The Phil Jackson Coaching Tree

June 14th 2009, With the result no longer in doubt, the end of game buzzer sounding in Orlando signaled to the Los Angeles Lakers players and coaches that their championship celebration was no longer confined to the visitor’s bench area. The official Championship hats and tee-shirts were passed out for everyone to wear. Phil Jackson donned his own custom hat that displayed the Roman Numeral for 10. 10 was the number of championship teams he coached, one more than Red Auerbach and more than any other NBA coach had ever achieved. It’s safe to say that Phil knew what he had accomplished with winning.

Even when you are the winningest coach of all time, now at 11 championships, it’s hard to see Phil’s contributions to the game. It’s probably hard for Phil to seem them too, and someone so aware probably wonders why his dominant success has done so little to shape a league he is just one season removed from. You would think that a coach who accomplished as much as Phil would have at least given birth to some lasting philosophical threads of wisdom that permeated throughout the league. Yet, there’s no lineage of former assistant coaches who are carrying on the principals of the Zen Master with new organizations and there never has been a big craze to run the triangle offense even as he was busy coaching teams that dominated the league. The only visible evidence of Phil’s famous Zen principals come from his former pupil Kobe Bryant, who calls himself the baby Zen Master.

While it’s true that none of Jackson’s contemporary coaching rivals can ever say they beat Phil and his 11 titles, they all have grown basketball coaching and basketball knowledge in ways Phil never did. Some of his greatest rivals: Pat Riley, Greg Popovich, Jerry Sloan, and George Karl have had their coaching legacies and principals live on through others, and we will likely see them long after they are all gone.

If Greg Popovich, for example, were to retire today, his coaching lineage would carry on at least through the careers of Avery Johnson, Monty Williams, Jacque Vaughn, and Doc Rivers. Pop’s legacy will likely continue even further if any of those head coaches have proteges.

–Pat Riley has proteges Eric Spoelstra and the Van Gundy’s

–George Karl has proteges Dwane Casey, Nate McMillan, Mike Dunlap and however far his North Carolina tentacles reach.

–Jerry Sloan has protege Tyrone Corbin and the pick and roll offense he relied on in Utah remains an NBA staple.

This is what Phil’s coaching tree looks like:

The “biography” of each coach shows where and when they served as an assistant to Phil, and what their current involvement is within the league.

As you can see, Brian Shaw and Bill Cartwright are the only remaining branches of Phil’s tree still in the league and both are assistants. It would take me hours to figure out the total number of currently employed NBA assistant coaches that can be traced back to Popovich, Riley, and Karl alone. Not only that, but no team cites his defensive or offensive principles. Other than the record books and Zen jargon, there’s barely a trace of Phil Jackson in the NBA.

Don’t think Phil doesn’t know this. He’s well aware that any of the praise that he gets showered with is lip-service to the titles and not the strategy. That’s why it was a big deal that the Lakers passed on Brian Shaw in 2011. It’s why Jerry Buss purging the organization of all things Phil was less subtle a slight than any Kobe Bryant “death-stare.”

Phil was lucky enough to coach the prime years of four of the 20 best basketball players ever Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. This, more than anything is how he won even a single title. That’s not intended to be an indictment, even if it sounds like one because even Greg Popovich will tell you that he couldn’t have won a single championship without Duncan. A coach needs great players to win even one championship. The criticism stings Jackson, though, because of his inability to grow the NBA’s tree of knowledge. I can’t think of a single great coach in any sport who left the game so devoid of followers to continue his teachings. Maybe Larry Brown, who hung on way too long, but Phil last hoisted a championship trophy in 2010. It’s not like he was that far removed from a successful climb to the top of the metaphorical NBA  mountain. It seems unprecedented. It seems like the kind of thing that would bother a guy who wears a custom made championship hat to signify how much he had accomplished.

Phil will even tell you himself that his style of coaching is most effective at getting stars and out of whack egos to buy into the role Phil assigns within a team. That means, an established pecking order that is both explicit and determined by Phil. He wrote a whole book called “Sacred Hoops” about his philosophy of motivation that achieves this. Getting players to commit to roles is nothing groundbreaking, but Phil believed strongly in a complete commitment by his players to fulfill their assigned job, psychologically tweaking anything out of balance. His detractors might say that it gives credence to the notion that Phil was a glorified motivational speaker for athletes, “for athletes” because Phil isn’t known for giving seminars to Fortune 500 companies when he’s not coaching; he’s known for going to Montana and doing peyote.

Phil’s success was a product of opportunity, namely getting to coach Michael Jordan at the exact right moment, but opportunity is a hindsight explanation. There are plenty of opportunities squandered. Since Michael Jordan hadn’t even collected one NBA championship before Phil Jackson became the Chicago Bulls coach, Phil deserves credit for getting Michael Jordan to buy in. I’m sure he’ll tell you it was the Zen principles. Whatever the case, Jordan committed to Phil’s philosophy and he actively assisted Phil to help keep his teammates in line with what Phil wanted. It may sound like a platitude, but there is truth to the notion that it’s easier to get the rest of the team to fall in line once the best player on a team buys in to the coach. With the most talented roster in the league committed to Phil’s coaching, the Bulls went on to win titles. By the time he got to LA, Phil had championship clout x6. Selling a philosophy couched in Phil’s Zen terminology becomes easier when players know it works. Players’ egos are checked, and the hierarchy of roles is rebuilt.

The only one who never had to have his ego checked was Phil. The championships he earned fueled his reputation of being a savant at managing egos, but he never learned to mind his own especially outside the realm of the locker room. The best example of this was Phil’s book The Last Season that he wrote after a loaded 2004 Laker team imploded so catastrophically that the Shaq and Kobe duo was broken. Phil couldn’t help himself but write how his inability to bring the stars of that 2004 team together was the result of some fatalistic flaw in the players and not him. He blamed Kobe for everything, right down to Shaq’s apathy about giving his best effort. Phil called him “un-coachable” because Kobe had refused to buy into the hierarchy.

When Jackson rejoined the Lakers in 2005, his former player Shaquille O’Neal commented that Phil should have went to the Sacramento Kings because their roster was better suited for running the triangle. It was a slight dig at Jackson as a tactician, but probably was made from a place of bitterness since Jackson had reconciled with Kobe. Phil came back to be the hero, to right a Laker team that missed the playoffs for just the second time in 29 years and to prove his philosophy could salvage the reputation of superstar Kobe Bryant. The team was able to be average despite a terrible roster because Kobe Bryant was at the peak of his ability, that sweet spot where scoring ability and veteran knowhow become elite before there is any decline in athleticism. Jackson had gotten the best out of his star, Kobe.

Phil was probably the only coach who could have gotten that out of Kobe at that point. It was the least Jackson could do after writing what he did about Kobe. Kobe was still a Laker and Shaq wasn’t, so naturally anything negative about Bryant would perpetuate the public’s belief that he was completely to blame for both Shaq’s departure and whatever potential titles were squandered.

Phil was allowed to be the hero, again even though the Lakers were not talented enough to do more than qualify for the playoffs. Did he have success? Sure, but anything that improves upon rock bottom is a success. Still, Phil letting Kobe have the reigns to the offense wasn’t exactly a brilliant coaching decision that only he would have made. Further, it was Mitch Kupchak, not Phil, who landed the piece that allowed the Lakers to contend for titles again when he acquired Pau Gasol.

After Phil was able to squeeze two more titles out of a Laker-team that was the most talented in the league, his players stopped listening again. Andrew Bynum started to believe he was better than Pau and everything was thrown out of whack again. All it takes is one cog to not buy in for Phil to focus all his energy on restoring order. The Lakers never re-calibrated, and, eventually, Pau Gasol stopped responding to Jackson’s motivational jabs labeling him “soft,” and Andrew Bynum stopped listening too. Jackson left the team on a sour note. Jackson probably could have played his old card that players didn’t respond because they were un-coachable, but I’m not sure how publicly labeling someone like Pau as un-coachable would have played.

Poor health probably didn’t help things, but the Lakers probably felt that if Jackson had truly built a culture that leaned upon more than the psychological prodding, his protege, Brian Shaw, should have been able to pick up the slack. I could understand if they were sick of the amount of personal control Jackson required to make this work. That’s why Shaw and all other Jacksonites were expunged from the organization. Jim Buss was ready to remove the organization from the cult of Phil.

That’s all fine and good, except that the team’s best player, Kobe, never stopped believing. He was mad that Brian Shaw never was given a real shot at auditioning for the job. Mad that Phil’s last team flamed out like it did. While the organization behaved like it never felt like it owed Phil anything, I’m sure they would have given Shaw a longer look if they knew how committed their star player was to his old coach. Maybe that’s why Bryant pushed so hard for the Princeton offense in July–because of how similar it was to the triangle. As successful as Bryant has been, he’s never done it without Phil, and I’m sure finding out if he can win without the Zen Master isn’t important to him since Michael never won without Phil either.

Even as concerns about the new Princeton offense became noticeable during a winless preseason, the Lakers knew they had options. To quote Magic Johnson, “The Princeton offense should be fine, and if it’s not, trust me, Kobe will say, ‘Hey let’s go back to the triangle,’ if it’s not working.” I don’t know what Magic meant by going back to the triangle, I can only guess.

