@thl3t1c C&P for people who don't support CONTENT CREATORZ

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

Thompson: Unpacking the Draymond Green-Kevin Durant rift and what the fall out could mean long term

By Marcus Thompson II Nov 13, 2018 162
The​ future​ might​ point back to this moment​ as the end.​ A random​ November game​ at​ Staples Center,​ against​​ a Clippers team that history wouldn’t otherwise remember, was the opening salvo in the destruction of a dynasty.

Who gets the blame depends on who you ask.

Some will blame Draymond Green for unleashing a tirade on Kevin Durant, one so personal and biting things could never be the same afterward.

Some will point to Durant, who repeatedly dangled free agency over the heads of his teammates and tested the patience of his peers, several of whom suspect he’s leaving at the end of the season.

Perhaps the lion’s share should go to general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr, who escalated the stakes by suspending Green for a game without pay, costing him $120,000 but most importantly morphing an in-house feud into a public rebuke of Green and open support of Durant.

The irony. In the end, it may not be the Houston Rockets or the Boston Celtics to dethrone the Warriors. What if it’s failing organs and internal bleeding that lead to the end of the Dubs dominance? What if one of the greatest teams in NBA history was broken apart by a front-office attempt at appeasement?

By now, everyone knows how this all started. I talked to multiple sources — in the locker room, the front office and to adjacent parties — to find out what happened and what happens next. The drama didn’t begin until the end of regulation against the Clippers on Monday. That’s when Durant barked at Green for not getting him the ball in the final seconds. The two-time Finals MVP pounded the chair in frustration as he chided the team’s leading assist man.

Green took exception to how Durant addressed him. The exact dialogue couldn’t be recounted as it was said, but it began with Green immediately firing back.

Who the fuck you talking to?

According to multiple sources, Green then went on to make it clear he’s been making plays for years. He reminded Durant the Warriors were winning before Durant showed up so he wouldn’t stand for Durant talking to him as if he were a scrub. Green accused Durant of making the whole season about him even though he was going to leave after this season. Green let out his frustrations about how Durant has handled free agency — keeping his options open and keeping the story alive, consuming the Warriors and their season with talk of what Durant will do next.

That’s the mild version. The original version included Green calling Durant a “bitch” several times — disrespect that management said was too harsh to overlook.

Tuesday morning, Myers and Kerr met with Green and told him they were suspending him for a game. They acknowledged his propensity to live on the edge but said he crossed over this time. They had to punish him and they had to do it this way.

Green was surprised by the heavy-handedness. A fine was expected. Green had just come back from injury, giving him a rest day for Tuesday’s game against Atlanta and a private fine would have been an acceptable rebuke of his behavior. He was fined a few thousand dollars when he went after Kerr in the locker room in Oklahoma City in 2016. He didn’t think this incident was nearly as bad, so the punishment being drastically worse was shocking.

Why didn’t they just fine him privately as they have before?

“If we thought that was the right thing to do,” one front office executive said, “we would have. We have to do what we think is right.”

The issue isn’t the money but the message the punishment sends.

Durant’s free agency has been a low-key issue with the players. It registered as a small irritation. The burden of talking about it, reading about it, hearing about it, grew heavier in Year 3 of the Durant Experience. Players like Green and Klay Thompson, who also have free agency pending, have been lumped into the frenzy. Both have declared they want to stay with the Warriors. But because of Durant’s uncertainty, the future of the dynasty is in the air and such leads to speculation Green and Thompson have to address.

According to several in the locker room, Durant could have ended this by just saying how much he loves playing with the Warriors and his teammates and leave it at that, even if he departs in the offseason. They are all prepared for him to leave so they just want the cloud hanging over them to go away. Another option would be to reject all questions about free agency and force the media to focus on this season, a way of protecting his teammates.

Durant has said he doesn’t want to lead anybody on. But Green is part of a contingent that believes Durant has a hand in creating the hype about his free agency, a tangential focus that detracts from their mission of winning a third straight title.

Myers and Kerr were made aware of Green’s concerns in their meeting. Green also shared them with Stephen Curry, who visited Green’s house before Tuesday’s game to get Green’s side — Curry’s efforts to repair the situation.

The general consensus: Green was wrong for going so hard at Durant instead of having a hard-but-civil conversation, and Green was wrong for when he decided to address this situation — in the middle of a game they were trying to win. Green admitted as much to Curry and several believe he would have (and still will) cop to that. But the general consensus also is that Green’s concerns about how Durant has handled free agency weren’t off base.

Durant’s teammates have made it clear privately they aren’t on board for another Please-Stay-KD tour. And Durant has said he doesn’t want to be recruited. But the decision to suspend Green publicly seems to be a signal from management that they do care about recruiting Durant.

Management is holding fast to its stance that Green crossed a line that can’t be crossed. Some say it’s just “Draymond being Draymond.” At least two said he did go too far, attacking his teammate personally. One player was even concerned that Green may have lost his authority in the locker room, the berating was so over-the-top.

“With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back,” one player said. “The only hope is that they can say this summer, ‘See, KD. We’ve got your back. We protected you from Draymond.’ ”

Of course, Green now has to be wondering who is protecting him. He is the one committed to the Warriors and who has given everything. He is the one who has declared he wants to stay with the Warriors. He was one of the founders of this dynasty and he built it with the same fire that scolded Durant on Monday. And they know who he is. They know it’s only a matter of time before he owns up and makes amends. Why was this time so unbearable? Why was this offense the final straw?

If Green loses out in the power struggle with Durant, who can win outside of Curry?

It’s hard not to wonder how Green and Kerr, who have such a volatile history of love and hate, get through this. It must be measured how deep the crack is in Green’s allegiance to the Warriors now that Myers, who with Curry is Green’s biggest supporter in the franchise, has signed off on this stance.

Is this a referendum on Green? If so, did they just lose him — if not physically yet, spiritually? Did they just signal to him he’s the All-Star they are willing to part with, and does that quench his fire for the Warriors?

What if Durant decides to leave in free agency and Green wants out? Do the Warriors make a trade to head off that potential outcome?

Divides have been created that now must be repaired. The relationship between Green and Durant is rubble and needs to be rebuilt. The relationship between Green and management seems to be similarly in shambles, but it has been before and perhaps can be spared again. Then there is the relationship between the Warriors and Durant, who is probably sour on the whole Warriors experience now, and how that impacts the rest of the season.

This isn’t a situation that will just blow over. Teammates are at odds and, forced to or not, management appears to have chosen a side. The only answer is another championship.

One player is certain Durant and Green can co-exist because neither wants to be the reason they don’t win. The Warriors just might have enough talent to overcome resentment and bitterness in their midst.

The question is whether anyone has words powerful enough to bridge chasms now permanent.

In the middle of the visiting locker room at Staples that night, as voices rose with the tension, an unlikely source stepped up and re-shifted the focus of the defending champions.

It wasn’t Curry. He wasn’t with the team in Los Angeles thanks to a groin injury. It wasn’t Green, the spark of the drama. It wasn’t Durant, who fumed in silence while the Warriors conversed heatedly amongst themselves.

It was Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ most carefree star, who spoke up, an occasion rare enough to turn the room down a few notches. While respected veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston did their usual part to restore order, Thompson hit the mark as if it were a spot-up 3.

“We all want to win,” Thompson said in the locker room after the game, per accounts of people in the room. “That’s all this is about. We all want to win. I think we’re the only team that can beat us. Nobody else can beat us. So let’s go kick ass.”

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:04 (two years ago) link

thx!

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:11 (two years ago) link

Aw shit dawg this is good

Wld the site get in trouble for housing all the content tho?

F# A# (∞), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:13 (two years ago) link

I mean there’s always pastebin

F# A# (∞), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:14 (two years ago) link

we could put on 77?

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:16 (two years ago) link

i mean...i think it's fine probably

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:17 (two years ago) link

yeah kinda doubt the athletic is out there policing things and like half this board is subscribers, ill prob become one soon based on reading the illicit good content, really its more advertising for them if anything we shd be getting affiliate benefits

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:20 (two years ago) link

cn someone post this one next https://theathletic.com/653527/2018/11/14/durant-vs-draymond-theories-on-why-these-two-warriors-stars-are-fueding

im living for dubs drama rn

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:21 (two years ago) link

at the very least feel like the thread should be deindexed

k3vin k., Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:57 (two years ago) link

yeah just deindex it*

*i don't know who would do this or how it works

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:23 (two years ago) link

>>> i'll post this cuz i don't like to leave my guy lagoon high n dry and thirsting for drama.

however, feel like a mod should weigh in or an ILX illuminati elder

Durant vs. Draymond: Theories on why these two Warriors stars are feuding

Andre​ Iguodala is​ at​ his locker, in a locker room​ that’s emptied out​ earlier​ than usual.​ The​ nearby Kevin​ Durant​​ space is conspicuously vacant. KD loves to talk, and usually lingers, riffing with teammates and reporters. Tuesday night he dressed quickly, gave a brief, sullen press conference and exited. In the press conference, when asked about his friendship with Draymond Green, Durant replied, “I don’t really think that even matters right now.”

I ask Andre if the Warriors can win with KD and Draymond at odds like this. Andre responds, “Shaq and Kobe ain’t like each other.”

Me: “But that ended in a way you wouldn’t want this to end, right?”

Andre: “They won three championships in a row. Ain’t that what you want to happen?”

Me: “I guess all things come to an end.”

Andre: “Everything come to an end.”

A dynasty is a fragile kind of dominance. That’s the paradox of ultimate victory. Once superiority is achieved, and achieved again, the game loses a certain internal logic. Why prove what’s proven? Why win what’s won? Invincibility is a holding pattern that can only remain so fulfilling. People, even the most competitive of people, are designed to chase goals, not maintain a grip on them in perpetuity.

That’s the backdrop of a more salacious circumstance, a gripping tale of how this dynasty might be unraveling. These are all meaningful parts of the story. The names, the dates, the feuds. It’s all very real right now, and suddenly. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Warriors revealed a situation perhaps beyond repair. And the internal slights matter, but one wonders if it could all be transcended if everyone felt the project worth repairing.

Two years ago, I wrote an article on this organization’s sometimes tempestuous relationship with Draymond Green. It was given the baity title, “Golden State’s Draymond Green Problem.” From my perspective, it wasn’t about how Draymond was a problem, but more about how he could tip the Warriors’ future in either direction.

Fast forward two championships.

Yesterday, people kept sending me this article, asking if current events are pertinent to its themes. Did yesteryear’s hyperbole prove prophetic?

My take? No, not necessarily. First, because championships two and three qualify as glorious successes. Second, because, much as we can parse Draymond’s actions, and much as they can cause strife, the current state of affairs speaks to something bigger than him, an issue he could perhaps mitigate but not solve: Winning isn’t enough.

Players talk about just wanting to win all the time. About the only player I’ve ever met who might actually, literally mean it is Steph Curry. Because winning isn’t done for its own sake. Winning is a means to certain ends. Beyond the camaraderie of collectively conquering a goal, beyond the money, there’s the adulation that comes with achievement. Winning correlates to winning at life, vastly increasing your status in the eyes of fans and peers alike.

Ask yourself: Has this obvious benefit of winning happened for Kevin Durant as a Warrior? Over the past two-plus seasons, perhaps the Warriors All-Star in need of the most adulation got the least adulation. His reputation is more or less what it was when he arrived. The man was incredible in back-to-back NBA Finals. Had he faltered, he would have been mocked in a manner only trumped by what LeBron James experienced in 2011. Lost in Monday night’s chaos was Clippers owner Steve Ballmer sidling onto the court to schmooze it up with Durant. He, like other owners this summer, offers to fill the void that winning did not. Also, note that Draymond has a view of such cajoling.

This might be a bigger issue than just Kevin Durant. The media landscape has changed. In the past, might made right, and winners were worshipped sans much nuance. Now, a social media-driven conversation picks apart historic accomplishments while basking in a perpetual present. Coming here and winning big was supposed to make KD the face of Nike. Instead, to many jaded fans, that swoosh looks like a coattail. The quaint idea that you can silence your critics with a trophy is just one of a million norms that have fallen by the wayside over the past few years.

This is the big problem for Warriors HQ, as they proclaim not to care about anything other than winning a championship this season. I’m not certain there’s a solution to Winner’s Ennui, but there are methods for recalibration. I have some thoughts on that, and I want to emphasize that they are my own. The thoughts are in contrast to what I’m being told, repeated assurances that, “This happens, Draymond does this, it’s happened before, etc.” Today’s turmoil can indeed be tomorrow’s footnote. This isn’t even the first time Draymond caused discord by calling someone a “bitch.” He did that to Steve Kerr back in 2016, when they were separated in the Oklahoma City locker room. It might have actually been the least vulgar thing Draymond said to Kerr in that exchange.

Anyway. The most interesting comment in Kerr’s pregame press conference Tuesday was perhaps the most boring, superficially. When asked to describe the relationship between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, Kerr said:

“They have won championships together, they have been teammates now for three seasons and they were teammates on the Olympic team. You can draw your own conclusions.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a brotherly bond. Not exactly a reaffirmation of what brought them together. Whatever is happening could pass, but whatever is happening is not being treated like it will. And that is rather strange.

Kerr and Bob Myers are not stupid men. They levied this suspension, knowing it would escalate a situation that could otherwise be dealt with in private. They knew this could seriously alienate Draymond. There’s broad agreement within the organization that Draymond crossed a line, but the public punishment is curious. It’s not a move that makes a lot of sense in a vacuum.

Unless there are other forces at play. Draymond Green will be 30 years old when he’s up for his next contract, which would be a $226 million super max in 2020 if he had his druthers. Draymond turned down a more modestly priced three-year extension in pursuit of a bigger prize. He is an amazing basketball player, who’s still underrated. You could see him continuing a career of defying NBA odds well into his 30s. Then again, not everybody buys this trajectory. Some within the Warriors might note that NBA longevity correlates with size, and shooting, neither exactly an advantage for Mr. Green.

The Warriors will never replace what Draymond Green has meant to them, but they could get a good starter at a third of the price going forward. You think Joe Lacob is unaware of this? And if losing Draymond is the cost of keeping KD? Lacob’s choice is obvious, emotions be damned. Of course, losing both players is, theoretically, the worst of all worlds, and a real possibility in this high stakes poker game. But the cost of paying these salaries keeps rising and there’s still an open question as to whether the Warriors want Draymond at the price he sees fit. That question would be open even if KD left. One wonders if this current catastrophe presents its own opportunity, its own pretext. As another Master of Coin once said, “Chaos is a ladder.”

Again, Draymond Green isn’t the problem. Winner’s Ennui is the problem. Sadly, there’s no solution to this problem but to shake up the roster, as recalibration can serve as its own challenge. Perhaps that means letting KD leave for New York or wherever else and recapturing a “Strength in Numbers” ethos. That’s likely not the outcome Lacob favors, even if Draymond is his guy. Two superstars are still better than one.

Iguodala is right when he says, “Everything come to an end,” but the owner of this team wants to end “the end” and reign over this league forever. That’s great for Warriors fans, insofar as an impossible aspiration can be maintained for a while. For individual players, perhaps not so much. Hard calls must be made, and feelings suppressed. The future is uncertain for a team that remains title favorites. Draymond might not be the problem, but the Warriors showed the world that he might be Kevin Durant’s problem. Perhaps it’s a last ditch effort to impress the seriousness of this situation upon a man who has meant so much to this franchise. That would be the more innocent read. It’s possible, even within the bounds of a business that remains jagged and brutal. As Kerr says, “You can draw your own conclusions.”

— Reported from Oakland

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:25 (two years ago) link

Reading that first article I can't help but think Draymond's self-defense amounts to:

Yeah, big deal, so I fucked up and stepped way over a line that I shouldn't have, disrespecting my teammate. Sure, I expect to be punished for that, but quietly and maybe have to cough up a bit of pocket change in the way of a fine, and now it's so UNFAIR that I was slapped down hard in public -- even though I slapped KD just as hard and just as publically. And *ouch* that's a lot of money! Why'd they hafta do that to ME?!

iow, just a lot of bullshit self-regarding

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:36 (two years ago) link

thx! xp

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 21:00 (two years ago) link

ok i just dropped a hundo subscribing to the athletic and espn+ lol god bless im a responsible content consumer now, let me know if u need any draft info pasted here

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:14 (two years ago) link

oh nice may need some + content at some point

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:17 (two years ago) link

i hate paying the mouse but my status as a draft thought leader has been eroded by lack of insider access

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:19 (two years ago) link

(feel good abt paying the athletic)

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:20 (two years ago) link

bless u

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:20 (two years ago) link

Lagoon your thought leader status must be preserved at all costs

The Poppy Bush AutoZone (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:33 (two years ago) link

im glad were on the same page here

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:35 (two years ago) link

lagoons thought leader status is critical to maintain if ilh wants to have synergy with its core competencies and best practices, and of course to remain the omni channel king of hoops

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:39 (two years ago) link

its mission critical to our brand identity and product market fit

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:41 (two years ago) link

ok i just dropped a hundo subscribing to the athletic and espn+ lol god bless im a responsible content consumer now, let me know if u need any draft info pasted here

― lag∞n, Thursday, November 15, 2018 2:14 PM (six hours ago)

I for one welcome our new content overlords. I too have subscribed to this great online service

k3vin k., Friday, 16 November 2018 02:04 (two years ago) link

three weeks pass...

Where does the NBA's MVP race stand nearly two months into the 2018-19 season?

It's never too early for MVP narratives to take hold, as what was once a topic for the spring now has become a season-long discussion. And indeed, betting markets and straw polls suggest that Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is the early MVP leader on the strength of his team's surprising start, with LeBron James the other leading contender in pursuit of his fifth Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

Yet narratives don't always match statistical reality, so let's ponder some of the big questions about the MVP with the help of advanced metrics, including whether Giannis is the right front-runner.

Can a center be most valuable?
The leaderboards in most advanced stats at this early stage have a decidedly tall slant. Basketball-Reference.com's value over replacement player (VORP), for example, rates six centers and four other players listed as power forwards (one of them is Kevin Durant, who has actually played more minutes at small forward) among the league's top 14 players. Meanwhile, the PER leaderboard -- once we've filtered out low-minutes players -- is even more heavily tilted toward the frontcourt, with 19 centers in the top 30, including reserves Montrezl Harrell, Nerlens Noel, Jakob Poeltl, Dwight Powell, Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas.

These results reflect a topic I addressed ahead of the NBA draft: Because the floor is so well spaced, it's never been easier to get productive play from centers. Indeed, consider the average PER by position (as defined by Basketball-Reference) weighted by minutes played:

Avg. PER (Weighted For Minutes)
POS PER
PG 14.7
SG 13.1
SF 13.0
PF 14.9
C 19.6
Across all positions, the average PER is always set to 15.0. However, that varies widely across positions now, with centers naturally dominant and wings much weaker. It's not just the very best centers who are most productive, but also the ones who are cheaply available to teams -- including Noel and JaVale McGee, both of whom are in the top 30 in PER after signing one-year deals for the veteran's minimum as free agents this summer.

EDITOR'S PICKS

Ranking NBA sophomores by future star potential
Who are the best long-term prospects from the 2017 NBA draft?

Carmelo Anthony is the last great American ball hog
Gregg Popovich says there's no beauty in basketball anymore. Melo's fall helps make his case.

When we're determining value, then, position has to be taken into account. To be as relatively valuable on a per-minute basis as a small forward with a 25.6 PER (like Kawhi Leonard), a center would need a PER of 32.2 -- something that's never been achieved in NBA history.

In other words, it's probably not possible for the best center in 2018-19 to be more valuable than the best wing player, which has important implications for the MVP chances of not only Joel Embiid (who's not actually among those high-rated centers, ranking 17th in PER and 26th in VORP) but also Anthony Davis (mostly -- though perhaps not exclusively -- a center).

Should Giannis be the front-runner?
Although I used PER over average to make that point, the better way to define value in the context of MVP is as compared to replacement level -- the production we'd expect from a free agent signed for the minimum salary -- so as to properly credit players for their durability.

My wins above replacement player (WARP) metric now reflects a much higher level of replacement for centers, and to a lesser extent power forwards, as compared to wings in particular. With that adjustment, here's how WARP ranks this year's most valuable players (projected to 82 team games so as not to disadvantage players whose teams have played fewer games thus far).

2018-19 WARP Leaderboard
PLAYER TEAM PS WARP/82
LeBron James LAL F 19.2
James Harden HOU G 19.2
Kevin Durant GSW F 18.3
Paul George OKC SF 17.1
Damian Lillard POR PG 17.0
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL PF 16.5
Kyrie Irving BOS PG 16.2
Kemba Walker CHA PG 15.2
Anthony Davis NOP C 14.1
Mike Conley MEM PG 13.5
Projected to 82 team games
While LeBron tops this list, surprisingly it's last year's winner who's in a virtual tie with him. James Harden's stat line is basically identical to what he posted in 2017-18, but because his Houston Rockets have stumbled to an 11-12 start after winning a league-best 59 games last season, he's gotten zero attention as a possible repeat candidate. It will be interesting to see whether that changes if the Rockets turn things around. Damian Lillard, whose Portland Trail Blazers have fallen off after a strong start, is in a similar position after finishing fourth in last season's MVP voting.

The most interesting MVP candidate that position-adjusted WARP identifies is Paul George, who also ranks third in wins produced based on ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM), which isn't adjusted by position. George has played a key role in the Oklahoma City Thunder's league-leading defensive rating and has helped keep their offense afloat with 2016-17 MVP Russell Westbrook missing eight games. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Oklahoma City's offensive rating drops to a dismal 94.7 points per 100 possessions with George on the bench.

Those takeaways noted, let's dig deeper into the comparison between Giannis, LeBron and KD -- only two of whom can make the All-NBA first team because they all play forward. Why does Antetokounmpo lag behind the other two stars?

The first reason is the lower replacement level at small forward, where Cleaning the Glass estimates James has played 66 percent of his minutes and Durant 65 percent as opposed to 12 percent of Antetokounmpo's minutes.

More Than An Athlete

The eight-part docuseries, produced by UNINTERRUPTED and airing on ESPN+, will follow LeBron James and Maverick Carter's improbable journey from Akron to the global stage. Watch on ESPN+

The Lakers' positionless lineups show the challenge in using position to determine value. Cleaning the Glass considers LeBron the small forward when he plays alongside power forward Kyle Kuzma, but in practice the defensive matchups with those lineups depend more on the opponent than any rigid position. And offensively, James tends to operate more as a point guard (particularly during Rajon Rondo's absence, as ESPN's Brian Windhorst recently broke down) than as a forward.

