Team vote), so apparently whoever put the press release together neglected to account for one of the First Team votes by listing it in parentheses next to the name of the player who received that vote. Also, although the voting is supposed to be done by position, the listed First Team votes do not add up properly. Forwards received 56 First Team votes (LeBron James 25, Serge Ibaka 17, Paul George seven, Tim Duncan three, Luol Deng one, Kenneth Faried one, Nic Batum one, Metta World Peace one) instead of 60. Since Sanders received four First Team votes it really looks like the coaches and the NBA wrongly classified Sanders as a forward. Guards received 60 First Team votes. Centers Chandler (nine), Noah (eight), Gasol (five), Dwight Howard (three) and Roy Hibbert (two) received 27 First Team votes. Those numbers--56 votes for forwards, 60 votes for guards, 27 votes for centers, four votes for Sanders--add up to 147, with the one uncounted vote pushing the total to 148.

The other two First Team votes belong to Andre Iguodala; it is not clear how the voters and/or the NBA categorized Iguodala but regardless of whether one correctly lists Iguodala as a guard (Danilo Gallinari is Denver's starting small forward) or whether one lists Iguodala as a forward (he can play that position, though he mainly played guard this season) the positional numbers still do not add up to 60, 60, 30 (i.e., two First Team forwards, two First Team guards and one First Team center on each ballot) the way that they should. Perhaps these concerns seem trivial but--unless Sanders has suddenly changed positions or unless the listed vote totals are wrong--the NBA should issue a correction and award Sanders All-Defensive Second Team status over Gasol.

As usual, my All-Defensive Team selections closely mirrored the coaches' choices. The coaches agreed with three of my First Team picks (Allen, Ibaka, James) and six of my 10 choices overall--seven if in fact Sanders actually was voted as the Second Team center even though the press release does not list him as such. I left Avery Bradley and Joakim Noah off of my team because they missed 32 and 16 games respectively; I don't see how Bradley is a valid choice after missing nearly half of the season. I chose Thabo Sefolosha (who finished just four points behind Conley) and Roy Hibbert instead of Bradley and Noah.

I don't understand why the coaches picked Chandler over Hibbert. Chandler made the All-Defensive Second Team last season but this season his individual numbers are slightly worse (6.5 defensive rebounds per game in 2012 plus 1.4 bpg; 6.6 defensive rebounds per game in 2013 plus 1.1 bpg) and the New York Knicks' team defense is worse: the Knicks ranked 10th in defensive field goal percentage in 2012 but dropped to 19th this season and they dropped from 18th to 25th in defensive rebounding, though they did improve slightly (from 11th to seventh) in points allowed. Hibbert and Gasol clearly had more impact defensively both in terms of their individual statistics and in terms of their teams' defensive statistics.

Previous Articles About All-Defensive Team Voting

Interesting Contrasts Between All-Defensive Team Voting and Defensive Player of the Year Voting (2012)

Bryant and Garnett Each Earn All-Defensive First Team Honors for the Ninth Time (2011)

Analyzing the Votes for the All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA Team (2010)

Howard, Bryant Lead All-Defensive Team Voting (2009)

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:43 PM

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The Difference Between Being the Third Option and Being the First Option

The San Antonio-Golden State series has been very entertaining and has provided some great drama, including two overtime games. Each team has won once at home and once on the road, resulting in a 2-2 tie and a best of three denouement with the Spurs regaining homecourt advantage. Many storylines have emerged: Stephen Curry has played at an All-NBA level, Tim Duncan seems to have turned back the hands of time and Andrew Bogut (who only played in 32 of 82 regular season games) has played in all 10 of Golden State's playoff games, grabbing at least 11 rebounds in each of the Warriors' last five contests.

Perhaps the most intriguing storyline, though, concerns Manu Ginobili. Ginobili only participated in 60 regular season games this season and he is, at best, the Spurs' third offensive option. When Manu Ginobili scores 14 points in a half--as he did during the San Antonio's 97-87 overtime loss to Golden State on Sunday--he is a hero and a spark plug; when he is not making his shots the Spurs look elsewhere for scoring punch. As an injury prone third option, Ginobili is not expected to put up big scoring totals on a nightly basis; he can be the hero--like when he hit the game-winning shot in the series opener--but, no matter how poorly he plays, he will not be the goat unless he makes a serious mental error during a crucial possession down the stretch: in contrast, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are expected to be highly productive every game and a team's first option (Parker and Duncan are options 1A and 1B for the Spurs) cannot have an off half, much less an off game. The first option is the focal point of his team's offense and the main concern for the opposing team's defense.