On November 9th Mike Brown was fired. The Lakers publicly cited that the Princeton Offense was the problem. During the press conference, where Mitch Kupchak had to explain to the media why this happened five games into an 82 game season, a reporter asked about Phil Jackson. That Phil Jackson was brought up by the LA media was not what stood out, the interesting thing was that Kupchak sounded open to the idea. The next thing reported out of Lakerland was that Phil would interview.

What happened next is what’s unclear, but knowing Phil’s greatest insecurity is what helps it make sense. As it was reported, Phil asked for a lot because he thought he had that kind of leverage. He wanted an ownership stake and a say in roster. The reasoning, I believe, was about legacy. Phil wanted to put in place an organizational infrastructure that was based on his philosophy–a sustainable way to succeed as an organization. So, he asked for control, and at some point the Laker-brass probably decided that they didn’t want Phil to have say over anything beyond the locker room. If I were to guess, Phil probably stressed that his own success was dependent on complete control of the roster, that this was the only way to get players to check their egos for him because the championship rings weren’t enough the last go around. That’s only a guess, though. Tthe only thing that’s clear is he talked himself out of a job. Whatever Phil said caused Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, and Mitch Kupchak to unanimously agree that it wasn’t worth finding out if Phil was still interested in uniting stars as just the coach. Whatever Phil said convinced them he wasn’t as hungry to play the motivator as he was to secure his the only glaring omission in his reputation: his coaching legacy.

What happened next is what’s unclear, but knowing Phil’s greatest insecurity is what helps it make sense. It was reported that Phil asked for an ownership stake and final say on roster moves. If I had to guess, Phil tried to use his leverage to pitch an organizational infrastructure that was based on his coaching philosophies. In short Phil wanted to validate himself as more than a motivator; he championed a consistent basketball strategy that led to 11 titles, so it must have been doing something that worked. I doubt that’s how he sold it so modestly, though because whatever Phil said caused Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, and Mitch Kupchak to unanimously agree that it wasn’t necessary to find out if Phil was still interested in his old responsibility of managing the roster he was given. Whatever Phil said convinced them he wasn’t as hungry to play the motivator as he was to strengthen his reputation as an actual basketball mind. While the Lakers probably were expecting him to name price to coach, Phil was probably outlining how his complete control over basketball operations would look–Something that made the Laker brass say no freaking way is this guy being hired, even if it made them look stupid. It’s strange how a man so gifted at managing stars’ egos never learned to manage his own.


Season Story-Line: Atlanta Hawks

Until the actual games are played, the story-lines are all that defines a team. This is what I’m thinking about when I look at the Atlanta Hawks:

Trading Joe Johnson

In July, the Atlanta Hawks traded their best player, Joe Johnson, to rid themselves of his expensive contract. This move has generally been praised by most pundits, but I’m starting to wonder if trading Johnson wasn’t done a little too hastily. At the time it seemed like a huge coup for the Hawks to be able to dump Johnson. Shortly after the trade, the Hawks were being mentioned as a possible landing spot for Chris Paul and Atlanta native Dwight Howard. Trading Johnson allowed for the financial possibility of an Atlanta Hawks team that included Dwight, CP3, Josh Smith, and Al Horford. Dwight Howard going home to Atlanta seemed as likely a destination as any because it was one of the only reasonable sounding outcomes for Dwight’s future during the height of nonsense. 

When Dwight was traded to the Lakers I think any hope of an Atlanta homecoming was put to rest–he isn’t going anywhere for a while. Somehow, though, the good feelings we all had about the Hawks getting out from under Joe Johnson’s contract lingered. I think the comments by some that Danny Ferry was the early favorite for executive of the year prevented me from thinking about what, exactly, had just been done. When I read about Hawks’ players throwing around adjectives for the word “rebuilding” on media day I began to see what had just happened a little more clearly. Media day is supposed to be the time when guys lie about how hard they worked on their jumper, but the Hawks were acting like management had made the team worse because, well, it did.

The Hawks traded their best player away for nothing before the season even started. I think Joe Johnson is one of the 35 best basketball players in the NBA. I didn’t go with that number because it sounded like a safe estimate, or because ESPN.COM’s NBARANK had Johnson at 32. VITAL, my statistical cross-pollination between individual and lineup production, literally had Johnson ranked as the 33rd best player in the NBA last year–just behind Danny Granger. Unfortunately, Johnson will be the fifth-highest-paid player in the league this season, and his contract guarantees him roughly $89 Million dollars total over the next four seasons. Anything that costs more than it’s worth is less useful than a properly priced item. However, it’s important to note that isn’t the same thing as being useless.

Newly minted GM Danny Ferry felt it was more valuable for the team to have salary-cap flexibility than to pay the player who is approximately the 33rd best guy in the league more than he’s worth. He traded away Johnson for no other reason than to get out from under the contract. In other words, he gave Johnson away for roster flexibility.

Here’s what the Hawks currently look like:


The best thing that team has going for it is the fact that they don’t have to keep most of those crappy players next year.

Here’s what the Hawks would look like if they didn’t trade Joe Johnson:


 Notice anything weird? I mean, other than the fact that roster on the bottom is significantly better. The bottom roster will have $23 Million dollars in available cap space next summer with Joe Johnson’s behemoth contract on the books. If I’ve learned anything over the past year it’s that stars don’t sign with a new team, for less money, because of an organization’s flexibility to make future acquisitions. They sign with a new team, for less money, because the roster has players they want to team up with. If maintaining roster flexibility admittedly was a problem Danny Ferry had as the General Manager in Cleveland, but if that’s the big lesson Danny Ferry learned from LeBron James leaving him in the dust in Cleveland, he’s doomed to fail in Atlanta. LeBron James went to go play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Heck, even Deron Williams cited Brooklyn’s acquisition of Joe Johnson as a key to him remaining with the Nets. You think Josh Smith, a free agent this summer, is going to stay with Atlanta because of their flexibility?

I understand the counterargument praising Ferry’s move: the Hawks had to get off the treadmill of mediocrity at some point. It’s possible that this core had taken the team as far as it could go, and blowing it up was the inevitable outcome. I get that. During Johnson’s seven-year tenure in Atlanta the Hawks have had the 15th best winning percentage in the NBA… out of 30; the 13th most playoff victories… out of 30; and the 12th most playoff series victories… out of 24, erm, I mean, out of 30. Those statistics very closely resemble a stalemate of mediocrity. And, I begrudgingly accept the NBA team-management paradigm that there are benefits to having a really horrible team. A worse record results in a higher draft-pick that is more likely to end up being a player that is a superstar, and teams with superstars compete for championships. I mean it’s not perfect logic, but it makes sense on some level.

Still, was that really the opportunity that Danny Ferry would have had at moving Johnson? It’s not like he has the worst contract in the league or anything. I mean, it’s bad, it’s unreasonable, it’s disproportionately more than he’s worth but it isn’t crippling. Mostly, because he’s still a good basketball player. Johnson has been selected to the All-Star team six consecutive years. It’s not like money is being flushed down the toilet on a guy who can’t play. I can tell you right now that the $65 Million still owed to Knicks big man Amaré Stoudemire is much more reprehensible. On defense he moves so poorly that he looks a gummy worm wobbling in Knickerbocker-Orange-colored jello when I see him in the paint. This would be acceptable if his offense made up for it, but the STAT acronym now stands for Standing Tall and Torpid. He just stands there at the elbow of the free throw line instead of exploding to the basket like he used to be able to.

I think the Hawks are in for a long hard road much like the one they traveled to get to those seven sweet years of average. Enough suffering can make any organization feel like it’s worth $120 Million to keep an average thing in tact. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that again.

Mock Draft 2012

Rules: The player pictured is who I think a team will pick based on what I’ve read (Chad Ford, Draft Express, local beat writers, twitter). What a team should do is my opinion on what should happen.

Anthony Davis

Projected Position: PF/C

Height: 6′ 10.5″

Weight: 222 lbs

Age: 19 (Mar 11, 1993)

School: Kentucky

2011-12 40 32.0 14.2 62.3 15.0 70.9 1.2 10.4 4.7 1.4

Who I think they’ll take: Anthony Davis. This is a no-brainer: AD is the best player in the draft, and New Orleans has known they would be taking him as soon as they won the lottery. More on New Orleans at pick 10.

What they should do: Take Davis.




Thomas Robinson

 Projected Position: PF

Height: 6′ 8.75″

Weight: 244 lbs

Age: 21 (Mar 17, 1991)

School: Kansas

2011-12 39 31.8 17.7 50.5 50.0 68.2 1.8 11.9 0.9 1.1
2010-11 33 14.6 7.6 60.1 0.0 51.0 0.6 6.4 0.7 0.4
2009-10 33 7.2 2.5 48.5 0.0 39.5 0.3 2.7 0.5 0.2

Who I think they’ll take: Thomas Robinson. I think that taking Robinson here would be a huge mistake. I’m not nearly as high on Robinson as the rest of the NBA world seems to be. He’s an undersized big, doesn’t have enough in his toolbox to overcome that: He isn’t nearly as athletic as an undersized big like Blake Griffin, nor is he as skilled as one like Kevin Love. The best comparison seems to be Michael Beasley: a guy who could score, but doesn’t have the needed athleticism, size, or skill to be worthy of a top four pick.