However, I think Durant's example reinforces the importance of positional replacement level. His ability to defend small forwards has allowed the Warriors to start Jonas Jerebko -- another big man who's excelled while making the veteran's minimum -- at the 4 in Draymond Green's absence rather than going deeper into their weak wing rotation.

The other key factor here is minutes played. Not only has Giannis missed a game due to injury, he's playing fewer minutes per game (33.8) than either LeBron (34.8) or KD (35.7), meaning Milwaukee has relied slightly more on its bench than those teams. While the difference isn't dramatic, along with position it helps explain why Antetokounmpo can rate better on a per-minute basis than James and Durant, yet still land behind them in terms of value.

When it comes to RPM, Antetokounmpo is actually third of the group in terms of per-possession rating and just 12th overall in RPM wins. As a result, I don't think Giannis should be considered the MVP front-runner based on advanced stats.

How many games does Curry need to play? How about Kawhi?
Though playing time is a relatively small difference between the MVP front-runners, it's a huge factor for Stephen Curry (who has missed 11 of Golden State's 26 games) and a large one for Leonard (he's missed six of 26). When Harden won last season, the 10 games he missed were the most for an MVP since Allen Iverson (11) in 2000-01. That would basically imply Curry can't miss any more time and have a chance to win.

However, history should be considered a guide rather than a hard-and-fast rule, as Westbrook winning the MVP on a 47-win team offers a recent reminder that voters can always rethink MVP tradition. So instead, let's ponder the question of how many games Steph and Kawhi would need to play to be most valuable statistically. If we flip the leaderboard to WARP per 82 player games rather than team games, Curry shoots (pun intended) to the top:

2018-19 WARP Leaderboard
PLAYER TEAM PS WARP/G
Stephen Curry GSW PG 22.4
James Harden HOU SG 22.1
LeBron James LAL PF 19.2
Kevin Durant GSW PF 18.3
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL PF 17.3
Kawhi Leonard TOR SF 17.2
Paul George OKC SF 17.1
Damian Lillard POR PG 17.0
Kyrie Irving BOS PG 17.0
Russell Westbrook OKC PG 16.8
Per 82 games played
Nonetheless, in part because he's played just 33.3 minutes per game, Curry will be hard-pressed to lead the league in WARP. Harden would beat him if they both played the remainder of the schedule at their current pace, and LeBron's 82-game pace isn't far behind. Voters might be willing to reward Curry even if he's slightly less valuable if it's strictly due to injury, but he can't miss many more games.

Since he hasn't been as dominant when he's played, Leonard's task is even more difficult. While he cracks the top 10 on a per-player game basis, Kawhi is still behind both Giannis and LeBron and would have to rely on the narrative power of leading the Raptors to the NBA's best record. They're currently three games up on the Denver Nuggets for that honor, with the Warriors four games back.

Curry staying healthy the rest of the season might actually have more impact on other candidates for MVP than his own hopes. If Golden State surges ahead of Toronto with Curry (the Warriors are 12-3 in games he's played this season and 5-6 without him), that could hurt Leonard's candidacy. It also becomes a lot more difficult for voters to pick Durant if he's not even the most valuable player on his own team -- something that was evident when Golden State struggled early on in Curry's absence, though it did give Durant the opportunity to put the team on his back during the Warriors' final four games without Curry, when they went 3-1 with an overtime loss in Toronto.

Whether Curry can stay healthy the rest of the season is just one of the many questions to be answered about the MVP race, which should still be considered wide open with more than two-thirds of the season left to be played.

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:02 (two years ago) link

thx. interesting.

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:11 (two years ago) link

btw

love my adidads celtoes

— Les Alizés Dénudés (@Marco0o0os) December 7, 2018

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:16 (two years ago) link

oh damn, great minds etc.

mine is pulled from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLcN_rzouEI

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:19 (two years ago) link

nice

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:21 (two years ago) link

pete rock >>>>> premo

The Poppy Bush AutoZone (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:49 (two years ago) link

alright lets MFN DO THIS lol

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:50 (two years ago) link

I LOVE that album btw.

not sure i'd go that far xp but it's pretty close! poll it!

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:55 (two years ago) link

tube amp warm glow vibes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdUr9mClegU

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:58 (two years ago) link

cool pete rock song imo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiTy71nSkKw

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 21:00 (two years ago) link

thats warm too. v good

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 21:10 (two years ago) link

On the road with an NBA spy: The grinding work and lifestyle of an advance scout

Ethan Strauss Dec 12, 2018 78
“Goddammit!​ Fucking​ shit!​ Would you​ look at​ this​ fucking guy!” Our​ scout is pointing​ at​ a portly man who stands​ between​ us​​ and the escalator pathway. This is the truest enemy he knows. Our scout is never present for when the team that employs him faces a rival franchise. His only rivals are those who thwart arrivals on the league’s loneliest trail.

Every night features the arena’s stimulus overload, the roaring crowd, honking hype men and jangling music. His work ends in the wee hours of the morning, in a hotel, poring over film. It’s disorienting. My brain broke from merely observing. Details started blurring. I nearly missed a flight due to a dead certainty that my hotel was attached to the airport. Wrong, my brain was holding on to what had been true the night before, in a different city.

The problem was, I had no system for whatever this lifestyle is, not like our scout had. He was on a well-worn path. Our scout did not see the North American landscape as a collection of cities to be enjoyed, each with their own character and customs. No, he saw this terrain through the portals of his convenience. This city’s tram gets you to the hotel from the airport. This city’s skyways shield you from the cold. New York’s “N” train is all you really need to know about. Turn here. Down this hall.

The man is a travel sherpa, guiding you through the chaos of the ambling crowd. Every movement is propulsive. Every movement smoothly assertive, at least until those damned people get in the way. There’s a mini human traffic jam as we step onto an airport tram. “Folks who try and get on before everyone exits piss me off,” he mutters. You wouldn’t know from the running commentary, but this man is not a misanthrope. He’s actually quite kind, considerate even. He keeps looking out for me as I blithely lose myself in more crowds than Waldo. The road may have taken this man’s patience, but it hasn’t stolen his soul.

“Anyone flying to New York?!” a sharply dressed guy shouts to the tram passengers. There’s a gleam in the stranger’s eye, one that stays burning despite the lack of response. “Anyone flying to New York?!” He then asks our scout for the time and gets a blank stare. We exit the tram.

“Con artist,” our scout says. “I’ve seen it before. My job is to size things up.” The con artist, if he is a con artist, would be employing a predatory strategy called, “Forced Teaming,” as coined by Gavin de Becker in his bestselling book, “The Gift of Fear.” Good luck trying that on a professional lone wolf.

We keep walking, his steps always a few in front of my own. He’s as excited about Toronto’s tram to downtown as he was fearful of delays at customs (“You never know when there’s some damned Canadian holiday!”). Our schedule is always calibrated to hit ports of entry at the point of minimal crowding. “You see, if we were here in the morning …” is a common refrain.

Our scout is a middle-aged man who has been at this longer than seems sustainable. His specific trade is “advance scouting,” or NBA spying to put it in layman’s terms. He sits as close as possible to coaches and intercepts their play calls for upwards of 150 road games per season. Though this is the job description, it’s a less than clandestine existence. Teams know who he is, why he is there and even provide him the credentials. It’s part of NBA culture: Everyone is allowed to do this and may the best spies win.

Our scout is regarded as one of the best. Though his job is difficult and highly routinized, he made an exception for a slight detour. After my article on NBA spies garnered more interest from readers than anticipated, our scout wondered if I might delve deeper. I had only cracked the surface here. To understand this life, I had to live it, just a bit.

So, I would trail this member of a monastic sports caste. I would see how he fights for a team absent the camaraderie supposedly essential to team competition. It would be six games in seven nights, which by the way, is a merciful slice of schedule. Our scout has done 13 road games in 13 nights before. It’s not like merely high-level business travel, the kind represented by George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” character. This way is a blast furnace aimed at all your senses, interspersed with moments of crushing solitude.

So why does he do this?

The Rosetta Stone
One reason is because, unlike so many people, he can do this. The job requires a certain visio-spatial acuity. While walking briskly to an arena, our scout self-assesses, “I believe I might be on the spectrum.” I cannot offer a free diagnosis but can conclude that he’s capable of things that, to my mind, read as incredible.

At a hotel, we flip the TV to the end of a game involving a team he had recently seen in person. I ask for a running commentary of a crunch-time play, which our scout obliges, augmented by quick gesticulations. “They did this in the game we were at. These two guys are going to scissors off this pick. He’s going to cut to that corner, he’s going to cut to that corner. He’s going to pin that guy to the top. And then high pick-and-roll.” Boom. Boom. Boom. The play unfolds as predicted.

Our scout can tell us what’s going to happen before it happens, with the reliability of a “Minority Report” precog, and that’s even without the benefit of seeing the coach’s hand signal. One wonders how much a team could improve if all its players somehow magically absorbed this knowledge. Instead, teams settle for a more realistic reduction of this vast database, specifically tailored to each opponent, taught in film session to the roster, game by game.

Right now, our scout is deep into his hotel room routine, the work he does in addition to the report he sends from the arena. He’s typing away on Fast Draw, the league’s favored play diagramming software. The program is the evolutionary descendent of the days when IBM, as a major NBA sponsor, manufactured something to get NBA coaches toting ThinkPads on the sidelines in nationally televised games. Unfortunately for IBM, computer-based play diagramming, like writing, was always meant for solitude. The whiteboard just wouldn’t relinquish its grip as the public face of strategy.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich uses a whiteboard to draw up a play against the Warriors. (File photo from 2013: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Once all the plays are drawn, our scout adds the personnel report (statistics, depth chart, top plays and player tendencies). Finally, the capper, a written report with offensive and defensive notes, which normally includes the future opponent’s top-play frequencies. In his room, “call sheets” are strewn across the table, records of team plays with their corresponding coach’s hand signals. I ask for the Warriors’ records, since I want to learn about the team I supposedly know all about. “It can’t be that much material,” I say, “Considering how many of their offense is transition play.”

/Bloof

He plunks the file down with a thud.

“Here, take a look, I don’t give a shit,” he says. “It ain’t our team’s secrets.”

Before me lies the intellectual framework of the Steve Kerr era, represented in the NBA’s version of hieroglyphics. Everything I theoretically knew, or at least saw at some point, has been chronicled for a particular kind of posterity. Or perhaps more accurately, this is Kerr’s basketball 23andMe results, a genealogy of thought. There are over 100 plays, with tally marks to indicate frequency. I ask to know where all this comes from. What can we divine of Kerr’s influences while leafing through these pages? Our scout starts rattling off what he sees.

“Hmm, all the Weak and Strong series is Gregg Popovich. All the Pop clones run Strong and Weak. Another big one is Doc Rivers, by way of Alvin Gentry, ’cause Alvin was his first lead assistant. Dribble, Drag, Backdoor is 100 percent from Doc Rivers. The Floppy series is from Pat Riley. He never played for Pat, but that got around the league. His Loop series is Popovich. His Pistol series, originally known as the 21 series, is Mike D’Antoni. His Pick-and-Roll series is called ‘Rub,’ and that’s from Popovich. He and Pop both rub their chests when they call that, but Pop sort of does it like he’s straightening his tie. Kerr also has a Slice series and that’s definitely from Doc Rivers. His Wedge series is Pop.”

I’m not hearing one name in particular. Whenever I followed the Warriors to New York, their local media would obsessively ask about then Knicks president Phil Jackson, hoping to draw some connection between Kerr and his former Hall of Fame coach. They often asked some version of, “Are you running the Triangle?”

“To be honest, looking through this playbook, I don’t see anything from Phil Jackson,” our scout concludes. “Not one damned thing.”

To be fair, there is at least one damned Phil Jackson thing in the Warriors repertoire: an out of bounds play called “What The Fuck” that dates back to the Bulls days. Perhaps there are some other plays, here and there. But in general, Jackson’s strategic influence on Kerr appears dwarfed by some coaches Kerr never even played for or worked with. Maybe Jackson’s impact is more subjective and generalized. Maybe the Zen Master’s legacy is a more abstract echo, like the loudest of one-handed claps.

Popovich’s legacy looms largest, perhaps over the league and certainly over Kerr’s whiteboard. Pop’s “Weak Roll,” a play that gets the ball moving side to side, is an absolute favorite of Kerr’s. Our scout chuckles about Kerr’s proclivity with that one. He pictures the coach rubbing his hands together in glee like Monty Burns at the mere prospect of calling this play. “Ah yes, yes, Weak Roll,” our scout intones with a grin. He’s not necessarily against the predictable nature of coaches, but he does find it amusing on occasion. “Lemme tell you something. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is a creature of habit like NBA coaches are.”

How it works
Time is of the essence because there’s a lot of work that needs doing. When I look over our scout’s shoulder, I’m watching a chain reaction. Minutes after the buzzer, he’s sending his work to the organization for processing and later, implementation. It’s a process by which thousands of miles and many hours of effort will get condensed down to a 6-8 minute video that our scout will never see.

Here’s how the chain works, the exact process by which your favorite teams prepare for battle. Our scout flies to a game featuring a team (let’s call them the Kings) that’s say, two games away on the schedule from playing his own. Ideally, he is granted a courtside seat, “the down seat” in scout parlance. Armed with a pen and a laptop, he watches closely and listens carefully, with extra focus on Kings coach Dave Joerger, a “pain in the ass” who’s liable to obscure his play calls from prying eyes. Our scout spends all game looking for visual and vocal representations of plays, followed by the plays themselves. A call of “fist up!” paired with the making of a fist reads easy enough, for instance. Or it would, anyway, if “fist” had a universal meaning.

NBA coaches have a tendency to use the same visual terms (fist, horns, thumb) to mean all manner of different things. It’s as though everyone speaks the same language, but nobody means the same thing when they speak it. The same holds true for defensive calls, which, unlike offensive calls, tend to be colors (“red,” “blue,” etc.) rather than visual representations. With an uncommon understanding of this Tower of Babel, our scout types the visual call, vocal call and resulting action into his “call sheet.” The pen is for noting new plays and frequencies of plays. The buzzer finally sounds and it’s time to quickly send this information to the video coordinators for tagging purposes.

Back at Team HQ, a video guy has stashed a few games of the upcoming opponent “in his editor,” most likely in a program called SportsCode. He’s working on a refining process, purging these games of random, useless filler, preparing a reel for the assistant coach tasked with the Kings matchup. “The video guy will go through and remove all the crap plays, the garbage, maybe they didn’t run something right,” our scout says. “He’ll clean all of that out and what he’ll give the assistant coach is all of the actual plays.” There’s an optimal kind of play to feature, with an eye towards the motivations of athletes. “Preferably, the play is an example of proper execution. We tend to want examples where they score. We want to play up the fear to the guys.”

With the assistance of our scout, the video guy now can tag these plays according to their names and visual representations. It’s one thing for your players to see tendencies and another to know they’re coming, when they’re coming. Watch for this next time you’re at a game in person, because the television vantage rarely picks it up. Often when the camera is trained on the after basket inbounds, a defensive player is out of view, on the other side of the court, gesticulating the offense’s next play to his teammates.

Steve Kerr uses a hand signal to call a play during a Warriors game in Utah earlier this season. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Before such information can take root, it must be prepared, reduced down to a digestible size. In further consultation with the assistant coach, the video guy produces that 6-8 minute video of the opponent’s most common plays, to be shown in morning shootaround and again in pregame. This video serves as the basis for morning “walk-through,” when players are physically guided through their strategy preparations. “Normally the video edit is going to highlight two examples of the opponent’s top plays, and include maybe a dozen to 15 plays total,” our scout says. “At walk-through, you might physically go through a half dozen of the most important ones.”

The point of walk-through isn’t just to key your players on what to watch out for, but also to specifically prepare them for such actions with an organized defense. It’s a process that got more granular with time, fit according to whatever talent you’re facing. “Back in the day, there was ‘The Rule of Nowitzki,’” our scout recalls. “You had to adjust to defend him. The real key to this is not just identifying who they are. As soon as you get that call, not only do you need to know what’s coming, but also how to stop it.”

Scout’s honor
We are in a hotel lobby, with a younger scout from another team. We sit near the bar, but not at the bar. They haven’t the time for drinks but commiserate a bit over the college game playing in the background. Finally, as our scout gets ready to leave, the younger scout asks, “Hey, did you get all the plays tonight?” Younger scout missed a few and our scout is happy to help. This is part of the culture, in the way that offering lecture notes to a friend in college might have been part of yours.

Oftentimes, in the bowels of an NBA arena, two scouts from different franchises meet in a conspiracy against the home team. It’s a common sight if you know what to look for. You might be in Brooklyn, in the media room, watching the Pacers scout and Wizards scout at one table, trading secrets on how to foil the Nets next week. As the ancient proverb goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In that media room, these scouts are brothers-in-arms, united in purpose against a common enemy. That is, until the Nets scout and the Wizards scout find each other in Indiana’s arena, both looking down the barrel at an upcoming Pacers game. Then it’s time to forge a new, convenient bond.

Collegiality has its limits. In Memphis, a seat next to our scout goes wanting. It was allotted to another team’s scout who never bothered to show. We have it on good authority that this scout got trashed the night before and decided to sleep this game away. Though this is a job often given to grinders, it’s also a spot where fringe NBA characters can get stashed on a part-time basis. Sometimes, it’s just a place for coaches to get a buddy a gig.

That’s fine and well, so long as such people don’t expect any help. Our scout sees the slacker at the airport the next day. On the plane, he gets approached and queried on whether he got all the plays. “How’d you make out?” the truant scout asks. He adds that he was there but bought a game ticket because he just wanted a better angle. This is bullshit. In Memphis, scouts tend to get the courtside seat and last night was no exception. He would know this if he actually showed up to work. “I did OK,” our scout says curtly. That reply effectively ends the conversation.

“I would have helped him if he just admitted he got bombed,” our scout says. Then he mutters, “serves them right for hiring a regional scout.”

The professional advance scouts largely look down on regional scouting, a system by which teams outsource scouting to hired guns in certain cities, some of whom are employed by multiple NBA teams. It was a system popularized by Popovich in the mid-2000s, theoretically out of mercy for the league’s most brutal profession. There was also some sense to Pop’s push back then. That era’s top Western Conference teams featured known quantities like Jackson, Jerry Sloan and Rick Adelman. Why grind some poor soul into dust when you already have so much information on these veteran coaches? The West has since been shaken up, but Pop’s reform lingers. Our scout believes the system is less reliable. “I can’t trade notes with a regional scouts. You never know if what they’re getting is right.”

Though Popovich might have undermined advance scouting as a profession, head coaches are the traditional allies of NBA spies. General managers and assistant GMs don’t tend to feel similarly. After I published my initial article on advance scouting, I received pushback from staffers in the GM camp. They weren’t sold on such spycraft mattering in the end.

“That sounds like GMs,” our scout says, when I relay this. “We can’t do shit for a GM. Their reputation is based on making a big personnel move. It’s the coaches who have an appreciation for us busting our asses on the road to get them what they need.” Whatever the merits of either perspective, this much is true, politically: The advance scout is yet another salary under the coaching aegis, rather than capital devoted to a GM’s cause.

Trade made
Our scout is inhaling a mound of vanilla ice cream, a guilty pleasure in Philly, which features one of the lesser credentialed guest meals. When asked why he’s not fat, given his lifestyle, our scout shrugs and says, “genes. And a lot of walking.” A younger staffer from his team happens to be at his table, looking at Twitter. “We made a trade!” the young guy says, having just learned the breaking news from social media. Our scout shrugs and offers that he wishes they’d do a deal for a younger player who’d been struggling. “What have you got to lose?!”

I ask if anyone from the team is calling. No, our scout’s phone is not blowing up. He’s not getting an inside scoop on how this all went down. On personnel decisions, he is out of sight, out of mind, a far off satellite that delivers perpetual information, tethered to his home planet by the most tenuous of gravitational tugs. This won’t change his job at all. He keeps eating.

The team that pays his salary seems to almost exist in a parallel universe. Our scout is never there for the games he studies for. When I hopped on the road with him, I looked in anticipation to his team’s upcoming game against the opponent he was spying on. We traveled thousands of miles following this prey, as he stalked them as the most dedicated hunter. When that game finally arrived, I had to remind our scout that it was in progress. We were at yet another game, in yet another arena, and he was tracking a new foe. “I hope my work helps, but there isn’t enough time to live and die with the game results,” he says. Our scout was already a few days in the future, the only place he truly resides. A glance at his laptop is a peek through a rear view mirror, where the present reads more like a quickly disappearing past than a moment the world lives in.

People have a finite amount of attention and this is certainly the case for our scout. He needs to prioritize, taking exactly what he needs in the moment and leaving everything else. When you’re, say, spying on both coaches in one game, basic game details slip away. “Often, I can’t tell you if one team is up by 40 or down by 40,” he says. Our scout is only fixated on what teams are running, a focus on process that fully eclipses results. In the end, our scout lives inside this riddle: He watches games but does not see the score and he prepares for games he does not see at all. Such is life in the alternate time space.

Dog, house
His house is nice, if a little unkempt. Good neighborhood, two stories. There’s water damage that he might fix if he were ever here long enough. When I arrive it’s darkly lit but for the radiant energy generated by his loyal four-legged companion, a buoyant yellow lab. Scout dog is back from day care and thrilled to see his nomadic man. The grizzled scout takes a soothing tone with the dog, whispering baby talk to the happy beast. After we leave the house, our scout says, “I gotta be honest. If it was most people in the river and my dog, I’m saving my dog.” He now takes the dog on the rare, close road trip. Certain hotels have more relaxed restrictions than others. I’m told the dog makes connections with hotel workers faster than our scout ever did. The road is less lonely with a dog, not just due to the companionship, but also because strangers seem to offer more of their humanity in the presence of an animal.

Beyond his evident popularity, scout dog provides stability in a life on the go. Not everybody can or would keep up. Our scout is single, his longest romantic relationship having lasted eight years. Our scout has plenty of friends, though, especially in the basketball business. They see him all the time, just not so much in person. His phone regularly pings with the same kind of text message: a photo of our scout on TV, seated courtside, staring with a coldness that could make a rink out of hardwood. As he shows me the latest such text, he smiles widely, and suddenly looks unrecognizable from the haunted visage on the phone.

Our scout achieved a measure of emotional fulfilment when his team won the NBA championship. It was the culmination of a career, and moreover, just plain fun. Unlike everyone else, he got to relax a bit through the process, as his side of the preparation was largely done. He got to watch the games with his own team for once. He wasn’t out on the road by himself for once. And then, there was the thrill of ultimate victory and the quiet satisfaction in knowing you pitched in.