During his prime, Ginobili could have been the first option scorer for many teams--but not for a legit championship contender; the Spurs prefer to split the scoring load almost equally among their top three players but even when Ginobili led the team in scoring average (barely) in 2007-08 he attempted fewer shots and had a much lower field goal percentage than both Duncan and Parker. Ginobili could have left the Spurs to chase after more money, a full-time starting position, more field goal attempts and a higher scoring average but he chose to stay with the Spurs.

James Harden made a different choice last offseason, opting for more money and--he presumes--more glory; he refused to accept less than a max deal from the Oklahoma City Thunder, thus forcing the Thunder to trade him to Houston, where Harden discovered--especially in the playoffs--that there is a big difference between scoring 15-16 points against reserve players and/or tired starters and scoring well over 20 points game after game when the opposing team's defense is designed to stop you. Harden's scoring average soared in Houston but his efficiency plummeted, his arrival in Houston had little effect in the standings and he laid enough bricks in Houston's first round loss to build a new arena.

Ginobili has won three NBA championships so far and he has earned two All-Star selections, two All-NBA selections and the 2008 Sixth Man Award; combined with his stellar FIBA career, those honors and accomplishments may be enough for Ginobili to be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Harden won the Sixth Man Award in 2012 and if he had stayed in Oklahoma City he likely would have earned at least one All-Star nod. Even if he and the Thunder would not have beaten Miami this season or next season, time would have been on their side; the young Thunder would have peaked just as the Heat's core players entered their 30s and started to decline.

Is getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs every year as "The Man" better than being the third option on a perennial championship contender? Ginobili has no reason to regret his answer to that question; five years from now it will be interesting to reevaluate Harden's answer.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:48 AM

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Commentators Lose the Thread When Analyzing the Memphis-Oklahoma City Series

Bill Simmons thinks that the Memphis-Oklahoma City series validates the Rudy Gay trade and Jon Barry thinks that P.J. Carlesimo deserves credit for Kevin Durant's ballhanding skills because Carlesimo played Durant at shooting guard during Durant's rookie season. Paraphrasing Casey Stengel, "Can't anybody here analyze this game?"

The Memphis Grizzlies finished fifth in the Western Conference, defeated an overrated/flawed L.A. Clippers team in the first round and currently hold a 2-1 lead over the number one seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals--but the Grizzlies are poised to advance to the Western Conference Finals not because they traded their leading scorer for spare parts but because one of the top five players in the NBA suffered a season-ending knee injury. The most valuable player for the Grizzlies so far has been Houston's Patrick Beverley, the rookie guard who clipped Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook and shredded Westbrook's knee. Westbrook played in all 82 games and ranked sixth in the league in scoring, seventh in the league in assists and ninth in the league in steals as the Thunder went 60-22 in the regular season. Oklahoma City ranked third in the NBA in scoring (105.7 ppg) and second in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage (.425). The Thunder routed Houston 120-91 in the first game of the playoffs and they beat Houston 105-102 in the second game, with a hobbled Westbrook playing in the second half despite suffering the knee injury that would end his season. Since Westbrook exited the lineup, the Thunder have posted a 3-4 record, splitting four games with the eighth seeded Rockets before falling behind 2-1 to the Grizzlies; the Thunder averaged 96.7 ppg in those seven games. The Thunder miss Westbrook's scoring, playmaking, defense and energy. Kevin Durant is putting up monster numbers sans Westbrook but the team is playing worse overall--and Durant is showing signs of wearing down: in Oklahoma City's 87-81 loss on Sunday, Durant shot just 3-11 from the field in the second half, he only scored two fourth quarter points and he missed two free throws when the Thunder trailed 85-81 with :39 remaining. Perhaps next season we will hear less about Westbrook supposedly shooting too often; it should be obvious that the Thunder need Westbrook to create scoring opportunities for himself and for his teammates. Meanwhile, as Durant runs himself ragged just to keep the games close, Memphis point guard Mike Conley is wearing out Oklahoma City's point guards--something that would not have happened if Conley had to check Westbrook at one end of the court and then deal with Westbrook checking him at the other end of the court.