Prospect Height Weight Wingspan No-Step Vertical Reach Max Vertical Reach Agility
Griffin, Blake 6′ 10″ 248 6′ 11.25″ 11′ 5″ 11′ 8.5″ 10.95
Robinson, Thomas 6′ 8.75″ 244 7′ 3.25″ 11′ 2.5″ 11′ 9.5″ 11.96
Love, Kevin 6′ 9.5″ 255 6′ 11.25″ 11′ 3.5″ 11′ 9″ 11.17
Beasley, Michael 6′ 8.25″ 239 7′ 0.25″ 11′ 5″ 11′ 10″ 11.06

What they should do: Try to trade down or take Harrison Barnes. There are three players in this draft that are “paper franchise players”: Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Drummond. A ‘paper franchise player’, as I define it, is one that a franchise can justify building a team around from day 1. Now, I wouldn’t say that it’s ideal to build a team around Barnes or Drummond, like it is Anthony Davis, but a team could justify it. “Paper franchise players” are prospects who look like franchise building blocks on paper because they have ideal size, pedigree, IQ, and athleticism or all four. Barnes has the ideal size, pedigree, and IQ of a franchise player–whether he has enough athleticism is still something that will be determined with time. The Bobcats are at a point where they need a franchise player, not a prospect. With Davis off the board, Barnes should be the pick.


Brad Beal

Projected Position: SG

Height: 6′ 4.75″

Weight: 202 lbs

Age: 19 (May 28, 1993)

School: Florida

2011-12 37 34.2 14.8 44.5 33.9 76.9 2.2 6.7 0.8 1.4

Who I think they’ll take: Bradley Beal. The Wizards have an opportunity to select the player who will be John Wall’s running mate from as good a crop of potential running mates as any class since 2003. Don’t let anyone tell you different, this is the best draft class since 2003. All the rhetoric we are now hearing about how this class isn’t as good as advertised is just a function of the lofty expectations scouts had for this class. Yes, there is a drop-off between Anthony Davis and the number 2 prospect, but there was a drop-off between LeBron and the number 2 prospect in 2003 too.

What they should do: Take Mike Kidd-Gilchrist. I’ve been driving the Mike (it’s Mike, now) Kidd-Gilchrist bandwagon since early December, and I don’t plan hopping off now. I may have confused you with the last pick, taking Barnes over MKG. The Bobcats are the one team in the entire league I’d take Barnes over MKG because, for them, drafting a “paper franchise player” is more important than drafting the best available player. MKG is the second best player in this draft. I’ve seen too much evidence of this to be convinced otherwise. He would make the perfect complement to Wall on the break, but I don’t think they’ll take him. What’s guiding this opinion is the moronic trade they made with New Orleans, where the Wizards took on two albatross contracts in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza for no apparent reason. Those two are on the books for $20 million a season for the next two seasons. There are a million (or more) better potential uses of available cap-space than committing 1/3 of it to two cornerstones of a that won 31.8% of its games. For three seasons. I don’t trust the Wizards’ decision-makers to make the the right pick here.


Harrison Barnes

Projected Position: SF

Height: 6′ 8″

Weight: 228 lbs

Age: 20 (May 30, 1992)

School: UNC

2011-12 38 29.2 17.1 44.0 35.8 72.3 1.1 5.2 0.3 1.1
2010-11 37 29.4 15.7 42.1 34.4 75.4 1.4 5.8 0.4 0.7

Who I think they’ll take: Harrison Barnes. I think the Cavs are looking for scorers more than individual defenders, and Barnes fits this bill.

What they should do: Take Mike Kidd-Gilchrist. See the next section for a killer stat that debunks the perception about MKG creating his own shot.


Mike Kidd-Gilchrist

Projected Position: SF

Height: 6′ 7.5″

Weight: 233 lbs

Age: 18 (Sep 28, 1993)

School: Kentucky

2011-12 40 31.1 11.9 49.1 25.5 74.5 1.9 7.4 0.9 1.0

Who I think they’ll take: Mike Kidd-Gilchrist. Too many pundits want to talk about what Mike Kidd-Gilchrist can’t do: shoot consistently from the perimeter. This is true, but somehow not being able to shoot from the perimeter has become “not able to create own shot”. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s how MKG compares to the three players I have going ahead of him in terms of the number of the percentage of field goals that were assisted by a teammate*:

% Assisted
Robinson 60.87%
Kidd-Gilchrist 40.91%
Barnes 54.84%
Beal 61.76%

*The stats I used are from the conference tournament and NCAA tournament only. I didn’t have time to scrape an entire season’s worth of play-by-play data for these four teams.

As you can see, MKG relies significantly less on teammates creating shots for him than the other ‘scorers’. This isn’t ‘proof’ per se, but it’s damn near close to it.

What they should do: Take Mike Kidd-Gilchrist. I’ve said it all. He’s not paying me, so I’ll have to settle for the equity of being right about him.

(via BKN)

Damian Lillard

Projected Position: PG

Height: 6′ 2.75″

Weight: 189 lbs

Age: 21 (Jul 15, 1990)

School: Weber St.

2011-12 32 34.5 24.5 46.7 40.9 88.7 4.0 5.0 0.2 1.5
2010-11 10 28.5 17.7 43.8 34.5 85.7 3.3 3.8 0.2 1.4
2009-10 31 34.3 19.9 43.1 39.3 85.3 3.6 4.0 0.1 1.1
2008-09 31 29.4 11.5 43.4 37.4 84.1 2.9 3.9 0.2 1.1

Who I think they’ll take: Damian Lilard. The Blazers’ biggest needs are at point guard and center. The thinking seems to be that Drummond, a project, doesn’t fit within the team’s “win-now” goals.

What they should do: Take Andre Drummond. Drummond justifies the cost of a number six pick better than Lillard because there are no centers on Drummond’s level available at number 10, whereas there are several point guards who might be just as good as Lillard available at 10. On top of that, Drummond might just be a franchise center. As an asset, that’s just worth more than a 22 year-old point guard prospect. I think that this is a no-brainer, but I try to think of the draft as a selection of assets not needs.


Andre Drummond

Projected Position: C

Height: 6′ 11.75″

Weight: 279 lbs

Age: 18 (Aug 10, 1993)

School: UConn

2011-12 34 28.4 10.0 53.8 0.0 29.5 0.4 7.6 2.7 0.8

Who I think they’ll take: Andre Drummond. If Drummond falls here, I think that the Warriors are going to trade this pick to some team looking to take a gamble on Andre Drummond. I won’t try to guess the trade, because that would be too complicated, but I will say that Houston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia are the most likely candidates.

What they should do: Take Drummond and trade him for assets. Golden State would have to be nuts to pass on Drummond. Don’t think of how he will fit versus what’s left on the board: think of the value of a 18-year-old athletic center versus what’s left. The 18-year-old center is more valuable.


Dion Waiters

Projected Position: SG

Height: 6′ 4″

Weight: 221 lbs

Age: 20 (Dec 1, 1991)

School: Syracuse

2011-12 37 24.1 12.6 47.6 36.3 72.9 2.5 2.3 0.3 1.8
2010-11 34 16.3 6.6 41.1 32.9 81.2 1.5 1.6 0.1 1.1

Who I think they’ll take: Dion Waiters. The Raptors could use a scoring wing and a point guard. Since there aren’t any point guards that can justify a selection here, and they still have Calderon, I think they’ll take the best available scoring wing.

What they should do: Take Waiters. It’s hard to gauge just how good Waiters will be because a lot depends on how his athleticism translates at the next level. There have been a lot of athletic, undersized off-guards that haven’t been able to cut it in the league. I think Waiters is different. Think. Part of me wonders if the “promise” he got just before the pre-draft combine testing was just an excuse to not let teams pick apart his athletic measurables. By shutting down, he lets teams fill in the blanks about his athleticism from the film and gaudy per-minute stats. I’m not saying this is what happened, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Would Waiters pull out of workouts all together for a promise at 13? That sounds kind of thin for a guy who could go as high as six. The promise was either from Toronto or it was a bluff. So, if Toronto doesn’t take Waiters, he could be in for an uncomfortable slide out of the lottery.


John Henson

Projected Position: PF

Height: 6′ 10.5″

Weight: 216 lbs

Age: 21 (Dec 28, 1990)

School: UNC

2011-12 35 29.1 13.7 50.0 0.0 51.1 1.3 9.9 2.9 0.6
2010-11 37 26.7 11.7 50.0 16.7 48.2 0.8 10.1 3.2 0.6
2009-10 37 15.8 5.7 48.6 22.2 43.8 0.9 4.4 1.6 0.7

Who I think they’ll take: John Henson. The Pistons want to pair a shot-blocking big with Greg Monroe. According to Chad Ford, the Pistons held a massive workout on Monday that included Meyers Leonard, Tyler Zeller, Perry Jones, Terrence Jones, John Henson and Jared Sullinger. Henson shined during that workout, and I trust Chad Ford’s read on Detroit, so I’ve got them taking Henson.

What they should do: Take John Henson. I’m fairly confident that Henson is going to be a productive big on the defensive end of the court. He needs to put on some weight, and I don’t think that will be a huge problem. Henson’s also a lot more skilled around the basket than he gets credit for.