Except, that night, the euphoria had an undercurrent. “My celebration was kind of, you know, muted,” our scout remembers, with a grimace. That girlfriend of eight years had finally left him, weeks before the championship, for someone else. It was all fairly predictable. How can you share a life with someone who’s never there? How can you plan for the future with a man who lives entirely in an alternate time space? When asked if he has any regrets regarding multiple relationships this job undermined, our scout is steadfast. “No. Basketball was all I ever wanted to do.”

Why? That part is less clear. He was in love with the game growing up, so much so that he traded away certainty for whatever this is. He was premed at a top-flight college, only to ditch it all when a college coaching opportunity came up. He never looked back. “If you could have told me, back then, that I’d be working in the NBA? Shit. Of course I’d do it all again.”

What is the reward system for such labor? It used to be clearer. One of his happiest memories and biggest accomplishments happened long ago, back when he was working as a college assistant coach. He prepared like hell for an undefeated Duke team, despite his squad’s lack of a realistic chance. The college game is simpler, with not as much strategy altered according to opponent. Our scout had some different ideas for big, bad Duke, suggesting pick-and-roll coverages, fit according to the offensive threat. Nothing groundbreaking, but unexpected at that level.

Duke was caught unaware. The Blue Devils shot poorly, got somewhat unlucky and lost. The upset unleashed bedlam in the college town. Our scout went to a bar his friends often frequented, taking in the crazy scene he knew he had a secret hand in causing. A woman he was hooking up with at the time approached him. She did not mince words. They would be getting together later that night. “That felt pretty good,” our scout says, reminiscing.

Life is a bit different these days. When victory happens, there is no bedlam and no visceral spoils. It’s usually hundreds of miles away and hardly registered. Winning and its rewards have been traded for the process that once secured that massive victory over Duke. Now that our scout is older, this process not only remains but sustains. “I like the work,” he says. At least it remains constant.

The end
“Go! Go! Go!” Our scout is exhorting me into the car with the verve of a NASCAR pit crew member. This will be our last trip, and unfortunately, it will be a hurried adventure. He’s running late and the streets are choked with weekend festival-goers. After struggling with the trunk, I leap into the front seat and suddenly feel my face engulfed by a warm dampness. Scout dog is here and he’s saying hello, nearly licking my glasses off. We zoom out to the doggy day-care dropoff and then to the airport.

The conversations bounce around various topics. Our scout discusses what he’s read most recently, a book on George S. Patton. He doesn’t have the free hours for many hobbies but enjoys reading about World War II. “Not joining the military is one of my biggest regrets,” he says at one point, adding that, when he sees military members on his flights, he feels guilty. Tactics and hardware obsessed him from an early age. He can rattle off details from different battles, the tanks they used, what technology proved decisive and differentials in man power.

With the clock ticking, we get to life subjects. What exactly happened with that long-term girlfriend? What happens now in your life? The former has a clear answer, but the latter far less so. Our scout eases into a parking space and opens the door. I get a text informing me that my flight is delayed. I wish to relax in my newfound pocket of languor but will keep pace with the hurried for now. Our scout says, “You know, I do want to have kids. Someday, if I meet the right woman …”

We exit the vehicle and commence walking briskly. He will make his flight. He had more time than he thought, just not nearly as much as I did.

lag∞n, Friday, 14 December 2018 17:38 (two years ago) link

I couldn’t finish that pretentious shit. Barely made it through the intro.

EZ Snappin, Friday, 14 December 2018 18:07 (two years ago) link

ESS is really a lot to handle it's true

J0rdan S., Friday, 14 December 2018 18:47 (two years ago) link

We exit the vehicle and commence walking briskly.

lol

lag∞n, Friday, 14 December 2018 18:52 (two years ago) link

he can be a lot but i really liked that one

call all destroyer, Friday, 14 December 2018 19:07 (two years ago) link

i love ethan

тпсбlack (Spottie), Friday, 14 December 2018 19:11 (two years ago) link

non basketball but supposed to be amazing

https://theathletic.com/721275/2018/12/18/

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:33 (two years ago) link

lol the title alone is very good

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:35 (two years ago) link

The Passion of Mike Piazza: How the midlife crisis of a baseball Hall of Famer led to the demise of a 100-year-old Italian soccer club

By Robert Andrew Powell 227
When​ Mike Piazza arrived​ in Reggio​ Emilia,​ he was greeted​ as a hero.

It​ was June 18, 2016.​ Everyone​ remembers​​ the exact date. Piazza had just purchased a controlling interest in A.C. Reggiana 1919, the Italian city’s soccer club. Few locals had heard of him. Even fewer understood his Hall of Fame career catching for the Mets, Dodgers, and three other teams in the American sport of baseball. “When I learned he was the new owner, I went out and bought his autobiography,” says Jacopo Della Porta, a reporter for La Gazzetta di Reggio. “I think I’m the only one here who has read it.” Piazza was obviously rich. His U.S. citizenship gave him a certain baseline allure. Above all, it was his stated plan to return Reggiana to the top flight of Italian soccer that inspired several thousand fans to squeeze into a public square to see him in person.

Reggiana had languished in Serie C, the Italian third division, since the turn of the century. For a club that has known glory—Carlo Ancelotti coached the team into Serie A, in 1996—the long spell of mediocrity has been dispiriting, even embarrassing. Piazza declared, in translated English, that the club was back in solid financial shape. He said he was in Italy for the long haul, invested in the community, and committed to Reggiana’s success. At the rally, smoke from ignited flares swirled around him. Maroon flags waved. Ultras raised their scarves and chanted songs and reached out to shake Piazza’s hand. “Dai c’andom!” Piazza shouted. “Come on!”

Two years later, A.C. Reggiana no longer exists. The club is bankrupt. A court-appointed accountant is distributing its assets.

In what should have been Reggiana’s centennial season, a different team, not owned by Piazza, now represents the city, down in Serie D, which is only semi-pro. The mayor of Reggio Emilia accuses Piazza of “disrespecting” his town. Those ultras who initially cheered Piazza painted death threats on the walls of the team’s headquarters.

When it all ended last summer, Piazza and his family fled Reggio Emilia so abruptly that the fans—along with team, staff, and even the players—felt blindsided. “They ghosted us,” says Sonya Kondratenko, an American who handled social media for the second and final year Piazza owned the team.

Piazza thought he had embarked on a romantic new chapter of his life. He believed he would stay in Italy for the next three decades, running Reggiana and eventually handing the club down to his children. His wife, Alicia, who never wanted him to buy a soccer team, to whom Piazza handed control of the club after a disastrous first year, and who many in Reggio Emilia blame for the club’s implosion, saw the possibility of a different ending. As they stepped off the stage in the plaza, she pulled her husband aside.

“Either we’re going to have the best experience ever,” she told him, “or we’re going to get rolled.”

‌‌‌

Reggio Emilia is a small city about an hour’s train ride south of Milan. Nestled in Italy’s “Food Valley” alongside Parma, Bologna, and Modena, Reggio Emilia is known for its pumpkin tortellini and its namesake cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano. The tricolor national flag first flew in Reggio Emilia, in 1797, its creation celebrated in a museum in the old town center. The headquarters of fashion house Max Mara sit not far from a new train station designed by Santiago Calatrava. Locals are well-educated; Reggio Emilia is known around the world for its progressive schools. They’re also wealthy, though they tend not to flaunt it. The city has a history with communism and retains a collectivist ethos. “We work,” one resident tells me, summing up the city’s view of itself.

The Piazzas, for the two years they ran Reggiana, lived in a rented villa outside the city. They spent their summers in South Florida, where they’ve kept a home for more than a decade. I visited them in Florida in August, arriving as the sun set on Sunset Island II, a triangle of extremely expensive homes connected by a short bridge to Miami Beach.

“This interview’s going to be wet,” Mike said soon after I arrived. He stepped toward a bar in the living room and smiled. “I hope that’s okay with you.”

Mike poured me a glass of Grande Alberone Quintus, a red blend. Alicia sipped a chardonnay. My crystal glass was etched with the letter P in a curled script. Mike cupped his glass in his fingers as if it didn’t have a stem or a base.

“We do this every night,” Mike said, popping a chunk of cheese into his mouth as he settled into a striped Louis XIV chair. Behind him glimmered a swimming pool, and then the calm waters of Biscayne Bay. Alicia sat opposite Mike, near a tray of vegetables.

“It’s a tragedy,” Mike said of his soccer-team ownership. “Like an opera.”

“It was fucking hell,” said Alicia.

After retiring, Mike slipped into the languid life of ex-athletes in Florida. I’d seen pictures of Mike and Alicia appraising paintings at Art Basel. They hosted a benefit for the National Italian American Foundation at their waterfront house. He smoked cigars and golfed with Mario Lemieux and Michael Jordan and James Pallotta, the American owner of Italian soccer club Roma. He golfed a bit more than he cared to, actually.

“I think we got to a point in Miami where we got a little too melancholy,” Mike said. “Maybe that was part of it what fueled what I was doing. I wanted to do something different. And I wanted to do something interesting, and I wanted to do something creative.”

Piazza, who recently turned 50, came of age during the best days of the North American Soccer League. Growing up in Pennsylvania, he was a fan of the Philadelphia Fury, and also the indoor Fever. After he retired from baseball, his appreciation for soccer blossomed. He sat in the stands in Genoa in 2012 when the U.S. men’s national team defeated Italy for the first time. He and a friend flew to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup—“a bucket list sort of thing.” He loved how, unlike baseball, soccer is truly global, played and watched in every country. He began to think that owning a soccer team might be the most interesting thing someone in his position could do.

“I was retired when my second daughter was born,” he said. “And it’s my kids—I would never trade them for the world—but I remember thinking, ‘Here I am, I used to be hitting home runs in front of 43,000 people, and now I’ve got shit under my fingernails from changing diapers.’ There is nothing you will ever do after you retire that will give you the same buzz as playing. I’m sorry. I was able to recognize that and rationalize it and come to a point in my mind where you know maybe it”—buying a soccer team—“was like this super rebound.”

First, he looked at the Premier League. Everton. He flew into London and took a train up to Liverpool, visiting the port city for the first time. Eventually, he concluded the numbers would never work. He dropped down a league to investigate Reading, and also Leeds United. (“I’ve always liked Leeds. It’s weird.”) He pivoted back to the Americas, meeting with the president of Liga MX to discuss maybe buying Las Monarcas de Morelia. (“That would have been crazy.”) Then he investigated his options in Italy. That country seemed like the best fit.

There was the chance to actually live in Italy. Mike’s maternal grandparents are from Sicily. (Piazza translates as “public square;” the welcome rally in Reggio Emilia was held in Piazza Prampolini.) He didn’t visit his homeland until he was in his 30s, but when he did, he felt Italian. He loved the food, the wine. He identified with the people. Also, the soccer landscape appeared much more open.

“I believe that Italian soccer clubs are the most undervalued assets in sports,” says Joe Tacopina, the American owner of Venezia FC. Tacopina was also part of the initial group of Americans that bought Roma, in 2011. “This worldwide club, one of the best-known teams on the planet. And we paid just 110 million euros. For the whole club! For Roma! You can spend that much on just one good midfielder!”

Piazza first wanted to buy Parma, a Serie A club then in bankruptcy. Ultimately he felt Parma carried too much debt for him to absorb. Reggiana looked more attractive. Despite being in Serie C, the team’s passionate fans bought an unusually high number of season tickets. Reggiana also played in a top-flight stadium shared with Serie A club Sassuolo. Unlike a Premier League team, or a team already in Serie A, this was a club he could buy cheap and build.

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

“It’s not easy for an American to come to Italy and try to do business in Italian soccer,” says Gaël Genevier, a midfielder and the Reggiana team captain during Piazza’s ownership. “It’s a jungle. And when you have money, it’s even worse. Mike had a big wallet, he was American, and he didn’t know the soccer in Italy. And I think that’s why he had a lot of problems.”

Soon after Piazza bought Reggiana, he set out to raise the visibility of the club. He gifted Jimmy Kimmel a maroon jersey, on air. The New York Times flew over a reporter for a feature story. On Sports Illustrated’s “Planet Fútbol” podcast, Piazza talked about market discipline, about having a financial plan, about sticking to the plan for the long haul.

“When I took over the club I had a meeting with all the staff,” he told host Grant Wahl. “I said, if you don’t believe we can get to Serie A in five years, then I respectfully ask you to leave right now.”

Turns out, that’s not how it works in Italy. Piazza was free to fire anyone, but whoever he did fire still had to be paid, often for years. Contribute, they call it. In the three months between Piazza’s purchase of Reggiana and the moment he actually took over operations, the number of people employed by the club ballooned. The sporting director he inherited collected a bigger salary than the sporting director of Lazio, in Serie A—and for three years, guaranteed, no matter what. The players’ contracts were exceptionally generous for the Italian third division. The team captain told Piazza so. “They were attractive contracts for even B, one level up,” Genevier says. Piazza was overpaying for everything.

The year before Piazza bought Reggiana, the club finished in seventh place in its division, with operational costs of around 500,000 euros. In Piazza’s first season with the club, Reggiana finished in fifth place, but at a cost to Piazza of more than six million euros.

“When the auditors told us that, it was deafening to our ears,” recalled Alicia. “I turned to Mike and said, ‘What the fuck did you just do?!”

Mike decided he could no longer work with the front office he’d inherited. He also cut ties with his original partner, an Italian he knew from Miami. Looking around for someone who could protect his interests, he didn’t see many options.

“Alicia became the only one I could trust,” Mike said. “I basically took the budget and I turned to her and went, ‘Help. I don’t know what to do.’”

From that point on, Alicia Piazza took charge of Reggiana. And she started making changes.

Alicia Piazza began modeling in her teens and kept at it for a decade. After appearing in Playboy—Miss October, 1995—she saved some lives on the TV show “Baywatch” before showcasing a Broyhill dinette set as one of Barker’s Beauties on “The Price is Right.” She earned a master’s degree in psychology while in Miami. For more than a decade, she had seen herself primarily as a mom to their three kids.

Suddenly, she was vice president of AC Reggiana 1919.

Cost-cutting became her priority, in a way that felt personal. Every dime squandered was a direct hit to the family’s net worth. She ordered the drivers for youth team buses to stop dropping off players at their houses, to save on gas. She ordered the players to wash their own uniforms. (“I don’t think she realized that in Italy not everyone has a washing machine,” says Kondratenko, the American who handled social media for Reggiana.) She typed angry texts, calling employees she fired “conmen” and “frauds” and “liars.” The salutation of one text Alicia shared with me, sent to the team’s former sporting director: “Fuck off, loser.”

“I was the bitch,” she admitted. “I was the bad guy. And I’m sure I have a lot of enemies, and I’m sure you heard a lot of bad things about me and I don’t give a shit. I ripped the mask off so many faces.”

The Piazzas put their Miami Beach house on the market in January. Alicia sent a general email asking if anyone in the front office might want to buy it, asking price $18.5 million. She encouraged a friend of hers in Parma—the one who compared Reggio Emilia to Pittsburgh—to design a jewelry line to celebrate Reggiana’s 100th anniversary. The whole office sat in meetings to decide which rings and bracelets in the collection worked best. “I always thought the club would never fold before the anniversary, just because of all the time she put in on the jewelry,” says Kondratenko. Deviating from her mission to cut costs, Alicia renovated the players’ locker room, adding new tile and an extra toilet. One day, Kondratenko was pulled from her regular work assignments to shuttle Brande Roderick—a Playmate, a “Baywatch” lifeguard, and Alicia’s close friend—to the train station.

“My life plan is not to be doing errands for Playmates,” Kondratenko tells me.

The clear goal in the second season was for Reggiana to earn promotion to Serie B. New sporting director Ted Philipakos, an American who came over from Venezia FC, upgraded Reggiana’s quality on the pitch. He also found a new coach in Greece, where Philipakos holds dual citizenship and retains connections in the sport. They agreed on terms. The coach flew up to Reggio Emilia with his staff, ready to sign his contract and get started. Only after he arrived did the Piazzas balk at the compensation. Alicia offered to pay him and his staff 15,000 euros less than the original offer, a relatively small sum. After the coach protested, she floated a smaller cut of 7,500 euros. The coach flew back to Athens, on principle.

When Mike named Alicia the club vice president, he stepped back a bit. “He likes to stay above the fray,” she said. “It’s not like he’s a pussy or he needs his wife. It’s the way he’s comfortable. He’s always been like that.” In her newly elevated role as Reggiana’s “first lady,” she became a bit of a media sensation. She gave interviews at the team headquarters. She answered questions at restaurants when reporters approached her table, filming. “Alicia always talked down about Reggiana being a peasant team in a peasant town,” says Kondratenko. “She thinks these people have no class, but in some aspects they were super impressed with Alicia. She has money, she’s from the U.S., she has a Chanel bag and a Gucci bag.”

The influential magazine Sportweek invited Alicia to sit for a long interview. It’s her understanding that she was the first club vice president ever to be formally interviewed, and the first woman at any level in Italian soccer.

“I knew we had to get our story out about the stadium,” she said. “And I was feeling there was a conspiracy and I was feeling something (dark) in this underbelly.”

When Reggiana rose to Serie A in 1993, the club and the government of Reggio Emilia recognized the need for a home stadium worthy of the top flight. Locals funded much of the new stadium themselves, purchasing season tickets years into the future to cover construction costs. But Reggiana lasted only two campaigns in Serie A. The club itself went bankrupt. Ownership of the stadium reverted to the city, and the mayor put it up for auction. A billionaire named Giorgio Squinzi bought it, cheap.

Squinzi is the head of Mapei, a conglomerate that sells paint and adhesives. He also owns Sassuolo, a Serie A club which now plays its home games in Reggio Emilia, in the stadium Reggiana built, which Squinzi renamed after his company. Reggiana still played there, too, though they had to pay rent. In a development that Alicia noted on Instagram, the rent almost doubled in the short time between when Mike bought the club and when he actually took over its operation. That’s what Alicia wanted to talk about with Sportweek publisher Andrea Monti.

“He’s balding but he’s powerful and he’s become sexy,” she said of Monti. “He apparently never comes into these interviews, but he comes in and shakes my hand. Everyone thinks it’s because I’m cute, I know. But I was hungover and I was not cute that day. He crosses his legs and he stays for 45 minutes. Then he says this to me, which I will never forget:

“‘Reggio is a strange town and it’s run by the politicians. Don’t you wonder why that town has the (Calatrava) train station? There’s a lot of money there but it’s all controlled by Squinzi. But I think you, my dear, are going to give him a run for the money.’”

From that meeting on, Alicia vowed “not to give fucking Mapei another dime,” she said. “And let me tell you, that was the point where it was like, ‘Alicia sank the company.’”

On March 8th, reportedly at Alicia’s urging, Mike Piazza held a press conference to address Reggiana’s growing debt to Mapei. “It was the worst day of my life,” says Kondratenko, who recorded the press conference in a video that went viral, not just in Italy but around the world. Piazza sat at a table, Alicia silently on his right, an interpreter to his left. Ads for Riunite wine and Parmigiano Reggiano flashed and dissolved on a screen in front of his microphone. “We’re invested in this community,” he said in his opening. “I’ve moved my family here, my children here, to be part of this community.” He slapped the table, hard. “And we deserve respect!”

While Mike spoke in English, he showed impressive fluency in Italian hand gestures.

“We are not going to be PUSHED AROUND by a multi-billion dollar corporation,” he continued. “The stadium was built for this team.” He tapped his index finger on the table three times. “By these PEOPLE!” He tapped a couple more times, furiously. His voice almost cracked when he said, “We’ve reached out in friendship to try to form a coalition with the mayor, with Mr. Squinzi, with Sassuolo, with Mapei, and we’ve gotten”—he slammed down a fist—“NOTHING!” His hand slashed the air with a karate chop. “NOTHING!” He pointed his index finger. “And I’m sick of it! I’m tired and sick of Reggiana being pushed around. I’m frustrated and I’m….” He inhaled a breath. “Ffffffffreakin’ pissed off!” He fell back in his chair and let the translator have at it. Alicia remained motionless.

This went on for more than 10 minutes. He said he isn’t a quitter, but he has his limit. If the rent wasn’t lowered to at least the league average for Serie C, he’d walk away.

“Probably that was the first step in an exit strategy,” says Gazzetta reporter Della Porta.

There was a period early in the second season, in the fall of 2017, when Alicia wasn’t there. She returned to Miami for a bit, to prepare their house for sale. Right after she left, in a development Reggiana supporters tell me is no coincidence, the play of the team dramatically improved. Reggiana strung together two unbeaten streaks of eight games each, vaulting the club from 15th place into second, tantalizingly close to automatic promotion to Serie B. Mike, who stayed in Italy, got hands-on with the team, pulling players aside for one-on-one interviews.

“We knew he was a good athlete, he won a lot of things,” says Genevier. “His Italian wasn’t very good—he spoke in English and the translator translated everything to the players—but he was very, very positive inside the locker room. I remember the players were very happy after each speech of Mike’s. He was the president but he was like a player.”

Without the Greek coach they’d failed to sign, the team was forced to use a Frankenstein’s monster for a manager: One man, who had his coaching license but no experience in Serie C, became the titular leader, while two coaches from the youth teams—both lacking the proper licenses—picked the rosters and the tactics and ran the training sessions.

Somehow it worked. Mike witnessed away victories over Santarcangelo and AlbinoLeffe. Before kickoff, he’d shake hands with the ultras and give his pep talks in the locker room. He followed the action closely.

“When that ball went into the net, I felt like I was playing again,” Mike said. “I’ve never done cocaine, I’ve never done crystal meth, I’ve never done hard drugs, or any drugs for that matter besides aspirin. But let me tell you, that was fucking intoxicating.”

Reggiana finished the regular season in fourth place in their division. The team could still rise to Serie B by winning a playoff tournament. In the quarterfinals, Reggiana matched up against Siena, a strong club, for a home-and-home series. Reggiana won the opener, 2-1. In the second leg, down in Tuscany, Siena held a 1-0 lead deep into the second half. The tie in aggregate meant Siena would advance thanks to that club’s better regular-season finish. But in the first minute of stoppage time, Reggiana scored. In his box, Piazza leapt from his seat.

“Mike was into these games,” says Philipakos. “Obviously he had a lot of money on the line—that was a factor. But the raw emotion wasn’t just about protecting his investment. It was about competition. He was very engaged. When we equalized in stoppage time, he exploded. What followed minutes later was visible heartbreak.”

What followed was decried as “unjust” by Reggio Emilia mayor Luca Vecci. In the sixth minute of stoppage time, a Siena midfielder lofted a ball into the Reggiana box. In the scramble, a Siena player pushed over one of Reggiana’s defenders. Somehow, the referee called a hand ball on the toppled fullback. Yes, the ball briefly touches the player’s arm, but he was on his back from the fall, and he fell because he’d just been bodychecked. Still. Penalty. Siena converted in the 109th minute, with the last kick of the game. Reggiana lost the series. No promotion. Ultras stormed the pitch, looking for blood. Even the mayor ran to midfield.