Westbrook's injury is the number one story of this series. Secondary stories include whatever astronomical numbers Durant ends up with in defeat and the effectiveness of Memphis' Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph duo. What about the Gay trade? Fortunately for Memphis, the absence of Westbrook is so important that it negates the fact that the Grizzlies are getting almost no production in this series from the players who they acquired in that deal: starting small forward Tayshaun Prince (who has taken Gay's spot in the rotation) is averaging 5.0 ppg on .292 field goal shooting and he is getting torched by Durant, Austin Daye has scored three points in 4:52 and Ed Davis has scored two points in 3:08--but, despite these facts, Bill Simmons tells a national television audience that he has to restrain himself from taking a "victory lap" around the ESPN set for supposedly being vindicated about the Gay trade. Simmons apparently thinks that ESPN viewers are stupid enough to believe that trading a 26 year old 18.2 ppg scorer who can create his own shot for a 33 year old player averaging 5.0 ppg and two young guys who are not even in the rotation qualifies as some kind of brilliant move. I hope and expect that the readers of this article are not that dumb. Maybe the Grizzlies will find good use for the money that they saved by getting rid of Gay's contract, maybe Davis and/or Daye will develop into rotation players--but does anyone in his right mind believe that if Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins were given a lie detector test he would say that this trade improved Memphis' chances to win a championship this season? Simmons loves the "stat gurus" and the "stat gurus" hate Gay's game but trying to pretend that the Grizzlies are beating the Thunder because of this bad trade hardly lends credence to the "stat guru" point of view; it just shows that "stat gurus" can be every bit as biased/tendentious as anyone else who is blindly loyal to a particular point of view regardless of contradictory facts.

The Gay trade did not make basketball sense and even if the Westbrook injury lets the Grizzlies off the hook in this round--which it probably will--the Grizzlies will miss Gay in the next round. The Grizziles ranked 27th in the league in scoring (93.4 ppg) and 21st in field goal percentage (.444)--and they are struggling to match those numbers against the Thunder but the Thunder are so offensively challenged sans Westbrook that the Grizzlies are able to keep the upper hand.

Not only is Simmons wrong about the Gay trade--something that will become even more clear next round and in the years to come--but he was also wrong about the deal that actually turned the Grizzlies into a contender; when the Grizzlies wisely traded Pau Gasol to the L.A. Lakers for Marc Gasol, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and two first round draft picks, Simmons scoffed, "How was the Gasol trade legal? If I kill my mailman and no one ever finds out, does that make it legal? Jerry West's old team (Memphis) gift-wrapped its best player for the team that once employed West for 40 years, taking back a pupu platter (Kwame Brown, a third-string guard and two crappy picks)." Even if all the Grizzlies had received was Marc Gasol, the deal still would have been good--Marc Gasol is an All-Star and he won the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award--but one of those first round picks became Greivis Vasquez, who the Grizzlies traded for Quincy Pondexter; Pondexter is averaging 9.0 ppg versus the Thunder while leading Memphis in three point field goals made, which means that he literally is almost twice as productive as anyone who the Grizzlies received in the Gay trade! The larger point is that the Grizzlies figured out that a Pau Gasol-led team would never win a championship, so they started over and put together a deep, flexible roster; shedding Pau Gasol's contract provided the necessary financial flexibility to acquire Zach Randolph and make other moves as well. I was one of the few commentators who did not blast Memphis for trading Pau Gasol; I wrote, "Obviously, the Grizzlies have hit the reset button and are rebuilding from the ground up. To do that in the NBA, you need draft picks, salary cap room and young players. This deal provides all of those things to the Grizzlies. That does not mean that it will work, though; there are too many uncertainties: to name just a few, (1) has Brown peaked or can he still improve, (2) how good will Crittenton become, (3) how good will Marc Gasol be when he comes to the NBA, (4) who will Memphis choose with the newly acquired draft picks? All that can be said at the moment is that this is the right kind of move for Memphis to make, because there was no future for the team the way it was composed prior to this deal. In an odd way, there is a slight similarity between what Memphis is doing now and what the Lakers did with Shaq several years ago; the Grizzlies are getting rid of their best player and taking a short term step backwards with the hope of being better off long term, while the Lakers are shedding some youth in order to make a championship run now." I did not know if Memphis' plan would work--no one has that kind of crystal ball--but I knew that Memphis had made the best possible choice after realizing that Pau Gasol is not a franchise player. The critical difference between the Gasol trade and the Gay trade is that the former broke up a non-contending team with the long term plan of building a contender while the latter weakened the roster of a team that could realistically contend for the Western Conference crown right now.