(via MIN)

Tyler Zeller

Projected Position: C

Height: 7′ 0.5″

Weight: 247 lbs

Age: 22 (Jan 17, 1990)

School: UNC

2011-12 38 28.2 16.3 55.3 0.0 80.8 0.9 9.6 1.5 0.9
2010-11 37 28.1 15.7 54.9 0.0 75.7 0.6 7.2 1.2 0.7
2009-10 27 17.4 9.3 52.1 0.0 72.2 0.3 4.6 0.9 0.5
2008-09 15 7.8 3.1 47.2 0.0 76.5 0.2 2.0 0.2 0.2

Who I think they’ll take: Tyler Zeller. The position where the Hornets have the most need is point guard, but they just traded Emeka Okafor and are going to lose Chris Kaman during free agency signaling to me that they they are resigned to taking one of the available centers still on the board. There are a few guys who could land in this range, and a lot depends on what Detroit does with their pick.

I’m not buying their intrest in Austin Rivers. Of all the available wings, he would seem to help the least.

What they should do: Take Kendall Marshall. I like Zeller, but I think that players like him are going to be available to the Hornets going forward. Point guards moving forward are thin, and the free agent point guard class won’t be any better because no starting point guard is going to be willing to sign on to a rebuilding team. I think a point guard like Marshall will be able to spoon-feed Davis at the rim.


Perry Jones III

Projected Position: PF

Height: 6′ 11.25″

Weight: 234 lbs

Age: 20 (Sep 24, 1991)

School: Baylor

2011-12 33 30.7 13.5 50.0 30.3 69.6 1.3 7.6 0.6 0.8
2010-11 30 33.9 13.9 54.9 20.0 66.4 1.2 7.2 0.9 0.5

Who I think they’ll take: Perry Jones III. Perry Jones III wasn’t invited to the green room, which suggests limited interest, but I think that Olshey has had Jones III and Henson slotted here the whole time. Paul Allen even attended Jones and Henson’s workout.

What they should do: Take Austin Rivers. It’s hard for me to find too much fault in the Perry Jones selection, but Jamal Crawford isn’t a long-term solution at shooting guard and there are a bunch of good wings still available.


Meyers Leonard

Projected Position: C

Height: 7′ 1.25″

Weight: 250 lbs

Age: 20 (Feb 27, 1992)

School: Illinois

2011-12 32 31.8 13.6 58.4 9.1 73.2 1.3 8.2 1.9 0.5
2010-11 33 8.2 2.1 48.3 0.0 70.6 0.2 1.2 0.4 0.2

Who I think they’ll take: Meyers Leonard. The Bucks have been looking for a big, and, at this point, Meyers Leonard is the best available one left on the board.

What they should do: Trade up for Andre Drummond. If they can’t move up, they should take one of the many available wings. I happen to think Leonard will be a complete bust.


Austin Rivers

Projected Position: SG

Height: 6′ 5″

Weight: 203 lbs

Age: 19 (Aug 1, 1992)

School: Duke

2011-12 34 33.2 15.5 43.3 36.5 65.8 2.1 3.4 0.0 1.0
Who I think they’ll take: Austin Rivers. Whether Steve Nash goes or stays, the Suns need a scoring on the wing who can stretch the floor.

What they should do: Take Rivers. If Nash goes, Aaron Brooks will be his replacement, but I imagine Rivers can fill in at point.


Jeremy Lamb

Projected Position: SG

Height: 6′ 5.25″

Weight: 179 lbs

Age: 20 (May 30, 1992)

School: UConn

2011-12 34 37.2 17.7 47.8 33.6 81.0 1.7 4.9 0.6 1.2
2010-11 41 27.8 11.1 48.7 36.8 79.7 1.6 4.5 0.6 0.9

Who I think they’ll take: Jeremy Lamb. I think Houston would be thrilled if Lamb fell here. Houston is all about getting value, and Lamb is probably worth more than the #14 pick in most drafts.

What they should do: Take Lamb.


Terrence Ross

Projected Position: SG

Height: 6′ 7″

Weight: 197 lbs

Age: 21 (Feb 5, 1991)

School: Washington

2011-12 35 31.1 16.4 45.7 37.1 76.6 1.4 6.4 0.9 1.3
2010-11 34 17.4 8.0 44.3 35.2 75.8 1.0 2.8 0.4 0.6

Who I think they’ll take: Terrence Ross. Philadelphia needed someone who could stretch the floor so badly that they started Jodie Meeks for most of the season.

What they should do: Take Ross. Whether they plan on trading or keeping Iguodala, Ross fits.

(via NYK)

Royce White

Projected Position: PF

Height: 6′ 8″

Weight: 261 lbs

Age: 21 (Apr 10, 1991)

School: Iowa State

2011-12 34 31.5 13.4 53.4 33.3 49.8 5.0 9.3 0.9 1.2
2010-11  Sat Out
2009-10 (MINN) 1 6.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

Who I think they’ll take: Royce White. There is a big drop off between picks 15 and 16. All of the best wings and bigs are gone at this point and the differentiation between 16 and 35 is small.

What they should do: Gamble on Jared Sullinger or trade up to get Drummond. I don’t know what kind of weight Sullinger’s ‘medical red flag’ carries, but at this point in the draft I think he might be worth the risk.


Jared Sullinger

Projected Position: PF

Height: 6′ 9″

Weight: 268 lbs

Age: 20 (Mar 4, 1992)

School: Ohio State

2011-12 37 30.4 17.5 51.9 40.0 76.8 1.2 9.2 1.1 1.2
2010-11 37 31.7 17.2 54.1 25.0 70.4 1.2 10.2 0.5 1.0

Who I think they’ll take: Jared Sullinger. I literally have no idea what Dallas is going to do with their pick, mostly because of how secretive they’re being with their workout schedule. This is an educated guess. Educated is a loose term–this is internet-degree-educated.

What they should do: Take Sullinger. His upside is Kevin Love and his downside is a wasted mid-first round pick.

(via UTA)

Will Barton

Projected Position: SG

Height: 6′ 6″

Weight: 174 lbs

Age: 21 (Jan 6, 1991)

School: Memphis

2011-12 35 35.3 18.0 50.9 34.6 74.9 2.9 8.0 0.7 1.4
2010-11 35 30.6 12.3 42.8 26.5 69.9 2.8 4.9 0.5 1.5

Who I think they’ll take: Will Barton. The Timberwolves are in desperate need of outside shooters, but this is too high for Barton. If Lamb, Rivers, Waiters, and Ross are all off the board, they’ll probably selecting for someone else.

What they should do: Move the pick. The last thing Minnesota needs is another unskilled tweener or point guard, and that’s about what’s around in this range.


Kendall Marshall

Projected Position: PG

Height: 6′ 4.25″

Weight: 198 lbs

Age: 20 (Sep 19, 1991)

School: UNC

2011-12 36 33.0 8.1 46.7 35.4 69.6 9.8 2.6 0.2 1.2
2010-11 37 24.6 6.2 42.0 38.5 69.0 6.2 2.1 0.1 1.1

Who I think they’ll take: Kendall Marshall. Jameer Nelson just opted out of his contract, so the Magic need a point guard.

What they should do: Take Marshall. Nelson’s not coming back.


Tony Wroten Jr.

Projected Position: PG

Height: 6′ 6″

Weight: 203 lbs

Age: 19 (Apr 14, 1993)

School: Washington

2011-12 35 30.3 16.0 44.3 16.1 58.3 3.7 5.0 0.4 1.9

Who I think they’ll take: Tony Wroten Jr. The Nuggets could use another creator on their team. Wroten fits in nicely around all their three point shooters.

What they should do: Take a Point Guard. Whether it’s Wroten or Teague, the Nuggets could use some depth behind Lawson.


Terrence Jones

Projected Position: PF

Height: 6′ 9.5″

Weight: 252 lbs

Age: 20 (Jan 9, 1992)

School: Kentucky

2011-12 38 29.3 12.3 50.0 32.7 62.7 1.3 7.2 1.8 1.3
2010-11 38 31.5 15.7 44.2 32.9 64.6 1.6 8.8 1.9 1.1

Who I think they’ll take: Terrence Jones. LeBron Stopper? It’s worth a shot.

What they should do: Take Terrence Jones. Brandon Bass just opted out, so the Celtics lucked out here. If they can teach a talent like Jones the ‘Celtic way’, they may have gotten a steal

(via LAC)

Quincy Miller

Projected Position: SF

Height: 6′ 10″

Weight: 219 lbs

Age: 19 (Nov 18, 1992)

School: Baylor

2011-12 37 24.4 10.6 44.7 34.8 81.6 1.4 4.9 0.6 0.7

What they should do: Take Quincy Miller. At this point in the draft, who I think a team will take is also who I think they should take. I’m not going to pretend to know, so I’ll end the gimmick. Quincy Miller is an athletic 3 who can spell Pierce.


Andrew Nicholson

Projected Position: PF

Height: 6′ 9.5″

Weight: 234 lbs

Age: 22 (Dec 8, 1989)

School: St. Bonny

2011-12 32 30.1 18.5 57.1 43.4 77.6 1.0 8.4 2.0 0.7
2010-11 31 33.8 20.8 57.1 26.1 71.1 1.0 7.3 1.5 0.5
2009-10 30 30.2 16.4 56.4 0.0 76.0 0.5 7.1 1.8 0.2
2008-09 30 25.1 12.5 60.2 0.0 61.3 0.2 6.0 2.6 0.6

What they should do: Take Andrew Nicholson. The Hawks could use a big who can stretch the floor. Everyone talks about how Nicholson could be a steal, so it’s time for the Hawks to feel like they stole something.