“It was horrible,” says Genevier, the team captain. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve played more than 300 games in Italy and this one was really the worst one.”

The next day, Mike Piazza posted a message on the official Reggiana website:

“Last night I could not comment because I had to go home with my children. I regret that they had to witness such corruption and incompetence. I’m deeply disgusted and angry. I’m really sorry for our fans, they do not deserve this. It’s really a sad day for Italy and for Italian football. I will never understand how some dirty and corrupt individuals managed to make something so beautiful so repugnant and ugly. I’m sick.”

Two days after the Siena loss, the Piazzas appeared to have emotionally recovered. They hosted a thank-you rally in a small, old stadium near the center of Reggio Emilia. The ultras turned out, as always. Flares burned, flags waved. Smoke floated around Mike, just as it had two years earlier at his grand arrival. The players trooped out in their jerseys, Genevier holding the hand of his young son. The Piazzas stood in front of them. Mike spoke first, in little snippets followed by pauses for translation.

“I want to thank the first lady,” he said, turning to Alicia. She curtseyed in her orange dress. The fans chanted her name. “I’m just going to tell you how much work she has done in the office behind the scenes. And it’s true when I tell you the only reason we’re here today after this beautiful season is because of Alicia. She convinced me to go on. So we all owe a debt of gratitude to her. Grazie!”

Mike kissed her. The ultras continued chanting her name. A female fan stepped onto the grass to offer Alicia a bouquet of white flowers.

“These guys played their asses off and they played with so much heart and determination,” Mike continued, turning to the players. “And it’s really sad the way it ended. But that doesn’t change the effort and the drive and the love they applied.”

Mike held up his fists over his head, a signal of strength and resolve. “I salute this team,” he concluded. “God bless! Enjoy the summer! Well done.”

Everyone left the rally thinking the mission continued. The team would stay together, the Piazzas would remain as owners.

“From my perspective, we had righted the ship,” says Philipakos. “If not for a totally absurd referee’s decision maybe we’d be in Serie B right now. We still had all these great things in place. The key players weren’t going to go anywhere. Most of the starters were under contract. We could have hit the ground running, and should have been a really strong favorite for promotion.”

The rally took place on June 5th. Mike flew to New York to throw out the first pitch before a Mets-Yankees game. Alicia stayed in Italy. On June 8th, a Friday, she invited the front office to lunch at a neighborhood café. Everyone shared a spread of cured meats, cheeses, and fresh pasta. Corks popped off wine bottles. It felt upbeat and celebratory. Alicia told them that with the season over, they should all consider themselves on vacation.

She meant more than that. On Monday, a chain and lock hung on the front door to the offices. Zip ties secured the gates to the parking lot. The Piazzas were gone. The players didn’t know what to do. Should they find new teams? Kondratenko says she didn’t know any more than the players. Should she fly back to the States?

“I woke up to a thousand WhatsApp messages asking what was going on,” she recalls. “I couldn’t take a coffee because so many people were coming up to me asking for information.”

On the 13th of June, on the team website, Mike Piazza announced that he’d put the team up for sale. Alicia issued her own statement: “Unfortunately, Reggiana has been under attack from negative forces since Mike’s arrival. … The suspicious loss in Siena was the final blow. We are generous but we are not crazy.”

One week later, the Piazzas returned to Reggio Emilia and were spotted at the team offices. More than a hundred ultras marched into the office parking lot, chanting and demanding answers. Carabinieri—national police aligned with the military—showed up for the Piazzas’ safety. The police advised the Americans to avoid the front door of the complex and exit through the back. Mike assured them it wouldn’t be necessary—he had always enjoyed a good relationship with the fans.

The carabinieri informed him that the relationship had changed. The Piazzas slipped out the back door, under police escort.

At their house in Miami, drinking wine, both Piazzas told me the end was inevitable. The plane was in a nosedive when they entered the cockpit—when they first arrived in Reggio Emilia—and they knew it immediately. They hung on for two full seasons, at great personal expense, only to get robbed in the playoffs against Siena.

“And we had enough!” Alicia shouted. “And they’re like, ‘Well, let’s sign up for next year and lose another four million euros altogether.’ Who’s losing the four million? We are! We’re losing the four million and not you. So we each took a pill”—she’s speaking figuratively—“we said, ‘Romeo and Juliet did this, we’re going to kill ourselves before you fucking get to kill us.’”

The Piazzas and their Italian attorneys initially tried to sell the club to a group of Reggio Emilia businessmen. When a deadline for fielding a team in Serie C passed, the businessmen opted to simply start up their own, new team, with the mayor’s blessing. Reggio Audace—“Bold”—play down in Serie D, with a roster of amateurs and unpaid professionals. The president of the new team tells me he’s still friends with the Piazzas. He wants them to grant him the official Reggiana name, now that they are done with soccer in the city. The Piazzas have said they will probably turn over the name, once the dissolution is complete.

In the public square where Mike made his initial arrival, there’s a small sign stating that it was there, in the same plaza, that Reggiana was founded 100 years ago. The square is ringed with restaurants and shops, including the official Reggiana team store. Piazza still owns the store, technically. When I was there in August, team jerseys remained for sale even though the team itself no longer existed. One T-shirt featured the “C’mon!’ phrase that Piazza cried out at his introduction. A poster of Piazza, from his days in baseball, had been taken down. No one wanted to see it anymore.

“Maybe it could have been different,” Mike told me in Miami Beach. “If I could re-engineer the whole thing I’d go back and save a lot of the money that was squandered. I’d put in my own people, people that knew what we’re doing. But that’s what we learn! We learn those lessons the hard way! There’s a lot of shoulda, coulda, woulda, but I don’t regret doing it.”

I can still see why it was attractive. In the States, Mike Piazza is a former great. A legend. In Reggio Emilia, with Reggiana, his role was active. Running a soccer team in Italy: It really is a romantic idea. He wasn’t simply a rich guy drinking wine on an endless vineyard tour. He wasn’t merely eating incredible food or lounging in a seaside cabana. He was living. He had an identity beyond his days of baseball, which by now are well behind him. “I need to have a project,” he once told Kondratenko. “I don’t want to just play golf all the time.”

I can also see why Alicia wanted out: She never wanted in. “I’m free,” she told me. Instead of sinking more of the family’s cash into a soccer team, they can spend that money weekending in Barcelona, or how about London? “My kids will be fluent in Italian and maybe also French,” she said. “I’m happy.” She didn’t want the soccer project the way Mike wanted it. But then, she’s never hit a home run in front of 43,000 people.

The Piazzas returned to Italy in late August. “I’m surprised they did this,” says Gian Marco Regnani, a calcio blogger in Reggio Emilia. “They’re the enemy.” The family rented the same villa outside of town from when they owned the team. Recently they moved closer to Parma, where the kids go to school. The Piazzas told me their status as outsiders might have been a central problem. They had the ability to pack up and fly away, while for everyone else Reggio Emilia is home.

“I always had a feeling that they were going to leave,” says Regnani. “I never thought they were going to be here forever.”

When I spoke with the Piazzas in Miami, Mike was careful to stress that he had not bankrupted Reggiana. He and Alicia were “dissolving” the club, he said. They were “executing a soft landing.” But they didn’t “bankrupt” a 100-year-old soccer team and civic institution, he insisted.

That was in August. On December 4th, the Piazzas asked a judge to declare the club bankrupt. On December 5th, the judge granted the request. More than 100 creditors, including Mapei, are currently carving up the Reggiana carcass.

In October, Mike flew to Scotland for a week on the Old Course at St. Andrews. In November, he posted a picture from a golf course in Tuscany.

I’ve spoken to him a couple times, at length, since he returned to Italy. The last time we talked, we discussed Reggiana for a while, naturally, but the team and its problems and his brief time running the club seemed like a closed chapter. We talked about Donald Trump and how being an American abroad has given Piazza a wider perspective on immigration. We talked about the Mets for a bit. He told me he’s started getting into rugby on TV. And also Formula 1. He said he doesn’t like to watch Italian soccer anymore. Not even Serie A. “I just don’t,” he said. “Or I think I’m just too hurt to care.”

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:35 (two years ago) link

the wife's quotes are completely out of control

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:37 (two years ago) link

lmao i can hear her

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:50 (two years ago) link

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 04:42 (two years ago) link

five months pass...

Toggle navigation


NBA GIVE A GIFT
MY TEAMS CITIES NHL MLB NFL NBA CFB CBB SOCCER FANTASY WNBA MMA VIDEO PODCASTS • • •
‘The board man gets paid’: An oral history of Kawhi Leonard’s college days

By Jayson Jenks 42
This is my new favorite quote: “The board man gets paid.”

According to former teammates, coaches and managers, Kawhi Leonard didn’t say much during his two seasons (2009-11) at San Diego State. But he did say that, all the time, and it is wonderful: “The board man gets paid.” It says so much about who Leonard was and still is, and it absolutely belongs on a T-shirt.

This is the story about his two years at San Diego State, during which the Aztecs went 59-12 and made the NCAA Tournament both seasons under coach Steve Fisher.

Tim Shelton, forward: He was probably one of the hardest recruits that you’d ever deal with who was that talented. (California’s Mr. Basketball in 2009.) He wasn’t going to text you, he wasn’t going to pick up the phone and talk to you. He just wouldn’t do it.

Justin Hutson, assistant coach: I wouldn’t say hard. I would say different. You couldn’t get him on the phone. Once a week, I’d just have to go up there to his high school (100 miles away in Riverside, Calif.), and I’d make sure he was there first.

Shelton: And it’s part of why the Pac-12 teams didn’t put in extra effort. They were like, “He’s kind of a four-man, and, shoot, we can’t call him and talk to him. He must not want to talk to us.”

DJ Gay, guard: I took Kawhi on his official visit. Honestly, the only thing he wanted to do was get in the gym. We were like, “Kawhi, what do you want to do?” And he was like, “Let’s go work out. Let’s go get some shots up. Let’s play.”

Shelton: We had open gym and were playing. We stopped in between games and introduced ourselves as a team and just chopped it up a little bit more with his mom than him. He introduced himself, “I’m Kawhi. Hey, what’s up.” But if you tried to talk to him, he was like, “It’s cool, everything’s cool, so far it’s cool, it’s nice.” But then he just grabbed the ball and went to shoot. Even during his visit, I’m telling you.

Gay: I think we started up our day playing two-on-two and finished our day getting shots up. That’s just what he wanted to do. He wanted to work. I honestly had no idea what to expect when he left. He didn’t say much. He just wanted to hoop. I had no idea if we were getting him or not. I told coach Fisher: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you. He didn’t say much.”

Dave Velasquez, assistant coach: My favorite story about Kawhi is when he got to San Diego State his freshman year. He had a math class at 8 a.m. and a writing class at 10 a.m. It was Monday through Thursday, and it was really tough. Our job was to make sure the freshmen were up for that 8 a.m. class. So we were always knocking on their dorm room at 7:30. When we had to find Kawhi for his 8 a.m. class, he was rebounding by himself.

Gay: By far the hardest worker I’ve ever come across, I’ve ever known.

Alex Jamerson, manager: I’ve never seen anyone, ever, work harder in my whole life.

Jamerson: I would show up early to our arena to get things set up for practice. I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be the first guy in the arena just to get things set up,” and I walk out to bring the balls out and he’s already got one or two with him shooting in the dark in the arena. All by himself.

John Van Houten, manager: We used to have to break into the volleyball gym.

Shelton: This was before they had all these swipe cards. We had just one key that we would share to get into that gym. When you didn’t have the key available, you could put the finger under the door at Peterson Gym, and if you knew how to wiggle it right, you could push the latch up and unlock the door.

Van Houten: At first, you could get in and you had access to the lights, you had access to the hoops and everything was good. And then they started cracking down, so we started breaking in, but the lightbox would be locked.

Shelton: So Kawhi had a lamp, and on different occasions, Kawhi would be in there late and the lightbox would be locked, so he’d bring a lamp in there. He’d put his finger under the door and unlatch it and he’d go in there and shoot with just his lamp.

Van Houten: And that’s when they got a new locking mechanism on the doors. And that’s when I got a key to an LDS church, a Mormon church, and they had a full court. … He was gonna find a way to work.

Jason Deutchman, guard: We lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament my senior year on a Thursday. I took the rest of the weekend off and then I was like, “I’m going to go start training on that Monday.” I remember going in that very first night, three days after we had lost — and he was already there.

Coach Velasquez: We had Saturday morning conditioning, so not only would he be running hard and be in the front, but everybody else would go home after. He would go to the gym.

Gay: There were several times I tried beating him in the gym, but no matter how early I got there, he was already there. Or I tried to stay late, but it got to the point that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Coach Hutson: Knowing Kawhi, he probably just stayed until somebody left. I’m serious.

(Chris Carlson / AP)
Gay: The most he talked was on the hard court, and Kawhi was not afraid to let you know that you weren’t going to score on him, that you couldn’t get past him or that he would score on you. Every time the ball went through the net, he just said, “Bucket. Bucket.” That was it.

Tyrone Shelley, guard: Most people say it like, “Oh, I’m about to get buckets on you.” He was just like, “Buckets. Layup.” Just one word.

Shelton: He’d be like, “You’re not scoring. You’re not doing anything.” Or he’d be like, “No, no, no.” He’d just move his feet and say, “No.”

Gay: You couldn’t score on him, so that’s what he would say: “Nope, nope, nope.” And when he would score on you: “Bucket. Bucket.”

LaBradford Franklin, guard: If he was grabbing a rebound, he’d say, “Give me that” or “Board man” or “Board man gets paid.”

Coach Hutson: If I heard it once, I heard it 50 times. “Board man. I’m a board man.” That’s what he said. Absolutely. “I’m a board man. Yeah, I’m a board man. Board man gets paid.” He spoke in phrases like that.

Shelley: Instead of saying, “We need to walk to the store” or “Let’s go to the store,” he’d just say, “I’m up.” When he leaves, he just says, “I’m up.”

Shelton: If he joked, it would be like one or two comments, and he’d go like, “Yeeee.” He’d make more sounds than he actually talked.

Franklin: What stood out to me about Kawhi was everyone else wanted to score or shoot threes, but he wanted to get every rebound. And one of the quotes he always said was, “Board man gets paid.” The rebounder man, he gets paid. And it’s true. He would say that every day. He would take pride in that. If you think about it, defense and rebounding, those are the two things you might not want to do. That’s not the pretty stuff. But he took pride in that. He cared. (And led the Mountain West Conference in rebounding two years in a row.)

Shelton: Guys coming from high school have trouble with help-side defense. Kawhi made a comment to coach Hutson, who was the defensive coach at the time, and he was like, “I don’t get it, coach. Why can’t they just stay in front of their man like I do? Like, why do I have to play help side?” That was his only comment I ever heard him make about defense: “They should just be able to stay in front of their man like I do.”

Coach Hutson: We would talk about rotations and how to help. I would get him on it about. He was respectful, but he would be very frustrated and say, “Why can’t everybody just guard their own man?” Those were exactly his words. “Why can’t everybody just guard their own man?”

Kelvin Davis, guard: In his mind, everyone should be doing what he was doing. But he didn’t realize everybody couldn’t do what he did. He was a walking nightmare.

Gay: In practice, he would tell us, “Don’t help, I don’t need help, I got it, I don’t need help.” That’s just how he was. That was his mentality. “I don’t need help; why do you need help?” But then it made us better because it challenged us: If Kawhi doesn’t need help, I don’t need help, either. And we turned out to be one of the best defensive teams in all of America that year.

Shelton: He didn’t say much. But he would tell you if you were fouling him in practice. He’d be like, “They fouling me, coach.”

Coach Velasquez: There’s one thing we always laugh about as a staff, and it would always happen at practice. He would drive in there, and he’s big and people would be hitting him all the time. At practice, you don’t really call that. I can’t tell you how many times he would look over and go, “But they fouling me. But they fouling me.”

“Kawhi, you’ve got to kick that.”

“But they fouling me.” It was over and over. In games, he wouldn’t really have a lot of dialogue with refs, but you’d definitely hear, “but they fouling me,” two or three times a game.

Shelley: There was no backtalk. Unless he was getting fouled.

Coach Hutson: There was a certain time I wanted everybody to lock and trail in practice. I was very clear that there are times you don’t have to trail on the baseline; there are times you can cheat the screen and shortcut and get there. But right now we’re going to work on lock and trailing. I was very clear that this was the way we were going to do it. And I remember Kawhi just takes his own route. I made everybody run, and he was upset about it. He was definitely pissed about it. A man of few words, but every once in a while he said something.

Van Houten: The coolest part about Kawhi: He plays mini hoop. In every house I’ve ever been to, he always had a mini hoop. You can only play with your left hand. You can’t play with your right hand. That’s a really cool thing because he’s working on his game even when he’s just at the house.

Franklin: He had a Nerf goal on the back of the door in his apartment, and he would just shoot. Friends would come over, playing 2K, and he would challenge us to a free-throw contest.

Van Houten: He’d come over to my house and he’d watch Michael Jordan highlights. We called them “Mike highs” … I mean, like four or five hours at a time.

Coach Velasquez: We’d be done with the game and he’d be on his phone watching Jordan on YouTube. Right away. He wasn’t texting. He was watching Jordan on YouTube. He’d watch it all day, every day.

Shelton: You would see him watching that stuff. But he still wouldn’t talk about it.

Coach Velasquez: Coach Fisher had a no-cellphone policy at team dinners, but Kawhi would have his phone on his lap watching Jordan highlights. He would really study his moves.

Franklin: On his phone, his background was Michael Jordan. … He would always say, “I’m Mike. You like LeBron, you like Kobe? Yeah, they’re cool, but I’m Mike. I want to be the best, the greatest.” And from how he carried himself, we knew he was serious. We knew that’s what he really wanted.

(Lenny Ignelzi / AP)
Van Houten: The only thing we’d give him shit for was his hands. Like, “Damn, you make that iPhone plus look like an iPhone 5.” Or like, “Damn, it should be a cheat code to play with those hands.”

Deutchman: There were definitely a few jokes about self-pleasure techniques. (His hands) could be helpful or harmful, depending on your perspective. With those, he could probably do a lot more damage with yourself if you get a little too much into it, considering the size of your hands.

Franklin: I’d always get on him about his braids. Like after a practice or after a long road trip, we’re all sweating, and it would look like he just got out of bed with his hair. But he didn’t care at all.

Gay: I used to call him an Avatar. A freakish Avatar, that’s what he was in college. Long limbs, long body, could run like the wind.

Franklin: From what I can remember, if it wasn’t Michael Jordan highlights, he was watching an episode of the Martin Lawrence show. He could be entertained with that. He’s so low-maintenance. Low maintenance, high production.

Shelley: I don’t remember him going to any parties except for one, and he was just kind of off in the corner hanging out until we left.

Shelton: He would be with the team and kick it and party a little bit because it was San Diego and we were winning. But he’d still be the first person up, and he’d be in the gym shooting.

Gay: I used to tell him that I had an unblockable step-back. It took him a while, but he finally started blocking my step-back. And that’s when I was like, “This is just ridiculous.” I was just like, “Yeah, my time is over.”

Coach Velasquez: I’ll never forget when we played at Cal. He remembered that Cal didn’t think he was good enough. He heard that the head coach at the time, Mike Montgomery, didn’t think he was good enough. He made it his personal mission to go out there and want to destroy Cal. They had a really good team. Allen Crabbe was there. They had a squad. But Kawhi went up there at Cal, and you knew when he walked on the floor that game, they had no chance. It was ridiculous.

Shelton: We played at Fresno State against Paul George, and that was when Paul George was getting some hype. I remember Kawhi watching his clips and us doing the scouting report. Now, he never said anything that he was going to lock him up or that he wasn’t any good. He was just like, “OK.”

Franklin: We were playing against Jimmer and BYU in the tournament. He screamed to coach Fisher, “Let me guard him.” At that time, Jimmer was killing everybody in the country. He was Jimmer Fredette. Kawhi had no business taking that challenge or saying that he was better than Jimmer then, but he did it.

Coach Velasquez: (Coach Fisher) would always say, “Kawhi paid the bills.” Kawhi rebounded. Kawhi was the best defender on the floor. Kawhi ran the hardest in transition. Kawhi always did all the little things that helped your team win.

Shelton: He says the most by his actions. He’s probably the only person that I know, that I’ve met, that I’ve seen, that speaks that loudly through his actions. People are like, “Kawhi’s quiet.” I’m like, “No, he’s not. Have you seen him work? Have you seen the dude work out? Do you know what his routine is over the summer?”

Van Houten: He always found a way. If he wants to become the greatest, he’s going to find a way. If he wants to get in a gym and work out, he’s going to find a way.

Franklin: To this day, I apply everything I learned from him. He was the hardest worker. While we were going to class, he would hold his couple papers for the class in his hand and in his backpack he had his sports gear: his shoes, the ball. He was always in the gym. At night, in the day. You could definitely learn from him. That work ethic can be applied to anything. That was the most craziest thing I saw.

Coach Hutson: I was fortunate enough to be around a genius. He had a genius work ethic.

(Top photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

What did you think of this story?

MEH

SOLID

AWESOME
Jayson Jenks is a features writer for the Athletic Seattle. Jayson joined The Athletic after covering the Seahawks for four seasons for the Seattle Times. Follow Jayson on Twitter @JaysonJenks.
42 COMMENTS
Add a comment...
Anmol K.
Jun 3, 11:25am
12 likes
Kawhi is a future HoF.
Rick M.
Jun 3, 11:38am
38 likes
Wow what an awesome story. I can’t recall ESPN ever doing a story like this. I want someone in the media to ask Kawhi about “The Board Man Gets Paid!”
Breanna S.
Jun 3, 11:59am
21 likes
He's like Kobe with a Tim Duncan personality.
J S.
Jun 3, 1:25pm
15 likes
Tim Duncan seems normal by comparison
Frankie C.
23h ago
6 likes
He's better than Kobe, though
Scott E.
19h ago
Tim Duncan would never have exited San Antonio the way Kawhi did.

Keep in mind I mostly sided with Kawhi. But still.
Nick Z.
Jun 3, 12:00pm
3 likes
A+ effort
Baskar G.
Jun 3, 12:08pm
4 likes
Mad genius
Paul D.
Jun 3, 12:40pm
9 likes
As a former basketball Aztec myself, I am so proud of Kawhi. His game is beautiful.
Ansar H.
Jun 3, 12:47pm
5 likes
Omg what a story - the board man gets paid!!!!!!!!
Marcus G.
Jun 3, 1:14pm
8 likes
"If he joked, it would be like one or two comments, and he’d go like, “Yeeee.” He’d make more sounds than he actually talked."