"Stat gurus" love Pau Gasol's game and they hate Rudy Gay's game, so Simmons will mock the Pau Gasol trade until the end of time and he will tout the brilliance of the Gay trade even when Memphis is struggling to score 80-85 points next round versus San Antonio (I realize that I worked a few assumptions into that sentence but if the Grizzlies eliminate the Thunder then they will struggle to score against whoever they face in the Western Conference Finals). Real science is based on stating a testable hypothesis and then experimentally testing that hypothesis. We have seen Pau Gasol-led Memphis teams go 0-12 in the playoffs. We have seen Pau Gasol be a solid second option on two Laker championship teams. We have seen Marc Gasol become a better, more physical player than his younger brother. We have seen Memphis become a better team than the Lakers in no small part because of the Gasol-Gasol trade. We have seen Memphis get virtually no production from the small forward position since the Gay trade and yet survive so far in the playoffs due to favorable matchups (overrated Clippers in the first round, injury-depleted Thunder in the second round). Any scientifically-inclined "stat guru" or "stat guru" acolyte should concede that Pau Gasol is not as valuable as the "stat gurus" thought he was in 2008 and that--at the very least--it is too soon to say that Memphis benefited from trading Gay; only if the Grizzlies can win a playoff series against a full strength championship contender can it be said that the Gay trade worked (and if that happens--without extenuating circumstances such as injuries or suspensions--then I will revise my hypothesis, because I actually adhere to scientific reasoning, unlike the "stat gurus" who are blindly married to their personal biases).

Barry's comment is ridiculous, too. Kevin Durant's game blossomed right after the Thunder fired Carlesimo and replaced him with Scott Brooks; the first thing that Brooks did is move Durant back to his comfort zone at small forward. Yes, Durant is now a multifaceted veteran who can operate from all over the court but the last thing that Durant needed as a rookie and as a second year player was to learn a new position when he was just trying to become adjusted to playing in the NBA. Brooks, a former player, understood that even though Carlesimo did not; I had good reason to predict prior to the 2013 playoffs that Carlesimo would be outcoached by Tom Thibodeau and that Carlesimo's Nets would lose most of the close games in their series versus the Bulls (the Bulls went 4-1 in games decided by eight points or less and the Nets fired Carlesimo after the injury-depleted Bulls won the seventh game in Brooklyn).

Most former players--including Jon's brother Brent--provide interesting insights based on their experiences in the league but this is not the first time that Jon has said something that made no sense: last year he ranked Paul Millsap and Ryan Anderson as top five power forwards and a few years ago he teamed up with Mike Wilbon to declare that the Lakers are better off when Kobe Bryant shoots less frequently. There are many refutations of that nonsensical assertion, including footage from the Lakers' 4-0 loss to the Spurs in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Bryant did not shoot at all during that series--he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury after carrying the Lakers into the playoffs--and the Lakers endured their worst playoff defeat in franchise history.

One of the best things about the competitive chess world is that, as former U.S. Champion Stuart Rachels put it, "...there is no issue about determining who the experts are. In chess, the experts are the ones who win. In other artistic areas, experts are harder to discern, and so claims about perception and beauty are harder to verify." Sadly, this is not the case in the writing business or the television business; anyone who knows the "right" people can get hired and be presented to the world as an "expert," even if what he writes/says makes no sense. Dr. Emanuel Lasker, the World Chess Champion from 1894-1921, stated this truth even more directly: "On the chess board lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite."

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:16 AM

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