 (via LAL)

Moe Harkless

Projected Position: SF

Height: 6′ 8.75″

Weight: 207 lbs

Age: 19 (May 11, 1993)

School: St. John’s

2011-12 32 36.1 15.5 45.2 21.5 67.6 1.5 8.6 1.4 1.6

What they should do: Get more depth at the wing. Harkless seems to be the top wing prospect left on the board.


Marquis Teague

Projected Position: PG

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 180 lbs

Age: 19 (Feb 28, 1993)

School: Kentucky

2011-12 40 32.6 10.0 41.2 32.5 71.4 4.8 2.5 0.2 0.9
What they should do: Take a point guard. The Grizzlies haven’t had a true backup since trading Greivis Vasquez.

Fab Melo

Projected Position: C

Height: 7′ 0″

Weight: 255 lbs

Age: 22 (Jun 20, 1990)

School: Syracuse

2011-12 30 25.4 7.8 56.6 0.0 63.3 0.7 5.8 2.9 0.5
2010-11 33 9.9 2.3 60.7 0.0 36.0 0.2 1.9 0.8 0.3

What they should do: Draft a big. The Pacers could use a backup center for Hibbert. It isn’t enough just to have a center these days, you have to have someone who can do the same things as the starter for short stints or at least pretend that they can.


Arnett Moultrie

Projected Position: PF

Height: 6′ 10.75″

Weight: 223 lbs

Age: 21 (Nov 18, 1990)

School: Mississippi St.

2011-12 (Miss St.) 30 35.8 16.4 54.9 44.4 78.0 1.2 10.5 0.8 0.8
2010-11  Sat Out
2009-10 (UTEP) 33 28.9 9.8 47.5 22.5 65.1 1.2 6.7 0.8 1.4
2008-09 (UTEP) 37 26.8 8.8 50.2 28.2 53.5 0.6 8.2 0.9 0.8

What they should do: Draft a big. I know LeBron played 45 minutes a game in the playoffs at power forward the last three rounds, but it would help having a backup or, at least, someone to eat up regular season minutes.


Evan Fournier

Projected Position: SG

Height: 6′ 7″

Weight: 206 lbs

Age: 19 (Oct 29, 1992)

Country: France

2011-12 French League 30 26.0 14.0 42.5 27.7 75.4 2.2 3.2 0.1 1.5
2010-11 French League 29 14.4 6.4 44.6 21.7 84.1 0.7 3.0 0.1 0.7

What they should do: Draft a European to stash overseas.


Doron Lamb

Projected Position: SG

Height: 6′ 4.75″

Weight: 199 lbs

Age: 20 (Nov 6, 1991)

School: Kentucky

2011-12 40 31.2 13.7 47.4 46.6 82.6 1.5 2.7 0.1 0.5
2010-11 38 28.4 12.3 49.7 48.6 79.0 1.6 2.0 0.2 0.6

What they should do: Draft a shooter.

(via SAS)

Tyshawn Taylor

Projected Position: PG

Height: 6′ 4″

Weight: 177 lbs

Age: 22 (Apr 12, 1990)

School: Kansas

2011-12 39 33.4 16.6 47.7 38.2 68.8 4.8 2.3 0.2 1.3
2010-11 36 27.1 9.2 47.9 38.0 71.9 4.6 1.9 0.3 1.0
2009-10 36 23.1 7.2 43.8 33.9 71.6 3.4 2.4 0.2 1.3
2008-09 35 26.5 9.7 50.6 36.4 72.4 3.0 2.2 0.2 1.1
What they should do: Draft a point guard.

If you’re listening, Oklahoma Thunder, I want to help

I won’t let them win

I know I don’t play the games, I only try to write the perception, but I can’t let them win because that means the perception never mattered in the first place. That all of my feelings of dislike, justified or not, aren’t worthwhile. I don’t ever think it’s a good thing to admit a Skip Bayless-like quality, but I think I might be drunk on the same power that he seems to be chugging. That what he says will have some sort of effect on the outcome of the games. It’s a weird, but intoxicating feeling. Last year brought it out of me. It felt like all of us were literally in LeBron’s head, and that he was believing what he read about himself. A million reasons floated around as to why LeBron was flawed, and when it appeared that something mental, not physical, was causing him to play like he did it was almost as if we were all correct simultaneously. It was if he read that he didn’t have what it takes to be a champion, and then some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy written by the internet formed in his head. It was a crazy experience, and I honestly believe it to be partially true. I don’t think I’m the only one, either. People still shout he can’t do it as loud as they can almost as if they’re hoping, just maybe, he’ll start listening again.

It’s not like last year, though. We can’t get in LeBron’s head because he doesn’t care about what we’re saying anymore. He learned better. The Thunder are listening, though. And we, the internet, continue to shout because it seems like we’re getting to them. It’s not as fun as the it was to bring down the Heat because it’s not as earned. But I am positive that they are listening to the noise in addition to whatever they might be doing to try to beat the Heat. I can hear it in their comments during interviews: Russell Westbrook heard about what Magic said about him being the worst point guard in Finals history; Scott Brooks is quoting Eric Spoelstra about games being decided by a few plays; and Perkins is listening to what his family members tell him people are saying, shouting at broadcasters. They’ve let on that we have an impact on their story. So, if you’re there, Oklahoma Thunder, maybe I have what you’re looking for. I’m not going to try to crush you like I did to LeBron last year and Wade this year. There’s no point. We’ve proven that there is a thing as too much noise in celebrity culture. Unlike some starlets, the Heat have been reduced to a fountain of clichés and serious gazes. Just look at the picture above. Look how tired Wade and LeBron look from this journey. They look like they aren’t even having fun on the court, and just want to get it over with. Whatever it is. I don’t want you to be like that, Thunder. Maybe there’s a way to use social media to be positive, and make it feel like the it’s the best thing ever because you are the good guys.

So, this is my pep talk. It’s not just fluff. I did my homework. And, since you’re listening, I wrote something that I think will help each of you. Think of these notes as private emails that I’d send you if I really had your private email addresses. I intended for you to only read the passage addressed to you, but I have no way to police that, obviously.


I’m a little worried about you. Not about your offense–Serge was right about LeBron–your defense. You didn’t even take guarding Chalmers seriously, and you were awkward the whole time on him. How could you have only gotten one defensive rebound as far as you were playing off of him?! Those 5 free points you gave to him in the middle of the third quarter could have been the game! Just so you can get angry, I have the clip. If you can’t be angry about this you don’t deserve to win the title.

The only way you can fix this is by telling Scott Brooks you want to guard LeBron James. You are the best player on the team, and we both know that it doesn’t look good if you are avoiding LeBron. Yes, avoiding. It isn’t the coach’s call because you can demand to guard him and no one will stand in your way. If Coach brings up the foul troubles from games 2 and 3 remind him that most of those fouls didn’t come from guarding LeBron James in the halfcourt. Let’s go through the list:

Game 2:

  1. Fouled Chris Bosh trying to stop a transition layup
  2. Fouled Dwyane Wade after biting on a pump-fake
  3. Offensive Foul
  4. Fouled LeBron on a layup attempt
  5. Committed a loose-ball foul against Udonis Haslem

Game 3:

  1. Offensive Foul
  2. Fouled LeBron James trying to stop a transition layup
  3. Fouled LeBron James coming off a screen
  4. Fouled Dwyane Wade on a drive
  5. Fouled LeBron James trying to prevent a transition dunk

Just stop fouling in transition. Also, don’t bite on Wade’s pump fakes. Can you even remember the last time he had a finish at the rim that wasn’t laid out on platter for him by LeBron? Neither can I.

The team is better with you guarding LeBron. It’s not an option, you have to do it. We’re talking about a championship here. Commit to 30 minutes of LeBron duty and it will give your team 10 more points than if you don’t. Here’s how it could look:


They can’t guard you. Keep doing your thing. Just don’t forget why you’re doing this: to win a championship. You aren’t doing it to prove how good you are. Everyone will know that when you win the title. Just make the right plays, and everything you are hoping to get out of this will eventually come.

Coach Brooks,

You are a great coach. ‘Decent’ coaches don’t out maneuver Greg Poppovich and Rick Carlisle in the same postseason, only great ones do. That being said, you’re doing a crappy job in the Finals. You don’t seem to trust yourself. What the hell happened to you, don’t you remember what happened a couple of weeks ago?

Down 2 games to 0 to the San Antonio Spurs, you moved Thabo Sefolosha onto Tony Parker and derailed the league’s best offense in one fell swoop. Like Pop did, Spoelstra  has you on the brink of elimination. Unlike that series, you aren’t getting blown out of the water. You smashed them in game one, and lost the last three by a couple of points each time. What genius maneuver can you do to turn the tables? The move that keeps Durant out of foul trouble was excessively conservative. That’s not a move you win with, it’s one you try not to lose with. Well, you lost, so here’s the best I can come up with: Start Collison instead of Perkins.