Kawhi is a living, breathing meme
Myles S.
Jun 3, 1:35pm
31 likes
These oral history pieces are probably my favorite feature The Athletic does.
Greg B.
Jun 3, 2:02pm
1 like
@Myles S. Totally. More please.
Ned R.
Jun 3, 1:46pm
2 likes
Great story with insight into Kawhi.
Beta 3.
Jun 3, 2:13pm
3 likes
Fantastic work Jayson. What an interesting read.
Emet L.
Jun 3, 2:14pm
8 likes
I still can’t get over Dame Lillard using his friend’s Netflix account when he was in the NBA
David R.
Jun 3, 2:19pm
5 likes
This is one of the most hilarious and revealing stories I’ve read about a basketball player. Kawhi is such an enigma, and I felt like I had no idea what made him tick, but this story really opens a door on him. Very impressive guy. I was at that Cal game and I remember him wrecking us. I only hope the dubs find a way to stop him because his inner determination is obviously EPIC.
Jordan T.
Jun 3, 2:41pm
2 likes
Kawhi is deadass the Terminator lol
Mark G.
23h ago
1 like
Needed this insight into Kawhi...good story!
Adam A.
23h ago
1 like
Wish I started at SDSU in 2010 instead of 2011 so I could watch kawhi
Kenneth C.
23h ago
6 likes
The NBA can definitely benefit from more guys like Kawhi who just walks the walk. The league is filled with prima donnas that put their personal agendas before team goals. They can say they care about winning more than anything else but what they care is how much it goes in their pockets.
Seth F.
23h ago
2 likes
In terms of body control and the ability to be a dominant (and game altering) force on defense, I absolutely feel he’s Jordan-esque. Also ‘Board Man Gets Paid’ shirts on Breaking T in 3...2.....
Frankie C.
23h ago
5 likes
I honestly cannot believe that nobody really talked about this guy in college. It's not like he was just ok, and would be a solid role player, or was at a mid major and barely played against good teams. SDSU was a legit top 10-15 team those 2 years & they were beating good squads, yet we heard more about Fischer, because he also coached the Fab 5, than we did about Kawhi. How crazy is that?
Alex N.
19h ago
@Frankie C. That 2010-11 team was pretty stacked. Lot of good seniors on that squad that went on to have pro careers overseas. They definitely had the talent to go all the way that year.
Adam G.
23h ago
2 likes
"Why can't they just guard their man like I do?" Hahaha, made me laugh. I know that feeling, but on a much, much muuuuuuch smaller scale at work.
Colin G.
23h ago
6 likes
I thought it would be impossible for me to like Kawhi after he killed my Sixers, but you gotta respect him after reading a story like this.
Norman L.
23h ago
5 likes
This article is everything. What an absolute joy to read.
Cheers,
Zaid T.
23h ago
2 likes
The “board man gets paid” motto really showed last night vs GSW. Plenty of possessions where he recovered an offensive rebound.

Good to know!
Alex C.
23h ago
7 likes
As a special education teacher, I wholeheartedly believe that Kawhi is a little autistic or something, which is really really cool. I'd love for him to open up and hear more of his story.
Jeremy G.
13h ago
3 likes
I came here to say, this article makes me wonder if Kawhi is on the spectrum. Barely talks, extremely insanely focused, repeats the same habits over and over, makes more sounds than words.
Young K.
21h ago
1 like
What a killer robot Kawhi is!
Forrest B.
20h ago
Wow, what this article shows me is how well researched the clippers are with Kawhi. This year they've talked about being a black top team, a team that works, a team that doesn't want drama, Doc comparing Kawhi to Jordan. It's crazy.
Dan M.
12h ago
If the Clips get Kawhi and KD ... gulp. Dynasty probably over in the Bay.
Jeff J.
18h ago
2 likes
As an SDSU grad I feel so blessed and proud of guys like Kawhi because San Diego State will never be a power 5 school where these kinds of guys are on a regular basis. There are a lot of very good players in lots of sports to come out of SDSU, Kawhi, Tony Gwynn, Marshall Faulk, and it feels good to in some small way be a part of that.
Gary F.
15h ago
He seems like a genuinely nice guy. Very easy to hang out with
Will O.
12h ago
KAWHI SO SERIOUS?!
Danny M.
12h ago
I watched him at SDSU. That 34-3 team was so good and I was bummed that he left after the 2011 season because I really thought they had a very good chance to win the NCAA tourney. That said, I’ve followed his NBA career and hope him continues to work hard and win more titles. He’s the reason I watch pro basketball again. Thanks KL.
Dan M.
12h ago
1 like
Man oh man. What a great story. I am an Aztec alum ... and a life long Warrior fan ... talk about being conflicted.

What I can say, is that Aztecs love Kawhi. LOVE HIM.

There’s a whole lot of pride, and happiness, for all his success.

There is tremendous gratitude to him- during his sophomore (last) season on The Mesa, we had the greatest team we had ever had, and likely ever will, have.

It was like we were Duke, North Carolina or Kansas for a season. I really believe we were one of the 2-3 best teams in the nation that season - we grabbed the highest #2 seed in the tournament that season, so they had us as #5 overall going in. We won our first 2 games in tournament history, I was blessed to be in Tucson for both. I was “fighting them back” as the clock ran out to beat Temple to go to our first sweet 16.

We lost to eventual national champion UConn the next week, some very questionable calls in an incredible game that went down to the final possession. I have no doubt we clobber Arizona the next game, as UConn did, to go to our first and only Final 4. So close.

Kawhi was the difference. Even though he was so raw, could barely shoot a lick... I had never seen such a force of nature before, his effort, his attitude, his intense desire to win. An absolute demon on the boards and defensively. He was surrounded by an incredibly long, athletic, talented team that defended as well as just about any team I’ve ever seen in college basketball. What a incredible season that really put SDSU on the national basketball map for a run of 4-5 years.

Of course, despite Aztec nation’s claimed that he wasn’t ready to come out for the draft. Needed one more season in college. He thought differently. We all know how that has turned out. Nobody was going to deny Kawhi.

There are some incredible Kawhi stories I’ve read and heard about him that speak to his ridiculous work ethic, his focus and single-mindedness to be the best, and a spotlight on what he cares about- his mom, his close friends and family ... and basketball.

lag∞n, Tuesday, 4 June 2019 17:52 (one year ago) link

I wish that Paul George anecdote had gone somewhere

reggae mike love (polyphonic), Tuesday, 4 June 2019 21:13 (one year ago) link

I’m convinced

Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Friday, 22 November 2019 03:48 (one year ago) link

yeah i've always been in favor of doing that

ciderpress, Friday, 22 November 2019 04:21 (one year ago) link

two weeks pass...

anyone got a truehoop subscription?
https://www.truehoop.com/p/what-is-spooking-lonzo-ball

de-mamba mentality (Spottie), Friday, 13 December 2019 21:18 (one year ago) link

dam lot of subscription basketball sites out there now

lag∞n, Saturday, 14 December 2019 04:38 (one year ago) link

lag∞n.nba imo

mookieproof, Saturday, 14 December 2019 04:48 (one year ago) link

feel the love

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 14 December 2019 04:50 (one year ago) link

one month passes...

NBA draft international scouting notebook: Lottery picks, more intel

Deni Avdija is a top-10 prospect in ESPN's 2020 NBA draft rankings. Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports
4:44 AM MT
Jonathan Givony
ESPN
Facebook
Twitter
Facebook Messenger
Pinterest
Email
print
What's the latest on the top international prospects in the 2020 NBA draft class?

ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony recently spent 10 days in Europe evaluating many of the most intriguing players teams are scouting for this season, as well as some notable young prospects for future drafts.

Here are the highlights of what he learned on his 14-game, nine-country trip across the Atlantic Ocean, including intel on projected lottery picks Deni Avdija and Killian Hayes, potential sleepers and more of the draft's risers and fallers abroad.

Spain
The prestigious L'Hospitalet tournament in Barcelona brought together eight junior teams featuring several prospects for the 2021 and 2022 drafts in a one-day, six-game stop.

The NBA Global Academy team went 5-0 with the deepest, most talented roster in the tournament. We've been following the NBA academy venture closely the past three years, and it's impressive to see how quickly it has been able to recruit and develop talent. Several players put themselves on the draft radar for scouts.

EDITOR'S PICKS

NBA mock draft: What would the likely lottery teams do at No. 1?

NBA draft rankings: The top 100 prospects for 2020
Tournament MVP Josh Giddey, a 6-foot-8 guard who operated as the academy's playmaker while often guarding 4s in small-ball lineups, showed his versatility with an impressive line of 19 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists per 40 minutes. Without great length, size or explosiveness, Giddey relies on feel, creativity and swagger to separate himself. You'll often see him throw an outlet pass the length of the floor with his off-hand off a live dribble and then make an impeccable read operating out of pick-and roll. His lack of traditional athleticism, streaky jumper, upright defensive stance and at-times inability to beat longer players off the dribble mean he'll likely have to win scouts over with productivity at higher levels. But he's improving rapidly, even if it might take him a few years to maximize his draft stock.

A smooth, 6-foot-5 off-guard with a strong frame, good athleticism and versatility, Mojave King proved to be the tournament's best perimeter shooter, knocking down 14 of his 29 3-point attempts in just more than 100 minutes of action. King historically has been happy to defer to others, but his ability to score in the open floor, hit clean jumpers, get teammates involved and make the right play is interesting, considering his youth and physical tools. The next step in his development will be for him to play with more aggressiveness on both ends of the floor and become a more dynamic ball handler.

Other notable players: Canadian wing Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Danish wing Gustav Knudsen, Serbian wings Nikola Radovanovic, Stefan Todorovic and Luka Tarlac, Uruguayan guard Agustin Ubal, Dutch wing Yannick Kraag, Senegalese wing Pape Sow and Spanish wing Miguel Allen Montesdeoca

Italy
Next, I caught 19-year old Cameroonian power forward Paul Eboua, who recently moved into the starting lineup in Italy's first division with some productive games. He has improved significantly after looking lost in the lowly second division last season, putting up maybe the best game of his career with a 20-point, 9-rebound, 3-steal outing in 36 minutes this month.

At 6-foot-8 with a chiseled frame, 7-foot-3 wingspan and explosive athleticism, Eboua has always had phenomenal physical tools. But now he's knocking down 3-pointers, attacking closeouts, operating as a lob threat and making basic passes. The game still moves too quickly for him at times on both ends, his hands aren't reliable enough, and he isn't always able to take advantage of his athleticism. Still, he didn't play basketball until age 14, and he has made impressive strides over the past year, despite not being in an ideal development situation.

Eboua is a legitimate second-round prospect who might be a good fit for a G League affiliate or stash in Europe for another year or two.

Israel
Several scouts were in attendance to watch 19-year-old Yam Madar and Hapoel Tel Aviv face Maccabi Ashdod. Madar is having an excellent season in the first division, and he put up an efficient 9 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 rebounds in 19 minutes with defensive energy in a victory.

A late-bloomer physically, Madar has good size, length and athleticism for a PG, but it will likely take several years for his frail frame to fill out before he's ready for the NBA. Nonetheless, he left a strong impression with his feel for the game, competitiveness, budding shooting ability and intangibles. Several executives said they hope he gets an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit in April.

Madar's quick feet and hands made it difficult for the opposing team to get into its sets, and he was subbed into the game late to get defensive stops. He has work to do tightening his ball-handling skills and gaining consistency on offense in the half court, but he is an excellent development situation. He looks like a safe bet to reach his full potential.

Belgium
Despite being only 18 in his first season at the professional level with Oostende, Amar Sylla is playing a significant role in both the first division and the FIBA Champions League, starting every game at power forward and seeing 23 MPG. Those outsized demands seem to be taking a toll on the thin and inexperienced Senegalese big man, as he has hit a bit of a wall after several impressive showings in November and December. He fouled out in just 10 minutes in the game I watched, marking the first time he had done so this season.

Get the best of ESPN sent to your inbox
The ESPN Daily delivers the biggest sports news and moments every weekday.
Email Address
Sign me up!
Privacy PolicyRead the Latest
Sylla still managed to show what makes him an intriguing long-term prospect. He's arguably the most athletic big man in the 2020 draft class, blessed with incredible quickness and explosiveness. He has a chance to be a total game-changer on the defensive end, with his deep stance and ability to cover ground seamlessly while making plays above the rim. Offense can be an adventure for him, though, as his skill-level needs considerable work. His feel for the game is not particularly high, and he doesn't always play to his strengths. His 3-point shot has fallen in some games in which he has also been able to offer a presence as a rim-runner and offensive rebounder, but he has also had plenty of ugly performances. The coaching staff in Oostende is working to get Sylla to sprint the floor every time down the court, with mixed results.

Scouts didn't sound particularly discouraged, given that they have long viewed Sylla as a long-term project. He's the second-youngest prospect in ESPN's top 100 draft rankings. A patient team with a strong development infrastructure might be happy to let him develop in the G League until he's ready to contribute in the NBA. He's also being mentioned as a potential candidate for April's Nike Hoop Summit.

Hungary
Next up: Carlos Alocen playing in a Champions League game against Falco. Alocen and his team, Zaragoza, are having a dream season in the Spanish ACB, currently in third place in arguably the strongest league in Europe. Alocen had a quiet game by his standards, but he played an important role late in his team's road win in a hostile environment.

At 6-foot-5, the 19-year-old brings excellent height for a point guard, even if he has a narrow frame, short wingspan and average athleticism. His strengths include tremendous basketball IQ, confidence and swagger. He passes with both hands, has tremendous vision in pick-and-rolls and shows terrific creativity with bounce passes. Scouts will want to see him improve his perimeter shot and overall half-court scoring, as he's shooting 28% from beyond the arc and 63% from the foul line. There's technically nothing wrong with his stroke, which instills some confidence that he'll figure out this part of his game in time. That's imperative for his NBA chances, as he struggles at times to finish in the paint and doesn't project as a plus defender.

Alocen isn't oozing with upside, but the fact that he's having such a productive season at his age on a winning team gives him a high floor and a solid chance to be selected (if he stays in the draft).

Germany
Deni Avdija played only 12 minutes against Alba Berlin in a Euroleague game for Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he showed all of his talent and then some, throwing in a pair of 3-pointers, leaking out for a transition finish, blocking two shots emphatically, making the extra pass in the half-court and displaying his defensive versatility. Early foul trouble and a bloody nose cut his night short, but it's easy to see that Avdija is hitting his stride and on an upward trajectory, something he backed up in his next game with a career high 22 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the Israeli league.

NBA on ABC/ESPN and the ESPN App

The NBA is live! Tune in here.

Friday, Jan. 17
• Bulls at 76ers | 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
• Trail Blazers at Mavericks | 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Saturday, Jan. 18
• Clippers at Pelicans | 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
• Lakers at Rockets | 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC

Avdija has made real strides from a physical standpoint. He improved his body and athleticism so that he isn't overmatched at the highest levels of competition as a 6-foot-9 guard. He's playing almost strictly on the perimeter this season, seeing only a handful of minutes at the small-ball 4 position that -- as he continues to add bulk to his frame -- will likely be attractive to whatever NBA team drafts him. Defensively, Avdija has made a major upgrade to his intensity and consistency.

He is being asked to play a confined role offensively for a talented Maccabi squad in the midst of an outstanding season, rarely being utilized in situations where his ball-handling, court vision and creativity would shine. However, he drops enough glimpses of versatility, skill and feel to remind scouts of what makes him special, and he has shown as much in other settings.

Avdija's recent play and modern NBA fit -- combined with the struggles of the American prospects rated in front of him -- make him a player teams drafting early in the lottery will want to look at closely. He has hovered in the Nos. 5-6 range of our rankings all season and could get looks a little earlier than that, depending on how the lottery shakes out.

France
Potential lottery pick Theo Maledon is in the midst of an up-and-down season with Euroleague club ASVEL. NBA teams have been frustrated by Maledon's difficult situation from a minutes and opportunity standpoint on one of the slowest and most conservative teams in the league, so it was interesting to see Maledon have one of his most aggressive games of the season, scoring 13 points in 14 minutes while getting to the free throw line a season-high seven times. Scouts historically have criticized Maledon for passivity, making this performance encouraging, though Maledon's coach kept his minutes down.

One reason for Maledon's struggle to carve out a more prominent role is his regression as a shooter, with his percentages dropping from an excellent 38% from beyond the arc and 85% from the free throw line last season to 30% and 67% this season, respectively. Before the game, Maledon went through a long warm-up complete with floaters and a mix of jumpers, and he shot the ball extremely well. His mechanics look clean, and he has been aggressive and confident this season taking open shots. He shows some comfort shooting off a screen and flashes of being able to make step-backs.

On a team that wants to grind out the shot clock, it's understandable that Maledon has seen his production drop off. Considering that he isn't blessed with elite athleticism and has taken a step back this season as a playmaker, it's safe to say that NBA teams will want to see a lot more out of him on both ends before once again projecting him as a lottery pick, like they did before the season.

In Cholet, 6-foot-7 guard Abdoulaye N'Doye has blossomed into a highly versatile player in his draft-eligible season. N'Doye's club started the game down 12-0, at which point his coach, Erman Kunter, made the unconventional decision to bench his starting point guard, Michael Stockton, and put the ball in his young player's hands. That resulted in a simply outstanding first half in which N'Doye scored eight points and dished out six assists, not leaving the court for a second, something I had never seen at this level in my 17 years of international scouting.

After nearly being relegated last season, Cholet is in the midst of an outstanding season, thanks in large part to the integral role N'Doye plays in their switching defensive scheme. With his 7-foot-2 wingspan, N'Doye is tasked with defending opposing point guards, but he will frequently and successfully switch onto bigs in pick-and-roll. N'Doye plays with impressive maturity for his age (21), posting a 65% true shooting percentage and 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He lacks a degree of aggressiveness and could stand to ramp up his intensity a notch, but it was impressive to see his contributions in his team's eventual blowout win.

With physical measurements comparable to those of Robert Covington, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jerami Grant at the same age, N'Doye looks like a prototype NBA wing, provided he continues to improve his perimeter shooting. Surprisingly, N'Doye hasn't garnered significant attention from NBA teams thus far, as it seems most scouts have moved on to younger prospects after he took longer than expected to blossom. With 16 games plus a likely playoffs appearance left, expect that to change considering how productive he has been. The prospect of him being a first-round pick is certainly in the cards if he finishes the season well.

Germany
Killian Hayes is having an outstanding season in Germany. He appears to be in the best development situation of any of the potential lottery picks in Europe, as the Ulm organization is doing everything it can to help him reach his goal of playing in the NBA.

NBA Rooks

Follow Zion, Ja, RJ, De'Andre, Coby and more top rooks as they balance basketball and life during an exciting NBA season. Watch on ESPN+

According to several Ulm stakeholders, the team is investing $25 million to build an academy that they hope will become one of the premier destinations for elite youth prospects from Germany and abroad. They want Hayes to be the flag bearer for why future NBA players should sign in Ulm over other traditional hotspots. When Ulm started the season 2-11, with Hayes turning the ball over 57 times in his first 292 minutes, the team refused to pull him from the starting lineup. They've been rewarded for that with a much better version of Hayes the past two months, which has coincided with a 6-2 record in the German league -- and a huge increase in NBA decision-makers at each game.

Hayes struggled a bit in the game I attended, failing to make any real impact until the contest was well out of hand. He showed many of the flaws that scouts were already concerned about, regarding his average athleticism, struggles operating with his off-hand, inconsistent 3-point shooting, lack of midrange game and porous defense.

The appeal around Hayes revolves heavily around his excellent combination of size, length and strength for a PG, along with his playmaking ability. He's extremely shifty with the ball, using his strong frame, long strides, agility and polished footwork to get to his spots on the floor and throw in soft floaters off the glass. He sees the court well and gets his teammates involved, tossing an excellent 8.6 assists per 40 minutes. He has been shooting the ball very well off the dribble this season, despite a low release. When his motor is running hot, he can be a force putting pressure on the ball, getting in passing lanes and using his strong tools to crash the glass, though he isn't consistent in this area.

Hayes has clearly hit a great groove the past six-to-eight weeks. The caveat has been that he has mostly struggled against better competition, playing in a league that is fairly watered down after the top handful of teams and lacking athleticism comparable to that of NBA players. Pushing Hayes to his weaker right hand, trapping him in ball screens and forcing him to make decisions against length have made him uncomfortable, so we'll have to see if he's able to maintain his efficiency and productivity as the season moves on.

For now, Hayes has reestablished himself as a potential lottery pick, though the glut of point guards in this draft indicates that there is still a lot left to play for heading into June.

lag∞n, Thursday, 16 January 2020 18:23 (one year ago) link

nine months pass...

TIER 5

he top 125 NBA players: The Athletic’s Player Tiers, Tier 5 — from Aaron Gordon to Tyler Herro

Seth Partnow Oct 19, 2020 127
“What do we have? What do we need? What do we have to do to get there?”
—Every NBA Executive, today. Possibly apocryphal.

The NBA playoffs can serve as a great separator. Every year, we relearn the lessons of just how big the difference can be between being effective during the grind of a long season and being able to perform against the higher level opposition in the intense, detail-oriented arena of a postseason series. Twenty-nine teams have been found wanting. Even the champion Lakers, once the champagne dries, know they need to get better if they are going to do it again in however long it is until we do this again. For every one of those teams, the burning question is:

“Just how close are we?”

Everything about a team’s strategic planning flows from the answer to that one question.

This starts with an accurate assessment of one’s roster. This is why having the playoffs fresh in mind is so useful. Rather than the fuzzy optimism of the preseason, when everyone is undefeated, teams have either fallen short of the playoffs totally, while all but one has had shortcomings fully exposed, and on national TV to boot. In most seasons, the champions themselves have been stretched and can thus identify areas where they can shore things up.

Thus, every front office in the NBA exists in a constant state of evaluating every player, frequently by way of direct A/B comparisons. This exercise is done with more formality in some organizations in a process that can take weeks to get through the entire league, while others operate more on spinning a series of hypotheticals. A formal version intended to rate or rank every player in the league will take weeks or a month or more as the group involved dives deep to “beat the list up” as the expression goes.