It’s not a demotion to Perk, who I happen to have a higher regard for than most, it’s to match Collison against Chris Bosh instead of Udonis Haslem. Collison’s mobility and activity is more suited to play against Miami’s small starting lineup than a more traditional center like Perkins, who is most effective when he’s allowed to patrol the paint works better against Haslem. It doesn’t have to be Perk, it can be Ibaka. Perk is a big boy. He can handle it. Here are the numbers:
The numbers are probably too good to be true, but even if they’re only one-tenth as accurate as they appear (23.6 points over 28 minutes), it means you are 2 points over 28 minutes better than the Heat. I would take that. Play Collison the first 7-8 minutes of each half, and then punish them with Perk off the bench.

 Perk and Collison,

Read the message I sent to Coach Brooks. You know this the right thing, Perk.


You should be defending the point guard. You are the best perimeter defender on the team, but you can’t stand in the way of Kevin and Russell’s battle. Besides, you could do so much more damage wreaking havoc in passing lanes than trying to stay in front of LeBron and Wade the whole game. Remember what you did against the Spurs? That’s how you get fast-breaks started.


You know better than to get down on yourself like you did in Game 4 after that layup miss. Wade pushed you from behind, we both know he did it. Next time that happens, don’t be afraid to flip out and draw a tech because at least you’ll be blaming someone other than yourself. I’m not seeing the emotion from you that I know you have. So, the only other advice I can give you is to just have fun. Open shots have a way of eventually falling for good shooters like you.


You have my permission to read everyone else’s note, and if you feel like I did something wrong, please explain to them what they need to hear. There’s nothing else I can give you other than my confidence that you know what to do. If you don’t know the answer, after 8 Finals appearances, it means you haven’t thought hard enough about it.


You are doing plenty that’s right, but you need to start boxing out, man. Your team is getting crushed on the boards, and you are letting it happen. There’s more to protecting the rim than getting blocks. Talk to Perkins about it. He can help you.

To everyone else,

We could be reliving that stupid celebration from the Summer of 2010 if the Heat win in Miami tonight. I’m not going to post the video. I don’t need to see it right now to remember what it looks like or hate it any more than I already do. Just remember that celebration when you watch tonight’s game. I tried my best to stop it. I don’t know if they’ll listen, but I tried.

Not to Scale

The context has changed

I try to be a good sports-fan, but I have to admit I haven’t followed professional baseball for a few years now, and if you were to ask me how long it’s been I’m not sure I’d even be able to tell you. It just kind of drifted out of my life. It’s not just because the Cubs are bad either–I stopped paying attention sometime before their last playoff run, and have even experimented with the idea of telling people I am now a White Sox fan (no one seems to believe me). Something else that’s missing.

I learned about Baseball watching it played a certain way. The first season I followed the sport, I mean really followed, was the 1998 season. Yeah, that 1998 season. The one where Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were bashing records and baseball had a power renaissance. As Jerry Krause maniacally disassembled the Bulls in a bizarre effort to prove he was more important than Michael Jordan, I barely noticed. For once, I could look away from the NBA offseason. It wasn’t that I chose to look away, I was kind of sucked in by Sammy Sosa hysteria. It was as close to sports heaven as I think I’ll ever be, drifting from the afterglow of Jordan’s push-off-and-pose towards hurricane Sosa. Unlike most these days, I’m not ashamed to admit that I loved the 1998 season and specifically the Cubs. If you are one of those purists that tries to embrace the lens in which baseball prefers to be viewed these days, it probably means you ignore the steroid era. I’m not looking to open up any shame inside of you by reminding you that you enjoyed the 1998 baseball season because you were supposed to. The sport had never been better.

My point of view is different, though, because the powerful nature of that baseball season is what made me fall in love with it. It was exciting as hell to see Sosa bash the crap out of the ball and give his silly little home run celebration kisses. It wasn’t about watching some record with an asterisk that I felt no attachment towards fall, it was about watching something dominant. To me, the most compelling thing in sports is to watch something dominant. It’s why we love Tiger, it’s why we should love someone like Djokovic1. To see how something operate so powerfully is compelling. When I watch sports, I’m hoping to see something amazing. Dominant is amazing.

1He was absolutely robbed against Nadal at the French Open Final. He had all the momentum and the match was suddenly postponed because of rain. It wasn’t even raining hard. Admittedly Djoker had an advantage because the clay had turned to mud, but still. You’ll never hear any tennis analyst say that Djok was shortchanged because they’re all loyal to Roger Federer. And since Fed hates Djokovic, they hate Djokovic.  I’m heavily invested in Djokovic right now.

I don’t feel the need to rehash the part about some of baseball’s biggest stars becoming linked to steroids because I feel like you know that part. It happened and baseball disowned an entire generation of its most dominant stars because they were part of a ‘steroid era’. Those caught are viewed as frauds whose success was unnatural and attributable mostly to steroids. I think this view was born from the fact that Baseball takes its records and statistics very seriously. They prefer to judge players’ greatness by comparison towards the sports’ past greats. So, when players smashing these records at a rate never seen before the only explanation baseball came up with was that steroids were the cause. In doing so they made their most horrible mistake that they have yet to recover from. Now, anytime a player has too much success or is dominant–god forbid–the conversation either tiptoes or stomps around the possibility that the source of a player’s success is something other than the player.

Baseball players are trying to play well, but not too well. They make sure to joke on twitter about how ‘the drug tester didn’t think my urine was worth his time. No muscles [sad emoticon].’ Joey Votto makes sure that you know he’s a regular looking guy. It’s a built in mechanism at this point because the minute someone starts playing too well, murmurs of cheating start. It’s become a self-defeating sport that seems like it’s afraid of something becoming great. Worse, any time a baseball player in his 30’s starts playing well, the murmurs start. The story isn’t a celebration of a true professional showing he can still do it, it’s about why. In the other sports we can’t get enough of the old guard: Peyton Manning, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Ray Lewis, Martin Brodeur, etc. Yet, baseball is petrified of an old-timer reminding everyone he used to be dominant.

Nobody doubts what causes a quarterback to be good or a d-lineman to be overwhelming. We even joke about how no one cares about steroids in football. How do we know that drugs aren’t what makes a football player great? In baseball, an entire era has been disowned because we say that the good players were only good because they were on drugs. Fans are supposed to feel shameful for enjoying athleticism levels that the sport hadn’t ever seen before because records were compromised. The sport made a decision to put more value on the sanctity of its records and stupid numbers like 500 and 3,000 than deciding the way we look at those numbers needs to be reevaluated. The process was compromised and they decided to stick with it anyway, and now the sport is broken. Baseball should have changed how they evaluate the players and instead of clinging so closely to numbers that lost their meaning. The doubt about the process is never going to go away until the process is changed.

I know what it’s supposed to show

Since the year 2000, two NBA draft prospects and 184 NFL prospects have had a standing vertical jump that measured at 39.5” or better. The safe thing to do is assume evidence that overwhelming is correct, but the smart thing to do is look closer. Athletic plays in the NBA are still uniformly the ones that involve some form of jumping, right? OK. just checking. With leaping ability valued so highly, I find it hard to believe that NBA-prospects are so completely inferior to NFL-prospects in the basketball’s most important athletic measure.

For example, according to the vertical jump data, 6’3” linebacker Cameron Wake (undrafted) jumps 15.5” higher than Russell Westbrook–45.5” to 30”. There’s just isn’t any fucking way that’s representative of the jumping ability of those two. I’m not even sorry about cursing there. You know you were thinking the same thing.

I don’t think there’s some conspiracy, and the NFL is consciously inflating numbers. That would lead to inaccuracy and defeat the purpose of the combine. I suspect what’s happening  is that the prospects themselves are cheating the system.

Before a player’s vertical jump is measured, a baseline height needs to be set for comparison. Players are supposed to raise their arms above their heads to establish the full extent of their reach. This is where the opportunity for manipulation takes place: If a player were to reach lower than the highest point of arm extension, their vertical jump would appear more impressive than their actual jumping ability because however high a player lifts himself off the ground beyond that baseline reach is the measure of the player’s vertical jump. The NFL can only do so much to police this activity because there’s no downside for a prospect bluffing their arm extension. The ability to stand taller with arms fully extended while stationary is a worthless trait in a football player. Think about a player standing motion less with their arms up, they’re either a forgotten receiver or someone looking to get clocked. A good vertical jump number, on the other hand, is something that might catch a scout’s eye because it signifies some sort of athleticism.

I’m sure NFL scouts don’t lay awake worrying about the actual number of inches a prospect jumps off the ground, though. The only number that matters is how high the highest point of a player, like a receiver or DB, can get in the air. It also doesn’t hurt that a more reliable indicator of athleticism exists in the 40-yard-dash. A 40-yard-time can make or break a prospect’s stock unlike any other single numerical evaluator in sports. It lets scouts know if a player has breakaway speed or not in a more influential way than hours of amateur game-film can.

There’s no athletic test in the NBA’s draft process that carries the weight of anything close to the 40-yard dash. Vertical jump tests seem to be the only athletic test that can catch the eye of decision-makers hoping to glean some semblance of athletic proof. Too much uncertainty surrounds the other athletic exercises–no front office is making any decisions based on agility or court sprints at this point. Maybe they will in the future when it is clearer what the tests translate to, but we aren’t even close to that point.