One common methodology for this evaluation is taking every player on a roster and asking, “Would we trade this player for the 60th pick in the upcoming draft? For the 59th? 58th?” and so on until you get to yes. In practice, very few of these trades are plausible or even possible under the restrictions of the salary cap, but aligning with draft picks does create a sort of universal scale of value with which to measure. Another approach, which we have taken here, is to attempt to stratify players into groupings of similar ability levels in the recognition that precise distinctions when players are of very similar ability is much more a question of taste and context than of objectively evaluated impact or value.

This exercise is further complicated by the degree to which the slightly different questions asked can lead to widely varying answers. Are we most concerned about this year (for a current contender), the next three years (for a team on the rise) or what players will be in three years (a team early in a rebuild)? Do we account for contracts and so are we measuring “asset value” or do we just care about playing ability? Is this an “all-30” rating or “value for our roster and system?”

There are a lot of moving parts here, and the same organization will arrange them in different configurations even within the same season, depending on the opportunity or transaction being considered. To aid in these discussions, most if not every team has some sort of “board,” whether physical (a whiteboard or more likely magnet board) or digital (such as a fancy touchscreen), which contains basic information about every player in the league. Position, age, contract (years and dollars), their agent’s name, perhaps some information on if the player has notable character or injury “flags” and so on.

While we at The Athletic can’t grade the rosters of any one team to the degree of detail as those on the inside can — back in January, John Hollinger and I discussed the ways in which player intel passes around the league — we have a leg up in that we have neither attachment to, nor disgust with, any players since we do not have our own team to be biased toward. From experience, I can attest how hard it can be to avoid having hope for a young player’s improvement transform into expectation that he is already there. Similarly, familiarity can breed, if not contempt, then at least disdain for the things a player can’t do at the expense of appreciating what he brings in other areas.

In an effort to provide the best snapshot in time of where each team is from a top-end talent perspective, this is the first installment of the first annual early edition of The Athletic’s NBA Player Tiers.

I’ll discuss the methodology and some of the research behind it in greater detail below, but for those interested more in the broad strokes and “get to the damn rankings already,” a summary via FAQ of what exactly we’re doing here.

Why tiers?

Player production and value are too contextual to feel really good about ordered rankings. When choosing between two players of similar ability, the preference for which player a team would rather have is usually “it depends.” Each tier and sub-tier is meant to reflect the group among which “it depends.” By comparison, players in higher tiers will almost always be preferred to players in lower, with some obvious positional caveats. For example, a team that has Nikola Jokic in place could easily prefer Paul George to Joel Embiid even though (spoiler) Embiid is in a slightly higher tier in this iteration. But that is an edge case rather than the rule.

What time frame are we talking?

The tiers are intended to reflect value towards winning a title next season, with a few temporary health-related exceptions.

Who created these tiers?

Well, me. In consultation with a number of folks here at The Athletic, people in the public analytics community and people working in the league with analytics, coaching and scouting backgrounds all represented.

How was the size of the tiers decided?

Discussion of the research behind the number of players fit into various tiers is below, but the short version is it was based on historical precedent of the number of players to reach certain levels of production on average each season.

How were players assigned tiers?

I started with a few holistic metrics, multi-year versions of Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus and Player Impact Plus/Minus (more on these below if you’re interested in the details), adjusted up or down based on contextual factors, playoff performances and insights from knowledgeable people in a variety of media, public analytics and team-side roles. But ultimately, it was primarily my best judgment weighing those factors and inputs.

Also, I hate your favorite team/player so that’s why.

What about injuries? Contracts? Age?

I mentioned some of the different factors that can drive the evaluation of players in the intro, and contextualizing the ratings does require that context. In order, players were considered from the standpoint of value to a top 10-ish team looking to contend for a title next season and are contract-agnostic. Thus the tiers are not intended to reflect “asset values” of players, and age is only considered as far as the likelihood of sizable improvement or rapid decline heading into next year.

A few younger players (most notably Zion Williamson and Ja Morant) were bumped up a tier or two to account for the likelihood of “The Leap” next year. Injuries are tricky, as will be discussed along with players such as Blake Griffin, Klay Thompson and, of course, Kevin Durant. The broad assumption is that I assumed availability to play, but took into consideration how a particularly bad injury or series of injuries might have diminished a player’s physical abilities to the point where his effectiveness has been or might be eroded.

Are the players within each tier ranked?

No. The purpose of this project is to rank players by categorizing them into similar tiers. Within those tiers, the players are ranked by category (A, B or C, depending on the size of the tier) and then listed in alphabetical order (by first name) within that category.

With all that out of the way and without further ado, we begin The Athletic’s Player Tiers Project with Tier 5 on Monday. Each ensuing tier will be unveiled as the week continues.

• Tier 1 – Revealed Friday morning
• Tier 2 – Revealed Thursday morning
• Tier 3 – Revealed Wednesday morning
• Tier 4 – Revealed Tuesday morning
* Editor’s Note: Scroll to the right for more stats.

Tiers 4 & 5: Players 38 -125
4A
Brandon Ingram
NOP
8.9
$28.62
-0.83
-0.28
-0.55
-0.15
-0.24
-0.59
-0.66
-1.25
NA
4A
Brook Lopez
MIL
24.9
$79.79
2.54
0.58
1.96
1.63
2.62
1.25
2.84
4.09
1.89
4A
CJ McCollum
POR
22.6
$72.47
1.38
1.86
-0.48
0.75
2.72
1.77
-0.89
0.88
-2.02
4A
Danilo Gallinari
OKC
16.5
$52.70
2.14
2.92
-0.78
1.11
4.77
3.35
-0.91
2.44
-2.24
4A
Danny Green
LAL
24.4
$78.05
3.83
2.28
1.55
1.77
4.12
1.09
1.84
2.93
1.13
4A
De'Aaron Fox
SAC
11.3
$36.23
-0.30
0.72
-1.02
-0.42
1.16
0.45
-1.26
-0.82
NA
4A
DeMar DeRozan
SAS
19.0
$60.92
0.88
1.98
-1.10
-0.05
1.83
1.44
-1.36
0.08
-2.49
4A
Derrick Rose
DET
4.6
$14.88
-0.77
0.94
-1.71
-0.21
-2.00
0.97
-2.39
-1.43
-0.70
4A
Domantas Sabonis
IND
18.7
$59.92
1.92
1.00
0.93
1.42
1.88
0.45
0.99
1.44
-1.48
4A
Fred VanVleet
TOR
19.1
$61.10
2.86
1.63
1.23
1.03
4.69
1.13
0.80
1.93
-0.91
4A
Goran Dragic
MIA
12.2
$38.90
0.91
0.95
-0.04
0.35
2.50
0.84
-0.98
-0.14
0.52
4A
Gordon Hayward
BOS
12.5
$39.90
2.61
2.24
0.37
2.34
3.86
1.97
-0.51
1.46
-2.33
4A
Joe Ingles
UTA
27.0
$86.51
2.97
1.13
1.84
1.97
2.50
0.78
1.18
1.96
1.51
4A
John Wall
WAS
6.4
$20.50
0.32
-0.38
0.71
NA
3.09
0.71
0.17
0.88
0.80
4A
Jusuf Nurkic
POR
18.5
$59.17
3.00
0.03
2.98
NA
4.53
0.63
3.13
3.77
-1.91
4A
LaMarcus Aldridge
SAS
24.5
$78.46
2.83
1.20
1.63
-0.05
3.78
0.99
0.58
1.57
-0.30
4A
Malcolm Brogdon
IND
14.7
$46.88
1.38
1.05
0.33
0.83
3.82
1.08
0.08
1.16
-1.32
4A
Marcus Smart
BOS
18.1
$58.02
1.59
-0.16
1.76
1.08
2.17
0.48
1.09
1.57
0.98
4A
Nikola Vucevic
ORL
27.3
$87.24
2.71
1.48
1.23
0.73
3.22
2.63
1.80
4.43
-2.56
4A
P.J. Tucker
HOU
20.8
$66.41
1.54
0.77
0.77
0.84
1.22
-0.42
0.71
0.29
2.16
4A
Robert Covington
HOU
25.8
$82.64
3.50
0.34
3.16
0.19
4.68
0.04
3.61
3.65
-0.19
4A
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
OKC
9.1
$29.17
-0.65
0.27
-0.92
0.40
-0.92
0.55
-0.55
0.00
-1.45
4A
Tobias Harris
PHI
16.4
$52.63
-0.44
0.42
-0.86
0.79
-0.12
0.53
-0.48
0.06
0.81
4A
Victor Oladipo
IND
17.9
$57.25
3.50
1.08
2.42
0.27
4.86
1.43
1.71
3.14
2.92
4B
Bojan Bogdanovic
UTA
17.5
$55.93
0.85
1.05
-0.20
1.65
-1.18
0.65
-0.62
0.04
-0.98
4B
Caris LeVert
BKN
7.3
$23.30
-0.53
-0.11
-0.42
0.29
0.49
-0.26
-0.71
-0.97
-2.44
4B
D'Angelo Russell
MIN
8.6
$27.47
-1.24
0.45
-1.69
-1.54
-1.53
1.63
-2.02
-0.39
-2.21
4B
Eric Bledsoe
MIL
27.6
$88.45
2.29
1.73
0.56
1.58
4.71
3.21
1.74
4.95
1.62
4B
J.J. Redick
NOP
18.1
$57.86
1.50
2.22
-0.73
0.14
2.41
2.33
-1.26
1.06
0.04
4B
Jaren Jackson
MEM
5.7
$18.36
-1.08
-1.22
0.14
-1.34
-1.80
-0.81
0.75
-0.06
NA
4B
Joe Harris
BKN
16.0
$51.22
1.35
1.36
0.01
1.21
0.79
0.97
-1.28
-0.30
-3.03
4B
John Collins
ATL
12.4
$39.63
0.81
-0.07
0.88
-0.27
1.94
0.74
-0.55
0.19
NA
4B
Lou Williams
LAC
15.2
$48.77
1.42
2.92
-1.49
0.09
0.35
2.58
-3.40
-0.82
-1.41
4B
Mike Conley
UTA
13.1
$41.78
1.28
1.13
0.15
-0.82
4.67
2.03
-0.04
1.99
1.36
4B
Montrezl Harrell
LAC
16.0
$51.35
2.14
1.61
0.53
1.78
3.35
1.29
-0.52
0.77
-3.39
4B
Myles Turner
IND
16.2
$51.80
0.63
-1.23
1.86
0.25
0.85
-0.99
2.36
1.37
-0.55
4B
OG Anunoby
TOR
11.4
$36.35
0.63
0.07
0.56
0.71
0.74
-1.13
0.94
-0.19
-0.43
4B
Otto Porter
CHI
20.4
$65.41
4.62
2.89
1.73
0.57
5.13
1.68
1.45
3.13
-0.11
4B
Patrick Beverley
LAC
15.0
$48.02
3.38
2.04
1.35
2.43
5.65
0.78
1.46
2.24
-0.01
4B
Ricky Rubio
PHX
23.7
$75.89
2.86
0.65
2.20
1.56
3.47
0.70
1.79
2.49
1.78
4B
Spencer Dinwiddie
BKN
15.9
$50.92
0.51
1.57
-1.06
0.16
1.37
1.92
-1.20
0.72
-1.30
4B
Zach LaVine
CHI
5.9
$18.86
-1.74
0.46
-2.21
-1.59
-3.28
1.11
-2.54
-1.42
NA
5A
Aaron Gordon
ORL
19.7
$63.08
1.27
0.56
0.71
-0.22
3.44
0.80
0.58
1.38
-2.18
5A
Al Horford
PHI
26.6
$84.98
3.55
1.49
2.05
1.04
5.36
1.41
1.62
3.04
1.09
5A
Andre Drummond
CLE
23.5
$75.22
0.90
0.91
-0.02
-1.21
2.51
0.66
2.05
2.71
-2.31
5A
Andrew Wiggins
GSW
15.3
$49.10
0.03
1.27
-1.24
-0.98
0.51
0.69
-1.04
-0.35
-2.07
5A
Aron Baynes
PHX
9.8
$31.45
2.07
-0.44
2.51
-0.24
3.98
-1.65
2.33
0.67
-2.84
5A
Blake Griffin
DET
16.1
$51.54
1.79
1.28
0.51
0.10
3.60
1.86
-0.51
1.35
-0.43
5A
Bogdan Bogdanovic
SAC
9.6
$30.64
-0.86
0.29
-1.14
-0.64
0.14
0.16
-1.05
-0.89
NA
5A
Brandon Clarke
MEM
3.5
$11.31
0.64
0.79
-0.16
0.55
1.60
1.06
0.01
1.07
NA
5A
Buddy Hield
SAC
17.9
$57.28
1.28
1.40
-0.12
-0.60
1.12
1.36
-1.23
0.13
NA
5A
Christian Wood
DET
4.9
$15.71
1.80
1.58
0.23
2.09
3.80
1.28
-0.10
1.18
NA
5A
Clint Capela
ATL
18.8
$60.13
0.96
-0.55
1.51
-0.25
2.23
1.04
1.86
2.90
1.03
5A
Daniel Theis
BOS
10.2
$32.55
1.46
0.68
0.79
1.20
2.89
-0.44
1.56
1.12
0.78
5A
Danuel House
HOU
10.0
$32.14
1.72
1.58
0.14
0.76
2.78
1.24
-0.18
1.06
-1.18
5A
Davis Bertans
WAS
15.0
$47.84
2.34
2.59
-0.25
0.61
3.21
2.45
-0.56
1.89
-0.12
5A
Deandre Ayton
PHX
6.8
$21.60
-0.20
-0.88
0.68
0.43
0.94
-0.11
-0.38
-0.49
NA
5A
Dejounte Murray
SAS
8.7
$27.75
0.59
-1.32
1.91
-1.02
1.86
-1.66
2.21
0.55
-0.58
5A
Dennis Schroder
OKC
16.3
$52.29
1.75
0.85
0.90
2.20
2.25
0.11
-0.65
-0.54
-0.49
5A
Derrick White
SAS
11.9
$38.08
1.88
0.20
1.68
0.29
3.74
0.91
0.99
1.90
0.60
5A
Devonte' Graham
CHA
5.1
$16.23
-0.44
1.34
-1.78
-0.37
0.10
1.21
-2.14
-0.93
NA
5A
Duncan Robinson
MIA
9.0
$28.67
2.92
2.43
0.49
3.52
4.53
2.32
0.10
2.42
0.78
5A
Eric Gordon
HOU
19.5
$62.32
3.24
3.11
0.13
-0.60
2.65
2.63
-1.13
1.50
-3.46
5A
Evan Fournier
ORL
15.9
$50.84
0.65
1.54
-0.89
-0.43
0.03
1.62
-1.38
0.24
-5.69
5A
Gary Harris
DEN
15.8
$50.44
1.11
0.01
1.11
0.46
1.35
0.23
0.51
0.74
-0.63
5A
George Hill
MIL
15.5
$49.56
2.94
2.24
0.70
2.39
3.86
0.63
0.83
1.46
0.53
5A
Ivica Zubac
LAC
10.2
$32.71
2.59
-0.75
3.34
1.44
1.85
-0.41
2.65
2.24
2.56
5A
Jae Crowder
MIA
10.4
$33.41
-1.25
0.44
-1.70
-1.65
1.07
0.19
-0.47
-0.28
-2.37
5A
Jarrett Allen
BKN
15.2
$48.54
1.25
0.43
0.82
0.21
3.68
0.71
0.09
0.79
-2.12
5A
Jerami Grant
DEN
11.9
$38.18
-0.13
0.21
-0.34
-1.00
-1.18
-0.50
-0.09
-0.59
-2.32
5A
Jonas Valanciunas
MEM
15.3
$49.10
1.65
0.88
0.78
1.11
0.54
1.15
0.77
1.91
0.99
5A
Jonathan Isaac
ORL
8.9
$28.49
0.24
-1.20
1.44
0.84
2.58
-1.47
2.37
0.90
-1.01
5A
Josh Richardson
PHI
19.3
$61.77
1.65
-0.06
1.70
0.49
1.73
-0.58
0.89
0.31
-3.00
5A
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
LAL
12.3
$39.45
0.57
1.31
-0.74
0.84
1.42
-0.18
-1.06
-1.24
0.68
5A
Kevin Love
CLE
13.2
$42.26
1.42
1.60
-0.17
-0.97
5.04
2.47
-0.35
2.12
-0.53
5A
Luke Kennard
DET
10.2
$32.58
1.75
1.17
0.58
0.57
2.34
0.25
-0.37
-0.12
-1.76
5A
Marc Gasol
TOR
20.5
$65.74
2.52
0.64
1.88
2.16
4.04
-0.83
2.30
1.48
0.10
5A
Maxi Kleber
DAL
12.5
$40.10
1.14
-0.20
1.33
0.62
2.09
-0.25
0.86
0.61
-1.82
5A
Mikal Bridges
PHX
12.3
$39.28
1.03
0.67
0.36
1.15
2.37
-0.11
0.89
0.77
NA
5A
Mitchell Robinson
NYK
9.2
$29.52
0.99
0.59
0.40
0.28
3.22
0.17
2.46
2.63
NA
5A
Paul Millsap
DEN
18.9
$60.32
4.09
1.57
2.52
1.98
5.42
1.42
1.65
3.06
-0.33
5A
Royce O'Neale
UTA
16.9
$54.14
3.02
1.22
1.79
1.80
3.68
-0.39
1.54
1.15
-2.24
5A
Serge Ibaka
TOR
15.1
$48.23
1.06
0.98
0.08
0.76
1.36
0.56
0.04
0.60
0.78
5A
Seth Curry
DAL
8.0
$25.71
2.35
2.12
0.23
1.06
2.15
0.71
-1.41
-0.70
-0.25
5A
Steven Adams
OKC
30.0
$95.91
3.96
2.40
1.56
1.00
5.05
2.06
1.08
3.13
-2.47
5A
T.J. Warren
IND
9.7
$31.01
-1.01
-0.36
-0.65
0.15
0.17
0.38
-0.90
-0.53
-1.50
5A
Tim Hardaway
DAL
16.1
$51.39
1.66
1.85
-0.19
2.10
3.87
1.58
-1.69
-0.11
-1.59
5A
Tyler Herro
MIA
1.3
$4.08
-2.00
-1.11
-0.90
-1.52
-4.38
-0.59
-1.69
-2.29
-2.29
About Tier 5, the above average rotation players: Since we won’t discuss each player in Tier 5 in turn as we will for Tiers 1-4, it’s worth identifying what this level of players includes in broad strokes. While at any given time there are around 250-275 regular rotation players in the NBA, half or more are somewhat fungible. The term “just a guy” has been used at times. Discussing a team’s seventh man in possible trade discussions, an evaluator might say, “I like him as a player, but he’s just a guy.” Meaning he’ll give competent minutes, but won’t move the needle much, especially in a playoff setting. By contrast, Tier 5 is where guys start to matter a little more. They won’t affect every matchup, and will be more useful in some situations than others, but this first group of above average rotation players can be the little something extra that pushes a team over the top in an otherwise close matchup.

In reality, there are probably a few players left off this list that could easily be included. But “the top 137 players” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Top 125.” So apologies to fans of Kelly Oubre Jr., Harrison Barnes or Kelly Olynyk who just missed the cut.

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 20 October 2020 17:51 (two months ago) link

TIER 4

TIER 4B
1.5 Way Bigs

* Editor’s Note: Scroll to the right on charts for more stats.

Jaren Jackson Jr.
MEM
5.7 wins - $18.36mm
DPIPM: +0.75 (99th)
ORAPM: -1.22 (328th)
John Collins
ATL
12.4 wins - $39.63mm
DRAPM: +0.88 (93rd)
DPIPM: -0.55 (230th)
Montrezl Harrell
LAC
16.0 wins - $51.35mm
1yr RAPM: +1.78 (31st)
PO PIPM: -3.39 (267th)
Myles Turner
IND
16.2 wins - $51.80mm
DPIPM: +2.36 (15th)
ORAPM: -1.23 (329th)
With the downward positional pressure that seems to occur with regularity in recent postseasons, there are a number of bigs who have been or are likely to be very productive regular season players for whom you worry about working in playoff situations. Obviously, Harrell’s struggles contributing to the Clippers’ earlier-than-expected departure have been discussed at length, but it’s worth noting just how much worse his playoff results have been over the last several years, even as his high energy aggression is a definite asset night-to-night in a regular schedule.

Turner hasn’t been fortunate enough to have an extended playoff run, but he has yet to show the ability to punish size advantages to a sufficient degree to not be a “one-way mismatch” guy in the playoffs, though one suspects that a more progressive offensive scheme might at least make better use of his jump shooting.

Collins and Jackson are still developing, but neither has had much chance to prove himself in high-leverage situations. To this point in his career, Jackson has been more a collection of talent than a productive player, struggling in particular with a sky-high foul rate that has tended to limit both his playing time and defensive effectiveness. Meanwhile, Collins’ increasing offensive versatility — he showcased an improved 3-point touch in the half-season of action he managed this past year — is encouraging, but he has yet to prove the ability to defend and rebound to a sufficient level to be a playoff-quality small-ball 5. Collins is also an interesting case because he is one of the few cases where RAPM and PIPM strongly disagree upon which end of the floor he is more effective. Among minute-qualifying players, he is 211st in ORAPM/93rd in DRAPM compared to 98th in OPIPM/230th in DPIPM.

Shooters

Bojan Bogdanovic
Utah
17.5 wins - $55.93mm
1yr RAPM: +1.65 (34th)
5yr RAPM: -1.18 (300th)
J.J. Redick
NOP
18.1 wins - $57.86mm
OPIPM +2.33 (32nd)
DPIPM: -1.26 (316th)
Joe Harris
BKN
16.0 wins - $51.22mm
1yr RAPM: +1.21 (57th)
DPIPM: -1.28 (321st)
Otto Porter Jr.
CHI
20.4 wins $65.41mm
RAPM: +4.62 (11th)
PO PIPM: -0.11 (105th)
Otto Porter Jr. might be a surprising inclusion here, but he is among the more underrated deep shooters in the league, with the versatility to knock down both open spot-ups and more difficult shots off movement. In fact, according to the Second Spectrum data shared with The Athletic by a league source, Porter is the all-time leader (post-2013) in 3-point shooting off of movement, slightly ahead of and in the company of Redick, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Duncan Robinson and Davis Bertans. In fact, the main thing keeping Porter from being much higher on the tiers (he’s 11th in 3-year RAPM and 31st in 3-year PIPM among active players) is his consistent inability to stay on the floor, averaging fewer than 1,500 minutes over the past three seasons as he’s dealt with a variety of injuries.

Redick and Harris are more straightforward bombers, with Redick complementing with his movement, shooting accuracy and high volume. Harris is also a great shooter, but is a better driver, playmaker and defender than he is frequently credited for.

Bogdanovic is an imperfect fit for this group, as he profiles as a more versatile if not quite as good a shooter as the other three in here, but is a strata lower in terms of overall production than the “versatile wings” group in Tier 4A. He is also a relatively late bloomer, as indicated by how poorly he grades in long-term (5-year) RAPM. This largely coincides with the split between his first three seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Nets and half a season in Washington, where he was a decent (36.9 percent) 3-point shooter before becoming an elite, high-volume weapon in Indiana and now Utah (41.3 percent).

Offensive Lead Guards

Caris LeVert
BKN
7.3 wins - $23.30mm
1yr RAPM: +0.29 (152nd)
DPIPM: 0.71 (254th)
D'Angelo Russell
MIN
8.6 wins - $27.47mm
OPIPM: +1.63 (49th)
DPIPM: -2.02 (354th)
Lou Williams
LAC
15.2 wins - $48.77mm
ORAPM: +2.92 (16th)
DPIPM: -3.40 (375th)
Spencer Dinwiddie
BKN
15.9 wins - $50.92mm
OPIPM: +1.92 (41st)
DPIPM: -1.20 (309th)
Zach LaVine
CHI
5.9 wins - $18.86mm
OPIPM: +1.11 (69th)
DRAPM: -2.21 (369th)
Decent-but-not elite shot creation is one of the more overrated and overvalued skillsets in the modern game, at least as it relates to championship equity. Players with creation ability who can make a bad team respectable, but perhaps not make an already good team great are sometimes referred to as “floor raisers.” And that’s where this group mostly lands. Combined with the sort of defensive deficiencies that can turn players into targets in a later-round series, and the limitations, the lack of “ceiling raising” starts to show through.

Russell might seem like a strange inclusion here given that he made an All-Star team just last season. However, according to most impact metrics, there is little evidence of him elevating a team’s overall offensive production as much as his individual scoring and playmaking numbers might suggest — he rates 49th in OPIPM over the last three years, but when you back out his boxscore stats and look at ORAPM, he drops to 150th. Further, when he and Dinwiddie were on the Nets, Brooklyn was consistently better on offense with Dinwiddie running the show than Russell.

I’ll note that I am a huge fan of Caris LeVert’s game, but am always surprised at the degree to which production metrics don’t quite see it that way, and I wonder the extent to which he has rarely been the unquestioned lead creator on a team or even lineup grouping plays into that. Sadly, barring further moves, it is unlikely we see him in that role in Brooklyn next season as he goes into the season fourth on the creation pecking order behind Dinwiddie, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Defensive Lead Guards

Eric Bledsoe
MIL
27.6 wins - $88.45mm
PIPM: +4.95 (11th)
DRAPM: +0.56 (129th)
Mike Conley
UTA
13.1 wins - $41.78mm
5yr RAPM: +4.67 (34th)
DPIPM: -0.04 (171st)
Patrick Beverley
LAC
15.0 wins - $48.02mm
1yr RAPM: +2.43 (8th)
PO PIPM: -0.01 (85th)
Ricky Rubio
PHX
23.7 wins - $75.89mm
DRAPM: +2.20 (20th)
ORAPM: +0.65 (129th)
In some ways, this group is the reverse of the above. Players who can hold their own and indeed provide positive value defensively, but can turn into passengers offensively. The shooting struggles of Bledsoe and Rubio are well-documented. Though Beverley is a capable shooter (39.4 percent in his three Clippers’ seasons, 40.4 percent in the playoffs), his issue is the volume of offensive contributions. He doesn’t shoot often enough (around 5 C&S 3FGA/100 with the Clips, compared to around 8.5/100 for players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and the 7.5/100 range of guys like Josh Richardson or Wes Matthews over that span) to make up for his lack of overall offensive involvement, considering his sub 13 percent usage rate. Additional criticisms that separate Beverley from some of the 3&D types higher up the list include his defense being mildly overrated, in no small part due to his incredibly high propensity for fouling (his 4.2 PF/36 was easily the highest among point guards this season, and he is annually among the league “leaders” in most non-shooting fouls committed while the opponent is in the bonus).

Conley is in this subgroup mainly because he fits here slightly better than he would in the “offense first” category, but he is probably closer to in the middle of the two, but at a similar level of production to both groups after a disappointing first season in Utah.

OG Anunoby

OG Anunoby
TOR
11.4 wins - $36.35mm
DPIPM: +0.94 (82nd)
OPIPM: -1.13 (258th)
A player who could easily find himself a rung or two up the list after next season, OG is already one of the better on-ball defenders of big wings in the league, which hasn’t quite translated to elite overall defensive contributions. But the eye test and his traditional defensive counting stats (he was one of only 12 players/7 non-bigs to have both steal and block percentages over 2.0 last season) suggest it is only a matter of time for it to do so.

While his offensive game has improved to a degree, to move up the list he probably does have to become a little more active in that regard. Even Robert Covington, the sort of platonic ideal for the bigger 3&D role, sported a 17.0 usage rate compared to Anunoby’s 14.3 percent, and was much more willing to take above-the-break 3s, attempting 9.0/100 compared to only 2.6/100 from Anunoby. OG doesn’t have a big corner-ATB split (40.0 and 38.0 percent respectively) so there are indications he can do so. But for him to move into that sort of “elite role player” territory, he has to actually do it.

TIER 4A
Stars on the backside of the curve

DeMar DeRozan
SAS
19.0 wins - $60.92mm
ORAPM: +1.98 (43rd)
DPIPM: -1.36 (328th)
Derrick Rose
DET
4.6 wins - $14.88mm
OPIPM: +0.97 (81st)
DPIPM: -2.39 (365th)
Goran Dragic
MIA
12.2 wins - $38.90mm
PO PIPM: +0.54 (54th)
DPIPM: -0.98 (288th)
John Wall
WAS
6.4 wins - $20.50mm
PO PIPM: +0.80 (42nd)
ORAPM: -0.38 (255th)
LaMarcus Aldridge
SAS
24.5 wins - $78.46mm
RAPM: +2.83 (40th)
1yr RAPM: -0.05 (192nd)
Father time remains undefeated. Whether through the normal aging process for Aldridge and DeRozan or in large part because of injuries in the case of Rose and Wall, physical declines are real and can be highly impactful. This can result either in an abrupt loss of effectiveness or more gradual diminutions of value, which accumulate over the course of years, taking once All-Stars into the realm of merely nice rotation pieces, as is the case for the Spurs duo.

Before the iniquity of his plantar fascia injury in his first half of Finals play, Dragic was enjoying a renaissance, the driving force behind Miami’s offense for much of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

At least in the last two years, Rose has demonstrated a re-emergence of some of his explosiveness — horizontally if not vertically, I don’t think he’s driving the lane and turning the ball over on defender’s heads much these days. But the wear and tear has turned him into more of a 25 MPG dynamo than someone able to carry starter minutes night-to-night. Obviously, this is useful but also needs to be taken into account when assessing his place in the league’s hierarchy.

Wall, in particular, is one of the more difficult players in the league to assess, as he has missed the better part of two years and suffered several injuries, each of which can sap athleticism. He relied on his incredible burst and end-to-end speed for a lot of his value. At the same time, for reasons I discussed with our Wizards’ beat writer Fred Katz recently, there are reasons to believe he can transition into more of a co-lead alongside Bradley Beal than Rose was able to do in the years immediately following his own injuries.

“Not Quite A Star” Bigs

Brook Lopez
MIL
24.9 wins - $79.79mm
DPIPM: +2.84 (8th)
ORAPM: +0.58 (139th)
Domantas Sabonis
IND
18.7 wins - $59.92mm
1yr RAPM: +1.42 (49th)
PO PIPM: -1.48 (213th)
Jusuf Nurkic
POR
18.5 wins - $59.17mm
DPIPM: + 3.13 (4th)
PO PIPM: -1.91 (231st)
Nikola Vucevic
ORL
27.3 wins - $87.24mm
PIPM: +4.43 (15th)
PO PIPM: -2.56 (260th)
A group of players who have combined very strong regular season contributions with some very notable struggles in the playoffs. No one embodies this quite as much as Vucevic, who has been a highly productive offensive workhorse for Orlando over the course of each season before finding himself, if not getting played off the floor, rendered substantially less effective by playoff defenses. A common thread might be that against the highest levels of competition, the general lack of mobility of the members of this group renders them exploitable on defense themselves. Sample sizes are small, but it might not be a coincidence that three of these four count playoff-only PIPM as the worst of their topline metrics.

Pacers Backcourt

Malcolm Brogdon
IND
14.7 wins - $46.88mm
5yr RAPM: +3.82 (50th)
PO PIPM: -1.32 (203rd)
Victor Oladipo
IND
17.9 wins - $57.25mm
PO PIPM: +2.92 (13th)
1yr RAPM: +0.27 (158th)
While divergent from each other in terms of style — Oladipo the more explosive athlete, Brogdon a better shooter who uses strength and craft to get where he wants to go — Indiana has put two players together in their backcourt who are perhaps best described as “1.5s” halfway between lead and shooting guards. Given Oladipo’s slower-than-expected recovery from the devastating knee injury suffered in January 2019, it should not be too surprising that the pair failed to jell over the time it did spend together. If he can return to the level he showed in his 2017-18 campaign, and especially in that season’s playoffs, Oladipo would likely slide into Tier 3. But after such a long-term injury for a smaller guard somewhat reliant on athleticism, I think we need to see it first before slotting him back into that spot.

Brogdon was decently effective thrust into a lead ballhandling, primary offensive role for the first time, though he could not maintain the level of efficiency, or anything close to it, that he managed during his time as an elite role player in Milwaukee. Just the versatility to be able to take on either role has a great deal of value, but not quite enough to place him in the “Top 40 and up” category.

Versatile Wings

Danilo Gallinari
OKC
16.5 wins - $52.70mm
OPIPM: +3.35 (15th)
DPIPM: - 0.91 (280th)
Gordon Hayward
BOS
12.5 wins - $39.90mm
1yr RAPM: + 2.34 (11th)
DPIPM: -0.51 (222nd)
Joe Ingles
UTA
27.0 wins - $86.51mm
1yr RAPM: +1.97 (24th
5yr RAPM: +2.5 (100th)
Tobias Harris
PHI
16.4 wins - $52.63mm
PO PIPM: +0.81 (41st)
DRAPM: -0.86 (286th)
This group of bigger wings who can all shoot, facilitate and even slide to the power forward slot at times doesn’t have the kind of elite individual talents needed to push its members into Tier 3, but by virtue of that versatility and range of skills are still highly valuable performers. Prior to his horrific injury six minutes into his Boston career, Hayward was in that group, but he has yet to fully regain the extra bit of pop that allowed him to attain that level. As a quick indicator, in his last year in Utah, he had 68 dunks. This year he managed 27. Even accounting for playing around 800 fewer minutes, that indicates a sizable drop in athleticism. And at this point, it’s doubtful he ever gets that back due to his bad injury luck.

Ingles is one player who could perhaps be in a slightly higher tier. He is 22nd in overall production over the last three seasons and has held up decently well in the playoffs. However, he has largely dodged the sort of dominant high usage wings in the postseason by virtue of Utah’s matchups over the last few seasons. Further, his individual production has likely been something of a function of Utah’s lack of offensive creators over the last few years. Given his shooting and size, he would still be an excellent role player on a team with a little more top-end talent, but the top-line value number would drop simply by virtue of the ball being in his hands less.

Elite Defensive Role Players

Marcus Smart
BOS
18.1 wins - $58.02mm
DRAPM: +1.76 (38th)
ORAPM: -0.16 (224th)
P.J. Tucker
HOU
20.8 wins - $66.41mm
PO PIPM: +2.16 (18th)
OPIPM: -0.42 (194th)
Robert Covington
HOU
25.8 wins - $82.64mm
DPIPM: +3.61 (3rd)
ORAPM: +0.34 (163rd)
Danny Green
LAL
24.4 wins - $78.05mm
RAPM: +3.83 (19th)
OPIPM: +1.09 (70th)
This group was discussed above in terms of why Patrick Beverley and OG Anunoby aren’t in it.

While being comprised of some of the better defenders in the league, this group also provides enough offensive value, generally via shooting, though Smart is an underrated playmaker who has more shooting gravity than his average-to-slightly-below accuracy numbers over his career might suggest by virtue of his sheer willingness to let it fly.

Covington is another player not at all afraid to let it fly, ranking in the top 10 most aggressive shooters over the tracking data era in terms of the proportion of his attempts that have been contested. He is somewhat unusual in terms of top-level defenders in that he has been much more effective as a help defender than on the ball — an area where he has struggled in his postseason appearances. But as a help defender, he is one of the best in the league at getting his hands on the ball, in the small group of players with both steal and block percentages over 2 percent (12 minutes qualified players hit those marks, including Anunoby).

Tucker is the player for whom this is the most optimistic placement. The specialization of his offensive role in Houston working around Harden’s heliocentrism might not be replicable in another setting, and in that case, his high degree of reliance on the corner 3 (as opposed to above the break) could render him enough of a liability on that end to drop to Tier 4B or even Tier 5.

Green has long been on the shortlist for the title of “best role player in the game” for a number of years, perhaps evidenced by the fact that among the topline metrics I’ve used as the starting point for these tiers, he ranked 78th among qualifying players in his worst category. In this way, he is a perfect illustration of the difficulty in using all-in-one metrics to compare players across roles and contexts. Though we’ve never really seen him try, it is more than fair to surmise that Green would struggle in any sort of lead or even secondary creation role where ballhandling is a necessity. But in a pure 3&D role, RAPM style metrics have frequently rated him among the most highly effective players in the game as indicated by him being 19th in 3-year RAPM. Despite that level of impact, without the former, this is as high as the latter can reasonably take him or Covington for that matter.

Lead Guards on the Rise

De'Aaron Fox
SAC
11.3 wins - $36.23mm
OPIPM: +0.45 (120th)
DPIPM: -1.26 (316th)
Fred VanVleet
TOR
19.1 wins - $61.1mm
5yr RAPM: +4.69 (32nd)
PO PIPM: -0.91 (173rd)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
OKC
9.1 wins* - $29.17mm
OPIPM: +0.55 (113th)
DRAPM: -0.92 (294th)
Of these three, VanVleet is by far the most accomplished, while Gilgeous-Alexander and Fox are in this category more on flashes of potential and expectation of future improvement as they head into their third and fourth seasons respectively after each spending a single season at Kentucky. However, as VanVleet heads towards free agency, I would have some concerns about elevating him into a more prominent role than he has occupied in Toronto’s ensemble. While he has been one of the elite open 3-point shooters in the league over his career, he has been mediocre-to-poor on contested attempts. Given his size, it should not be a shock that he is also one of the least efficient finishers at the rim versus a contest. In a larger role, those two factors could easily tank his efficiency, drastically reducing his value to a championship-seeking team.

If that all seems like I’m tearing him down a little, it is more by way of explanation of why someone whose overall production metrics over his career would seem to indicate a much higher placement. While it is perhaps more obvious why a more primary role would not suit Danny Green, I think these factors suggest something similar would be in store for VanVleet if another team does sign him away this offseason to become its offensive leader.

In-between

Brandon Ingram
NOP
8.9 wins - $28.62mm
1yr RAPM: -0.15 (200th)
RAPM: -0.83 (276th)
CJ McCollum
POR
22.6 wins - $72.47mm
OPIPM: +1.77 (44th)
DPIPM: -2.02 (276th)
This feels slightly harsh on McCollum, who is a very talented scorer and excellent complement (at least offensively) to Damian Lillard, but the combination between his lackluster playoff showings combined with the fact that his gaudy estimated wins and production value is somewhat a function of his enormous minute load over the last three seasons (only four players who made the top 125 logged more regular-season minutes over that period than did McCollum) make me somewhat skeptical of him as a No. 2 option at the elite levels of play. Mediocre defensive metrics and relatively poor playoff production also point in that direction. As I tended to resolve all “ties” between Tiers by pushing a player down a level rather than up, those doubts led him here.

As for Ingram, I know he was an All-Star this year, and that he showed great improvements as a shooter in his first season in New Orleans, but most of his one-number ratings are extremely mediocre. Now to a degree, his numbers paid the price for the opponent shot luck, which made Zion Williamson look like a defensive stalwart in some measures in his pre-shutdown action (early returns which were not validated by play in the bubble, to put it mildly). But that only goes so far, and Ingram’s best ranking on the baseline metrics for this exercise was 200th. Let me be clear, I think he is better that those numbers suggest but am also going to see more before being willing to count him among the top 40 players in the league, All-Star appearance this past season or no.

Tier 4 in Full
* Editor’s Note: Scroll to the right for more stats.

Tier 4: Players 38-79
4A
Brandon Ingram
NOP
8.9
$28.62
-0.83
-0.28
-0.55
-0.15
-0.24
-0.59
-0.66
-1.25
NA
4A
Brook Lopez
MIL
24.9
$79.79
2.54
0.58
1.96
1.63
2.62
1.25
2.84
4.09
1.89
4A
CJ McCollum
POR
22.6
$72.47
1.38
1.86
-0.48
0.75
2.72
1.77
-0.89
0.88
-2.02
4A
Danilo Gallinari
OKC
16.5
$52.70
2.14
2.92
-0.78
1.11
4.77
3.35
-0.91
2.44
-2.24
4A
Danny Green
LAL
24.4
$78.05
3.83
2.28
1.55
1.77
4.12
1.09
1.84
2.93
1.13
4A
De'Aaron Fox
SAC
11.3
$36.23
-0.30
0.72
-1.02
-0.42
1.16
0.45
-1.26
-0.82
NA
4A
DeMar DeRozan
SAS
19.0
$60.92
0.88
1.98
-1.10
-0.05
1.83
1.44
-1.36
0.08
-2.49
4A
Derrick Rose
DET
4.6
$14.88
-0.77
0.94
-1.71
-0.21
-2.00
0.97
-2.39
-1.43
-0.70
4A
Domantas Sabonis
IND
18.7
$59.92
1.92
1.00
0.93
1.42
1.88
0.45
0.99
1.44
-1.48
4A
Fred VanVleet
TOR
19.1
$61.10
2.86
1.63
1.23
1.03
4.69
1.13
0.80
1.93
-0.91
4A
Goran Dragic
MIA
12.2
$38.90
0.91
0.95
-0.04
0.35
2.50
0.84
-0.98
-0.14
0.52
4A
Gordon Hayward
BOS
12.5
$39.90
2.61
2.24
0.37
2.34
3.86
1.97
-0.51
1.46
-2.33
4A
Joe Ingles
UTA
27.0
$86.51
2.97
1.13
1.84
1.97
2.50
0.78
1.18
1.96
1.51
4A
John Wall
WAS
6.4
$20.50
0.32
-0.38
0.71
NA
3.09
0.71
0.17
0.88
0.80
4A
Jusuf Nurkic
POR
18.5
$59.17
3.00
0.03
2.98
NA
4.53
0.63
3.13
3.77
-1.91
4A
LaMarcus Aldridge
SAS
24.5
$78.46
2.83
1.20
1.63
-0.05
3.78
0.99
0.58
1.57
-0.30
4A
Malcolm Brogdon
IND
14.7
$46.88
1.38
1.05
0.33
0.83
3.82
1.08
0.08
1.16
-1.32
4A
Marcus Smart
BOS
18.1
$58.02
1.59
-0.16
1.76
1.08
2.17
0.48
1.09
1.57
0.98
4A
Nikola Vucevic
ORL
27.3
$87.24
2.71
1.48
1.23
0.73
3.22
2.63
1.80
4.43
-2.56
4A
P.J. Tucker
HOU
20.8
$66.41
1.54
0.77
0.77
0.84
1.22
-0.42
0.71
0.29
2.16
4A
Robert Covington
HOU
25.8
$82.64
3.50
0.34
3.16
0.19
4.68
0.04
3.61
3.65
-0.19
4A
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
OKC
9.1
$29.17
-0.65
0.27
-0.92
0.40
-0.92
0.55
-0.55
0.00
-1.45
4A
Tobias Harris
PHI
16.4
$52.63
-0.44
0.42
-0.86
0.79
-0.12
0.53
-0.48
0.06
0.81
4A
Victor Oladipo
IND
17.9
$57.25
3.50
1.08
2.42
0.27
4.86
1.43
1.71
3.14
2.92
4B
Bojan Bogdanovic
UTA
17.5
$55.93
0.85
1.05
-0.20
1.65
-1.18
0.65
-0.62
0.04
-0.98
4B
Caris LeVert
BKN
7.3
$23.30
-0.53
-0.11
-0.42
0.29
0.49
-0.26
-0.71
-0.97
-2.44
4B
D'Angelo Russell
MIN
8.6
$27.47
-1.24
0.45
-1.69
-1.54
-1.53
1.63
-2.02
-0.39
-2.21
4B
Eric Bledsoe
MIL
27.6
$88.45
2.29
1.73
0.56
1.58
4.71
3.21
1.74
4.95
1.62
4B
J.J. Redick
NOP
18.1
$57.86
1.5
2.22
-0.73
0.14
2.41
2.33
-1.26
1.06
0.04
4B
Jaren Jackson Jr.
MEM
5.7
$18.36
-1.08
-1.22
0.14
-1.34
-1.8
-0.81
0.75
-0.06
NA
4B
Joe Harris
BKN
16.0
$51.22
1.35
1.36
0.01
1.21
0.79
0.97
-1.28
-0.3
-3.03
4B
John Collins
ATL
12.4
$39.63
0.81
-0.07
0.88
-0.27
1.94
0.74
-0.55
0.19
NA
4B
Lou Williams
LAC
15.2
$48.77
1.42
2.92
-1.49
0.09
0.35
2.58
-3.40
-0.82
-1.41
4B
Mike Conley
UTA
13.1
$41.78
1.28
1.13
0.15
-0.82
4.67
2.03
-0.04
1.99
1.36
4B
Montrezl Harrell
LAC
16.0
$51.35
2.14
1.61
0.53
1.78
3.35
1.29
-0.52
0.77
-3.39
4B
Myles Turner
IND
16.2
$51.80
0.63
-1.23
1.86
0.25
0.85
-0.99
2.36
1.37
-0.55
4B
OG Anunoby
TOR
11.4
$36.35
0.63
0.07
0.56
0.71
0.74
-1.13
0.94
-0.19
-0.43
4B
Otto Porter Jr.
CHI
20.4
$65.41
4.62
2.89
1.73
0.57
5.13
1.68
1.45
3.13
-0.11
4B
Patrick Beverley
LAC
15.0
$48.02
3.38
2.04
1.35
2.43
5.65
0.78
1.46
2.24
-0.01
4B
Ricky Rubio
PHX
23.7
$75.89
2.86
0.65
2.2
1.56
3.47
0.70
1.79
2.49
1.78
4B
Spencer Dinwiddie
BKN
15.9
$50.92
0.51
1.57
-1.06
0.16
1.37
1.92
-1.20
0.72
-1.30
4B
Zach LaVine
CHI
5.9
$18.86
-1.74
0.46
-2.21
-1.59
-3.28
1.11
-2.54
-1.42
NA

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 20 October 2020 17:51 (two months ago) link

ayyyyy thanks

Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Tuesday, 20 October 2020 17:58 (two months ago) link

Bosko Balaban Stats For Season
Name Bosko Balaban
Team Aston Villa
Total Appearances 0
Starts 0
Substituted 0
Total Minutes Played 0
Avg Minutes Played Per Start 0
Goals 0
Avg Goal Mins When Starting 0.0
Avg Mins Played/Goal Scored 0
Goals Scored As Sub 0
Number of Bookings 0
Total Booking Minutes 0
Avg Bookings Per Start 0
Number of Red Cards 0
Total Red Card Minutes 0
Avg Red Cards Per Start 0

Piven After Midnight (The Yellow Kid), Tuesday, 20 October 2020 19:58 (two months ago) link

the design of these athletic pieces is awful. little tiny tables with bad font where you have to endlessly scroll right.