The NBA’s combine uses the same process to gather their vertical jump numbers as the NFL. Prospects are measured for a baseline standing reach, and blah blah blah. The only difference between the two processes is that standing reach is important in basketball–especially for interior defenders who need to be able to stand tall, arms heightened, to protect the basket without fouling. Despite the value of reaching tall, manipulation seems to still be present because not every player needs to convince scouts that they are an interior defender.

If I’m half as good at this as I believe I am, you should be able to tell where this is going. For perimeter players, the only real important measure is wingspan, since the defensive value of those players is established by how difficult a player is to dribble around. These prospects have no need to prove they can stand in front of the basket because it isn’t important to the scouts looking to hire them. So, it’s possible that a prospect could reach a little lower to improve their jump numbers. There is no downside to increasing the perception of athleticism if it takes away from a meaningless evaluation. To me, this has compromised the process completely for both reach and vertical jump measurements. Top prospect Thomas Robinson’s max vertical over the weekend was compared to Blake Griffin’s because both were measured at 35.5”, and both are power forward types. It’s obviously a good thing to have one’s athleticism compared to Blake Griffin, but is that really what that number means when Kevin Love soared 35” in the same drill? If I’m trying to show that a measurement is evidence of some Blake Griffin-esque quality, I would want something that shows a little bit more differentiation between the most explosive power forward in the league and one that plays below the rim.

I’m talking about the possibility of manipulation, and how we don’t know what a 35” vertical means any more. Allow me the opportunity to make you doubt the process forever by being more specific.

What I’m about to sketch out isn’t quite stumbling upon a killer standing over a murdered victim with the gun still smoking, but it’s at least seeing a guy tucking away a 12 gauge as he flees an area where shotgun shots sounded. It requires some faith that what you’re looking at is a crime, if only just a little.

2012 draft prospect Harrison Barnes managed a standing reach of 8’ 5”, despite measuring at 6’ 8” in shoes (that’s how the standing reach measurements are taken) a 6’ 11.25” wingspan. Going into the combine Barnes had a lot to prove because his athleticism has been questioned by experts. Also, standing reach does little for his draft stock, as he’s one of those aforementioned perimeter players. Barnes, and his entire 8′ 5″ reach soared to a 38” vertical jump. The best of the entire 2012 combine. Destroying perceptions is no crime, obviously. Barnes did what he was supposed to do, but I don’t believe him. I don’t believe his 8’ 5” reach is accurate.

The best way to get to the bottom of this is by finding an approximation of how high the top of Harrison Barnes’ head sits above his shoulders. First let’s subtract Harrison’s height from his standing reach. That nets us 21.5”. So, Harrison Barnes, owner of two 41.5” wings (each wing is half the wingspan), can only reach 21.5” above his head. These measurements suggest Barnes’ head towers 20.125” past his shoulders. Comparatively, Chris Bosh, the Bostrich as he is un-creatively called by those who like to point out that his neck extends abnormally far, recorded a head height of 18.25″. That’s nearly two full inches shorter than Harrison Barnes.

As much as I would like to imagine you slurping up my every word, I’m too self-aware to not admit that I allowed Harrison Barnes to raise an entire half of his measured wingspan into the air even though there is very likely some unaccounted for length that prevents a clean transfer of wingspan to standing reach. I’m aware of this, and I’ve talked to a doctor who convinced me it isn’t more than a couple of inches per arm. More important than that, the difference in length between athletes is mitigating. I don’t have the statistical proof, just medical assurance from a doctor who does zero work with arm bones. If that isn’t good enough for you, let’s try an interactive experiment: Stop reading for a second and go in front of a mirror. Take off your shirt, and place your left hand over your right peck muscle. Raise your right arm. See how much your chest contracts upwards?

I’m putting faith in my belief that you will agree with me because if you don’t, you probably aren’t back reading this. I don’t care. However, if it meant that I got a couple of saps to take their shirts off and stare in the mirror it was totally worth it. I like that kind of power. If you’re willing to trust my logic you can try the experiment later.

Experiments in manipulation aside, Harrison Barnes has the second lowest reach of any 6’ 8” player during the last 13 years of available pre-draft camp and draft combine data. The only player whose reach is listed lower is Matt Barnes (no relation), the guy from the Lakers with all the tattoos. Second lowest (of 25) doesn’t sound as impressive as I had hoped, but Matt Barnes’ specs are a little too difficult to top; the top of his head would have to stand approximately 24” above his shoulders to validate the 96” reach he recorded. Not coincidentally, Matt Barnes also has a suspiciously high vertical jump2.

2Prospect data was taken from Draft Express. I only included prospects that had measurements in shoes, standing reach, and wingspan who completed both all jump drills.

I don’t mean to pick on the Barneses, and I should note that breaching the integrity of vertical jump data isn’t the worst crime against historical sports data. It certainly isn’t on the level of baseball. I’m just pointing out that the system has been compromised by manipulation of what the data means. The abuse in this year’s combine seems to be especially bad, which signal that prospects are now prepped to manipulate the system. Of the thirty “tallest heads” over the past 13 years (posted below), 9 came from the 2012 class. Coincidentally (or not), this year’s crop had the highest average vertical jump of any year. Sometimes a big head means just that, but other times it’s some prospect trying to take advantage. To me, it doesn’t matter. The doubt that comes from the why signals that the numbers don’t mean what we want them to.

Exploring tact: What Tom Thibodeau can learn from his former boss, Doc Rivers

Minute Manager

In Game Six of a best-of-seven series, with six minutes and thirty-three seconds to play in regulation, the Boston Celtics led the Atlanta Hawks 74-65. It was at this point when Doc Rivers took his best player, Kevin Garnett, out of the game. It was 9:12PM central time when Garnett sat down, and when he checked back into the game it was 9:21PM central time1. Garnett’s nine minute breather only cost two minutes and forty-four seconds of gametime. Granted, Boston’s nine point lead shriveled to one by the time Garnett came back in the game, but the game had been unfolding this way the whole night: the Celtics would build a cushion of eight-to-ten points, or so, and Atlanta would storm back to cut the deficit. It’s possible that an Atlanta run would have happened whether Garnett went to the bench or not. Possible outcomes aside, what we know for-a-fact is that Garnett got his rest, and Boston closed the game with him on the floor. He even hit the go-ahead bucket with thirty seconds to play–a turnaround jumper in the paint.

1I’m approximating real time based on Twitter. I won’t follow the drones who feel the need to update when each substitution happens, but I sure as hell will anonymously reference them.

Maybe what happened was that the Celtics had learned a lesson from a few nights earlier. In Game Five, a Celtics lost, Garnett missed fifty-four seconds of gametime during his fourth quarter rest. His realtime rest was approximately two minutes. Did this effect his ability to do what the team needed to win down the stretch? Maybe. With just under two minutes left, Garnett had an almost identical look to the aforementioned basket he hit in Game Six, only this time his turnaround jumper in the lane was short-armed. Boston lost by one point.

For the series against Atlanta, the Celtics were +73 with Garnett on the court and -42 when he was off it.  That’s just a mathematical way of saying that the Celtics were merely enduring the periods of time he was on the bench; necessary only because he’s a 36 year-old veteran playing his 17th season who needs to, you know, rest. That may seem very basic, but I think it’s important to remind people that players need to rest. Just because a team is better when a particular player is on the court doesn’t mean that he should be on the court the all the time. The plus/minus numbers are available to ANYONE with an internet connection, so making the decision that a team is better off with a certain player on the court is easy. The real tact comes from determinations of when and how long a particular player should play. Sometimes a coach needs to just bite the bullet and rest a player, especially if it means that player will be even better during the minutes he does play. If that wasn’t the case, the decision to play someone like Garnett for 48 minutes would be easy.

There’s no metric that’s available, at least not to the public, that fans can point to that shows when KG should be on the floor and when he should be on the bench. Maybe Mike Zarren and the Celtics’ team of statisticians calculate such things, and head coach Doc Rivers is given a laminated sheet that resembles a blackjack strategy card to help him. Maybe Doc decides minutes the old fashioned way, by feel. Maybe a little of both. However it’s done, there’s no recording of information for public viewing. As a result we have traditionally judged coaches by wins and individual plays. Both present an incomplete picture.

  1. Wins might not be the result of coaching, just ask any Clipper fan who has to suffer watching Vinny Del Negro chew cud as he makes coaching blunder after blunder.
  2. Plays are important, but, individually they’re minutia. Don’t get me wrong, it’s VERY important for coaches to make the right call on plays that can decide the outcome of games, but those instances don’t happen more than a couple of times a game, at most. Generally the strategy of a team is set during practice time, so if a coach has no one who can carry out what was rehearsed, that’s a different problem. Possible adjustments in overall strategy are assessed, but hopefully it’s not being done on a play-by-play basis.

The only thing that a coach really has to assess constantly is the managing of the lineup. That is a basketball coach’s main responsibility during the game. Playcalling is important, of course, but the way a coach manages the minutes of his roster and creates mismatches with personnel is how games are decided, insofar as coaching during a particular game can swing the result between two rosters that have differing talent levels.

Doc Rivers (and Greg Poppovich) seem to be the most skilled at limiting the minutes of their top players to when they truly need them. I realize that this playing-time management was created as a necessity for a team with aging superstars, but it has carried over to even the younger players like the Spurs’ Tony Parker. The 29 year-old Parker averaged just 32 minutes per game in the regular season, despite playing half the season with backups (Patty Mills and Cory Joseph) that no other playoff team would even take on its roster.

Ride the best lineup

In Game Six of a best-of-seven series, the Philadelphia 76ers led the Chicago Bulls 48-40 entering the second half. The Bulls are not as dependent as the Celtics on the do-it-all nature of a single player like the Celtics are with Kevin Garnett. The Bulls depth, even without Rose and Noah, forces them to be more reliant on particular combinations of players. As it was, Thibodeau had found such a combination and he wasn’t keeping it secret. The lineup that was going to beat Philadelphia consisted of C.J. Watson, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and Omer Asik. The problem wasn’t finding a combination that did the most damage, rather, it was how to translate it into a victory.

Going into the final minute of the game, Asik, Watson, Deng, and Hamilton had played the entire second half. Let me stress, none of these players have the on/off effect for Chicago that even approaches what Kevin Garnett does for Boston. Any of them could have been spelled for what Chris Webber likes to call a “placebo player2” for a few possessions. Sure, the lineup of Watson-Hamilton-Deng-Gibson-Asik was clearly the most effective, and it helped quickly turn a deficit into a lead, but Thibodeau could have done what Doc Rivers did with Garnett: endure the minutes without the desired lineup for the sake of rest. It’s not as if the Bulls are a thin roster either. I’m sure a couple minutes of Carlos Boozer or Kyle Korver to spell Asik or Hamilton (neither of which had played that many minutes in a half all season) could have been stomached for the sake of rest. With the game pace as slow as this one was, five measly possessions would have resulted in several minutes of rest in real time. I know just the thought of watching Boozer potentially shoot more misses is excruciating, but if he came in and missed some more it would have been less brutal than seeing a team lose because of exhaustion.

2A placebo player is someone whose time on the court is not expected to effect the outcome of the game. I don’t know if Webber coined the term, but he dropped it during a game in which he carried the broadcast while Dick Stockton had the flu. Webber even read Franklin and Bash promos with orchestrated enthusiasm! One of the greatest sports-broadcasting performances I can remember.

Would that extra rest have prevented Omer Asik from being too tired to look at the rim on those last two free throws? Would it have prevented C.J. Watson from passing the ball to a poor free throw shooter in a situation where the defense is trying to foul? Was it fatigue that prevented ANY of the Bulls from communicating with each other regarding who was going to crash the boards if Asik missed? Andre Iguodala had a free run to the basket because four Bulls all went for the offensive free throw rebound. Fatigue effects concentration and reaction time. Those are two things the Bulls could have used in the final seconds of their season.

Tom Thibodeau has already convinced me that he is brilliant at figuring out the what player combinations work against the other team. He is peerless in his ability to find the right lineup or design the perfect set. Still, the Bulls fan in me bother daydreaming about where Thibs’ schemes will take this team because he has shown a fatal flaw in his coaching that hasn’t improved at all in two seasons: He just doesn’t always know when to endure a few moments away from the winning combination of players for the sake of optimizing it.

Luol Deng and Derick Rose are the poster-children of this is flaw. Both are the keys to so many great lineups doesn’t mean playing either 40 minutes a night is a good idea. I’m not talking about injuries either. Thinking that Thibodeau is to blame for what happened to Rose hasn’t bothered to look into how an ACL tear happens3. My issue has more to with the fact that the Bulls aren’t getting the most bang for their buck out of their best players’ minutes. Luol’s a good player, but he doesn’t have 40 worthwhile minutes in him per game over the course of a regular season. Not even LeBron James does. In essence, you are watering down Luol’s effectiveness by overextending his playing time.

3ACLs can’t be worn down or strengthened, so how often Rose played wasn’t a factor in the injury. I guess one could argue that the more a player plays, the more likely they are to get injured. In related logic: the more you cross streets the more likely you are to get hit by a car.

What makes Thibodeau’s strategy worse, to me, is how he appears to be dealing with it. The lack of evidence that the Bulls are adapting through reducing the playing time of their best players is made worse by the defensive explanations when minute counts   are brought up by the media. I’ve been programmed to respond to defensiveness as a sign of weakness. It’s not insane for some media schmuck wonder if there’s something to the fact that, of the last ten NBA champions, only one (the 2010 Lakers) had a player who finished the regular season among the league’s top ten in minutes played per game. Oh by the way, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game this season4.

4In case you were wondering, the team of the player who leads the league in minutes per game hasn’t won a championship since 1980. That’s an unfair stat to bring up. Just because the NBA champion hasn’t relied on one player’s court time more than any other team relied on any other player in 32 years, doesn’t mean it’s some sort of dubious distinction. For example, the team that contains the league leader in turnovers per game hasn’t won a title since 1990.

I’m willing to give Thibodeau the benefit of the doubt that he isn’t ignoring minute counts to be stubborn. Greg Poppovich has been defensive with the media for years, and only recently has that turned into an endearing point of humor. When you keep asking questions and all you get is disparaging garble, for years, I guess all you can do is laugh. So, with the example of Poppovich’s media relations having minimal translation to coaching ability in mind, I’m willing to consider the possibility that what makes Thibodeau so skilled at finding which lineup will be most effective to win a particular game also causes him to overlook minute counts as an area of concern. It seems like this could be fixed by delegating either in-game strategy or minute monitoring responsibilities to an assistant, or something, but there is minimal evidence of something like this happening.

Still, I have hope based on the best game Tom Thibodeau has coached for the Bulls. Not coincidentally, it was the best game the Bulls played all season: The mid-April overtime win over the hated Miami Heat. I already complemented Thibodeau for being a genius, so I don’t feel like I’m being too harsh if I call him out for being lucky in this particular game. Let me explain:

What seems like ages ago only happened last month. If you recall, Derrick Rose had recently returned from an injury and he played terribly. For the game, he finished 1/13 from the field with a plus/minus of -27. Still, in the midst of his struggles, Thibs trotted him onto the court during a two-point game with under four minutes left in regulation. Rose replaced the scorching C.J. Watson, and it became obvious to the great basketball tactician, and everyone watching, that the Bulls had a better chance to win that particular game by benching the MVP for his backup. This happened recently in a memorable game, so I’m banking on the fact that you can remember seeing the following: Rose came in and the Bulls’ eight point lead became a deficit when LeBron hit a three with under a minute to go; Watson replaced Rose; LeBron missed a clutch free throw that could have ended the game; Watson hits a game-tying three at the end of regulation; the Bulls win in overtime following a barage of Korver threes and Gibson swats. In the aftermath of those events Bosh did or did not cry in the locker room, and a million idiots wondered ‘are the Bulls better with Rose on the bench?’ a little too loudly.

After the game Thibodeau said what I feel was a lie that he ‘played Rose in the fourth quarter to give Watson rest’. For whatever reason no one called out the coach who barks at media members about how minute counts are a non-issue on his BS. Never-mind that it’s unheard of to rest a player you are counting on until your team has surrendered the lead within the final minute, and that the Bulls called a timeout twenty seconds in gametime before pulling Rose. I’ll chalk the lie up to more passive aggressive garble from a guy who would rather be reviewing the tape of the game that was just played. What really happened is that Thibodeau went with results over feelings, as he often does with his best players, and decided that Rose wasn’t quite himself that day. Rest had no effect on the decision even if it did on the outcome.

Even with Rose playing as poorly as he was, when he was in the game gave him defensive attention as if he were the much more dangerous version of Derrick Rose that we’ve come to know. So, what looked like a player completely out of sync with his team’s offense, as he hoisted wild shots and turned the ball over, was being treated by the defense as the primary threat. This combination of circumstances created Derrick Rose the placebo. He was failing against a defense geared towards stopping a different player.

Miami had the advantage against the Rose lineups, but the Bulls got 12 perfect minutes out of the lineup I suspect Thibs wanted to use since the second quarter: Watson, whoever was hot between Korver & Hamilton, Deng, Gibson, and Asik. Only Thibs couldn’t run that group into the ground because he did his due diligence investigating into what his best player, Rose, could give the team. What was lacking in production didn’t matter because the time bought was invaluable.

The Bulls weren’t going to beat the Miami Heat riding an offense dependent on Korver and Watson hitting all their threes for much more than a couple of minutes. Eventually those missed threes would turn into run-outs or turnovers would start to pile up when from anticipating whatever hotspots the Bulls shooters were exploiting. I don’t know how it would have played out, but it wouldn’t have been the same result if Rose hadn’t been able to stall much longer. The right lineup was only the winning lineup because it worked. If you think about the things that had to unfold for it to happen

The art of winning basketball games will one day be a quantifiable measurement of how often teams play the lineup that has the best chance of winning optimal number of minutes. In some ways it already is, you just have to know what you’re looking for.

Playoff Bracket

1st Round 2nd Round Conference Finals Finals
E1     4
E8     2
 E1    4
E4    2
E4     4
E5     3
 E1     4
Eastern Conference
 E2     2
E3     4
E6     1
 E3    1
E2    4
E2     4
E7     2
 E1    4
W1    2
W1     4
W8     1
W1     4
 W5     1
W4    2
W5    4
W1     4
Western Conference
W2     3
W3    4
W6    2
 W3     2
 W2     4
W2    4
W7    2