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 21 October 2020 17:43 (two months ago) link

they shd just have a single page with a list of players and comments thatre like "fuck you" "who cares" "haha"

lag∞n, Wednesday, 21 October 2020 17:58 (two months ago) link

1. james harden "lol why are you reading this eat shit loser"

lag∞n, Wednesday, 21 October 2020 17:59 (two months ago) link

column headers for random advanced stats 100 lines above where you’re reading is pretty much “f u, nerd”

circles, Wednesday, 21 October 2020 18:39 (two months ago) link

three weeks pass...

do we have anyone w/ espn+ access?

Final stats-based projections for the 2020 Draft are up today, along with full projections for everyone* in the top 100: https://t.co/UJc9l2zzM2 (ESPN+)

*Except for a few international prospects without sufficient high-level playing time

— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) November 12, 2020

J0rdan S., Thursday, 12 November 2020 22:17 (two months ago) link

How many top prospects are there in the 2020 NBA draft?

This was an unusual year even before the NCAA tournament and many conference tournaments were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic because there was so little consensus about the top prospects, so few of whom played college basketball.

That bears out statistically too. Historically, the best prospects have been those who rate in the top 10 of my stats-only projections and go among the top 10 picks. Typically, there's an average of about three such players from the college ranks, but this year only one NCAA player among ESPN's top 10 prospects is also in my stats-only top 10: Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton.

How much does an unusually strong crop of prospects playing overseas, highlighted by LaMelo Ball, help fill the void?

Let's take an updated look at my draft projections that combine statistics and scouting projections, including where players rank in our top 100.

My statistical projections start by translating NCAA or international performance to projected NBA rookie performance, also factoring in regression to the mean for outlier performance. I then calculate projected value over the player's first five NBA seasons by combining rookie projections with age. To that stats-only version, I also add each player's top-100 ranking to build the more accurate consensus projections.

One note on this year's projections: While my projections have utilized translated performance in the Nike EYBL thanks to statistics compiled by Neil Johnson of ESPN Stats & Information, issues with the data collection during the 2018 EYBL meant they were no longer predictive of college performance as in past years. So I have not included EYBL stats from that year, when the bulk of this year's one-and-done prospects played AAU, though projections for players who participated in the 2017 EYBL (like James Wiseman) still incorporate that data.

For more details and past projections, check out a more detailed explanation. Otherwise, let's get to my top 30.

1. LaMelo Ball

Illawarra Hawks
PG
Top 100: No. 1
Stats: No. 1

Consensus: 4.9 WARP

In a draft that is wide open at the top, Ball's performance in the Australian NBL stands out. While the level of competition was low, Ball rated as the fourth-best player in the league at age 18 -- ahead of NBA veterans Bryce Cotton and Scott Machado, among others.

Ball's inefficient shooting (he made just 25% of his 3-point attempts) is a concern, but his playmaking and rebounding are both preternaturally strong. As a result, the gap between his consensus projection and anyone else's is larger than the difference between No. 2 and No. 9 in the rankings.

2. Tyrese Haliburton

Iowa State
PG
Top 100: No. 8
Stats: No. 2

Consensus: 3.4 WARP

Haliburton's freshman season stood out statistically, though he had a historically low usage rate for a prospect, finishing just 9% of the Cyclones' plays with a shot, trip to the free throw line or turnover. A strong performance at last summer's FIBA U19 World Cup put Haliburton firmly on the radar, and he backed it up by more than doubling his usage rate to 20% as a sophomore without sacrificing much efficiency.

Haliburton's strong steal and block rates are key indicators of his ability to read plays on defense, and he projects as one of the better shooters in the draft after hitting 43% of his 3s in college.

3. Anthony Edwards

Georgia
SG
Top 100: No. 2
Stats: No. 12

Consensus: 2.8 WARP

A decent but not spectacular freshman season marks Edwards as a relatively risky top pick. Other top-3 players with similar stats-only projections include hits (Victor Oladipo, Derrick Rose) but also big misses (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andrew Wiggins).

Edwards' value as a pro probably will depend on his ability to become a consistent 3-point threat after hitting just 29% of his 7.7 attempts per game in 2019-20.

4. Cole Anthony

North Carolina
PG
Top 100: No. 19
Stats: No. 3

Consensus: 2.7 WARP

Few top prospects have had such a big disparity between AAU and college performance as Anthony, who rated as the EYBL's best player both in 2017 as a rising junior (which is part of this projection) and again before his senior year of high school in 2018.

Based strictly on his season at North Carolina, where he made a disappointing 40% of his 2-point attempts and was far less effective accumulating assists and steals, Anthony would rate as a late first-round prospect rather than on in the top 5.

5. Devin Vassell

Florida State
W
Top 100: No. 11
Stats: No. 4

Consensus: 2.6 WARP

The strongest 3-and-D prospect in this year's draft, Vassell made 42% of his 3-point attempts over two seasons at Florida State and boasts a strong combination of steal and block rates that marks him as a plus wing defender.

He compares well to Danny Green coming out of North Carolina. Since we originally ran my projections in June, Vassell has moved up five spots in the top 100, moving him up to fifth in my consensus projections.

6. Deni Avdija

Maccabi Tel Aviv
F
Top 100: No. 4
Stats: No. 9

Consensus: 2.6 WARP

Unlike almost everyone else in this class, Avdija returned to action over the summer, becoming the youngest player ever to win MVP of the Israeli Basketball Premier League. That solidified his projection, which improved slightly, but Avdija already ranked sixth overall.

7. Onyeka Okongwu

USC
PF
Top 100: No. 5
Stats: No. 13

Consensus: 2.3 WARP

The top-rated post player in my projections, Okongwu was productive enough as a freshman to offset the higher replacement level for big men. Okongwu has the fifth-best block projection among players in our top 100, along with an atypically strong steal rate for a post player. Okongwu was efficient offensively thanks to 62% shooting on 2s and 72% from the foul line.

8. R.J. Hampton

New Zealand Breakers
G
Top 100: No. 15
Stats: No. 5

Consensus: 2.2 WARP

Hampton wasn't nearly as effective in the NBL as Ball was, ranking as the league's 45th-best player on a per-minute basis. He was almost equally inefficient without the kind of elite playmaking we saw from Ball, and his strong projection relies more heavily on his stats being regressed to the mean.

As a result, I'd be wary of considering Hampton a top-5 prospect but would defer to those scouts who believe he belongs in the middle of the first round.

9. Killian Hayes

Ratiopharm Ulm
PG
Top 100: No. 10
Stats: No. 15

Consensus: 1.8 WARP

Expect growing pains if a team drafts the 18-year-old Hayes in the top 10 and gives him the keys to the offense right away. Only two NBA-bound players in my database (Kendall Marshall and David Stockton) have had higher projected turnover rates.

Yet in time, Hayes' strong finishing for his size and court vision could make him a capable lead ball handler.

10. Aaron Nesmith

Vanderbilt
W
Top 100: No. 13
Stats: No. 16

Consensus: 1.7 WARP

Nesmith ranks this high on his potential as a shooter. He shot an incredible 52% on 115 3-point attempts during an abbreviated sophomore season, and while that's obviously not sustainable -- Nesmith shot just 34% from beyond the arc as a freshman -- 83% foul shooting does mark him as likely to show NBA 3-point range.

11. Isaiah Joe

Arkansas
SG
Top 100: No. 48
Stats: No. 6

Consensus: 1.6 WARP

Perhaps the best pure shooter in the draft, Joe made just 34% of his 3s as a sophomore but attempted an incredible 10.6 per game. He hit 41% of his 8.0 attempts as a freshman. While he slumped beyond the arc, Joe did hit 89% of his free throws as a sophomore, an encouraging sign. Joe doesn't do much else besides shoot, which helps explain his low spot in the top 100s, but given solid size and his 3-point volume, he's got a chance to be a Terrence Ross-style threat off the bench.

12. Isaac Okoro

Auburn
SF
Top 100: No. 7
Stats: No. 33

Consensus: 1.6 WARP

Okoro ranks in the top 15 largely on the strength of his position in the top 100, as he had an underwhelming freshman campaign for a lottery pick. Only Okoro's solid block rate for a wing showcases the athletic potential scouts value, and he must improve on 29% 3-point shooting -- with 67% accuracy at the foul line not encouraging in that regard.

13. Malachi Flynn

San Diego State
PG
Top 100: No. 31
Stats: No. 8

Consensus: 1.5 WARP

After two solid years at Washington State, Flynn broke through as an elite college point guard after transferring to San Diego State. Size (he's 6-foot-1) could be an issue for Flynn in the NBA, but he's a capable shooter with good markers in terms of reading the game.

14. Cassius Winston

Michigan State
PG
Top 100: No. 29
Stats: No. 10

Consensus: 1.5 WARP

In recent years, veteran college point guards considered too small to be NBA starters have been a consistent source of draft value. Like Winston, Monte Morris (pick No. 51 in 2017) and Fred VanVleet (undrafted in 2016) weren't high picks despite top-10 stats-only projections. While it took them a couple of seasons to establish themselves, Morris is now a top-tier backup and VanVleet a valuable starter.

Winston's excellent shooting (43% career from 3, 85% on free throws) should translate well to the NBA.

15. Patrick Williams

Florida State
F
Top 100: No. 9
Stats: No. 32

Consensus: 1.5 WARP

Averaging a block and a steal per game in just 22.5 minutes off the bench was impressive for Williams. On the downside, weak defensive rebounding -- worse than that of his teammate Vassell -- might make it difficult for Williams to play as a small-ball 4 in the NBA.

16. James Wiseman

Memphis
C
Top 100: No. 3
Stats: No. 70

Consensus: 1.5 WARP

Because Wiseman played in only three college games, his unimpressive statistical projection is based almost entirely on the 2017 EYBL. Playing for Team Penny, Wiseman was a dominant shot-blocker but not the kind of interior force you'd expect from one of the nation's top prospects. His steal rate (only five in 17 games) was also a concern.

Wiseman did dominate low-level competition in his first two games at Memphis and was productive, though not a difference-maker, in a loss to Oregon before being ruled ineligible.

17. Saddiq Bey

Villanova
SF
Top 100: No. 17
Stats: No. 21

Consensus: 1.4 WARP

Unusual for a statistically top-rated player, Bey didn't contribute much in terms of defensive stats, though he projects as a capable individual defender. Instead, his projection owes primarily to 42% 3-point shooting and mistake-free play on offense.

18. Jahmi'us Ramsey

Texas Tech
G
Top 100: No. 35
Stats: No. 11

Consensus: 1.4 WARP

As a freshman, Ramsey played a key role for the Red Raiders; his 26% usage rate ranked sixth among first-year players in the power conferences, per Sports-Reference.com, and of that group only Duke's Vernon Carey Jr. had a better true shooting percentage.

One concern is that Ramsey's 43% accuracy on 141 3-pointers might have been a fluke, as he shot just 64% from the line.

19. Trevelin Queen

New Mexico State
SF
Top 100: No. 84
Stats: No. 7

Consensus: 1.3 WARP

My top-ranked player not currently projected among the ESPN top 50, junior college product Queen earned some attention from scouts because of his defensive potential. Among players in my college projection database listed at 6-foot-6 or taller, only Michael Carter-Williams had a better projected steal rate than Queen, who is also an above-average shot-blocker for a wing.

Queen's 39% 3-point shooting on 5.3 attempts per game as a senior suggests 3-and-D potential.

20. Tyrese Maxey

Kentucky
SG
Top 100: No. 14
Stats: No. 28

Consensus: 1.3 WARP

Maxey's shot is also projectable based on the disconnect between his 29% 3-point shooting and 83% accuracy at the line. Becoming a perimeter threat will be key given Maxey didn't show particularly strong ability to create for others in his one season at Kentucky.

21. Theo Maledon

ASVEL
PG
Top 100: No. 24
Stats: No. 20

Consensus: 1.2 WARP

Like Hayes, Maledon played a key role for a high-level European team at a young age, though he looks a bit further away from contributing in the NBA. Maledon's playmaking numbers haven't been nearly as strong, and his 3-point shooting could suffer from the transition to the longer line.

22. Nico Mannion

Arizona
PG
Top 100: No. 25
Stats: No. 24

Consensus: 1.1 WARP

Mannion's freshman season was projectable. While he wasn't an efficient scorer at Arizona, Mannion could boost his efficiency by improving on 33% 3-point shooting, something his 80% accuracy at the free throw line suggests he has the potential to do.

23. Xavier Tillman

Michigan State
PF
Top 100: No. 32
Stats: No. 19

Consensus: 1.1 WARP

The most surprising result in this year's draft projections is that Tillman finishes as the second-rated post prospect, ahead of likely lottery picks Obi Toppin (0.7 projected WARP) and Precious Achiuwa (0.5) -- both of whom are outside the top 30. Age is a factor: Though Toppin has played only two college seasons to Tillman's three, as a redshirt sophomore Toppin is almost a year older, and one-and-done prospect Achiuwa is just eight months younger than Tillman.

Toppin is the far more skilled scorer and Achiuwa more versatile defensively, but Tillman lacks their weaknesses at either end of the court, making him a more complete prospect. Per Sports-Reference.com, he actually led all NCAA players in box plus-minus during 2019-20, with Toppin third and Achiuwa not cracking the top 200.

24. Kira Lewis Jr.

Alabama
PG
Top 100: No. 16
Stats: No. 37

Consensus: 1.1 WARP

Though he is a sophomore, Lewis is younger than most of the one-and-done prospects in this year's draft. He was more productive last season than Mannion and Maxey but doesn't benefit as much from the regression to the mean factor in my projections because he has two years of college data to their one.

25. Tyrell Terry

Stanford
PG
Top 100: No. 39
Stats: No. 20

Consensus: 1.1 WARP

Relatively unheralded as a prospect entering the season, Terry put himself on the NBA's radar with impressive efficiency for a freshman point guard, knocking down 41% of his 3-point attempts and 89% of his free throws. He's still developing as a playmaker.

26. Josh Green

Arizona
SG
Top 100: No. 21
Stats: No. 29

Consensus: 1.0 WARP

Another one-and-done prospect with a similar combo of stats and ranking as Mannion, Green, who is from Australia, must improve on 45% 2-point shooting as a freshman, though he posted encouraging defensive numbers.

27. Tre Jones

Duke
PG
Top 100: No. 30
Stats: No. 26

Consensus: 1.0 WARP

Returning for his sophomore season allowed Jones to improve his 3-point shooting from 26% as a freshman to 36%. The adjustment to the longer line could be an issue, but Jones' form doesn't appear broken, as he has made 77% of his career free throws.

28. Desmond Bane

TCU
SG
Top 100: No. 34
Stats: No. 25

Consensus: 0.9 WARP

Atypically young for a four-year prospect -- he'll turn 22 later this week -- Bane is an excellent shooter who converted 43% of his career 3-point attempts and showed solid playmaking chops for a player of his ilk.

29. Nate Hinton

Houston
SG
Top 100: No. 56
Stats: No. 17

Consensus: 0.9 WARP

The lone newcomer to my top 30 from June, Hinton replaces Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi, who opted to return to college. Statistically, Hinton's strength is his rebounding from the perimeter. As a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, he posted the best rebound percentage on his team. His steal rate was also strong, but Hinton must continue the improvement he showed as a shooter during his sophomore season (making 39% of his 3-point attempts, up from 34% as a freshman) to stay on the court.

30. Markus Howard

Marquette
PG
Top 100: No. 60
Stats: No. 14

Consensus: 0.9 WARP

Because of his small stature (he's listed at 5-foot-11) and shoot-first style, Howard is the rare early developing star who stayed four years in college. He did improve his playmaking as an upperclassmen, but if he's going to stick in the NBA it probably will be as a Patty Mills-style combo guard, having hit 43% of his career 3-point attempts.

Spottie, Thursday, 12 November 2020 22:41 (two months ago) link

I could cheer for a guy named Isaiah Joe

Heez, Friday, 13 November 2020 00:01 (two months ago) link

two weeks pass...

@thl3t1c is $12 for a year for the next few hours fwiw

The best journalists in sports all in one place.

A new subscription to all The Athletic has to offer is just $1/month: https://t.co/Wya4OWKBCA

Want in? Here are some of our staff members’ favorite stories.

👇👇👇

— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) November 28, 2020

mookieproof, Monday, 30 November 2020 23:29 (one month ago) link

thanks, that's the right price

the serious avant-garde universalist right now (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 1 December 2020 01:07 (one month ago) link

that's definitely better than the intro price i got in january. people trying to sell email newsletters lately has made the athletic (and, like, actual magazines) feel cheap to me.

circles, Tuesday, 1 December 2020 03:55 (one month ago) link

i signed for the atheltic a bit ago, and im pretty impressed with how much shit they can publish thats actually interesting

discourse stu (m bison), Tuesday, 1 December 2020 04:38 (one month ago) link

thanks for the heads up, mookie. I am now an Athletic subscriber for the first time. Already appreciating Jared Weiss' explanation of the Gordon Hayward sign n' trade

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Tuesday, 1 December 2020 05:14 (one month ago) link

10. Nikola Jokic

play
0:17
Jokic hook shot sends Nuggets to next roundNikola Jokic hits a clutch turn-around hook shot on Rudy Gobert to lift the Nuggets to the Game 7 win vs. the Jazz
Denver Nuggets | C

Previous rank: 7

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.3*

A sluggish start to the season was a distant memory when Jokic showed up trim for the seeding games and helped lead the Nuggets to their first conference finals since 2009. Along the way, Jokic showed how he helps his team in multiple ways. Against the Utah Jazz, who wanted to make him a scorer, Jokic averaged 26.3 points. That was down to 24.4 against the LA Clippers, but Jokic dominated the glass (13.4 rebounds) and averaged 6.6 assists. Though foul trouble limited Jokic against the eventual champion Lakers, he still made 58% of his 2-point attempts in an efficient series.

*Real plus-minus (RPM) is a player's estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions.

More: What sets Nikola Jokic apart from other superstars

9. James Harden

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Houston Rockets | SG

Previous rank: 4

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.8

Harden tumbled five spots in the rankings after back-to-back top-four finishes, and it's tough to say how much that reflects his uncertain future in Houston after a short training-camp holdout and a trade request. During the regular season, there's no doubt Harden has been far more valuable than ninth in the league, finishing in the top three in MVP voting five of the past six seasons. Clearly, our panel put more weight on Harden's uneven postseason performances. Still, the Rockets will rightly expect a prime package of players and picks if and when they trade Harden.

More: Teams that can make real offers for Harden

8. Stephen Curry

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Golden State Warriors | PG

Previous rank: 6

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.0

This is the lowest Curry has ranked since breaking out as a star in the 2013 postseason. The issue is availability, as a broken bone in Curry's right hand limited him to five games last season and he missed a combined 44 games the previous two campaigns. If he can stay healthy, we'll find out the floor for a Curry-led offense lacking a second plus scorer after Klay Thompson's Achilles injury ended his season before it began. Without Thompson and Kevin Durant, the Warriors will be more dependent on Curry for shot creation than ever before.

More: Curry relishes opportunity to start "at ground zero again"

7. Damian Lillard

play
2:43
Lillard goes off for 61 points vs. MavsIn his second straight game scoring more than 50 points, Damian Lillard racks up 61 points and eight assists as he leads the Trail Blazers to a 134-131 victory in a wild game against the Mavericks.
Portland Trail Blazers | PG

Previous rank: 9

2020-21 projected RPM: 3.4

Lillard's scoring prowess salvaged what looked like a season lost to injuries for the Blazers. He put together one of the great stretches in NBA history in late January into February, averaging 48.8 points and 8.2 3-pointers per game on 57% shooting as Portland knocked off four playoff teams. Lillard was nearly as good in the bubble, winning Player of the Seeding Games for his 37.6 points and 9.6 assists as the Blazers claimed the eighth seed. With a healthier roster fortified this offseason, Portland hopes not to rely so heavily on Lillard again in 2020-21, but he has proved capable of carrying the load.

More: Lillard named NBA bubble MVP

6. Kevin Durant

Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports
Brooklyn Nets | PF

Previous rank: NR (injured)

2020-21 projected RPM: 2.4

Just how good Durant is 18 months after suffering an Achilles rupture during his final game with the Warriors is one of this season's swing questions. Players coming off the same injury have been noticeably less effective than projected upon their return, and KD was already likely to experience some decline in his early 30s. At the same time, when last we saw Durant fully healthy in the first two rounds of the 2019 playoffs, he was making a case as the league's most dominant individual force, and reports from players who have played with him during rehab have been encouraging.

More: Durant "ready for anything" in Nets' new smallball lineups

5. Kawhi Leonard

play
0:23
One-finger block! Kawhi comes up with clutch denial on Murray's dunk attemptJamal Murray attacks the basket, but Kawhi Leonard rises to the occasion to stuff the dunk using his middle finger.
LA Clippers | SF

Previous rank: 2

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.1

Leonard's first season in Los Angeles (and the Orlando bubble) didn't have the same kind of storybook ending as 2019 in Toronto. The Clippers, trendy picks to win the title, were shocked in the second round after holding a 3-1 series lead on the Nuggets. Leonard was complicit, as he shot 6-of-22 in the deciding Game 7. Still, Leonard is primed to outperform his No. 5 ranking. He finished fifth in MVP voting despite his load -- whoops, injury -- management and finished second on a per-game basis in my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric in the playoffs.

More: Leonard ready to "get back after it" following playoff loss

4. Luka Doncic

play
0:47
Doncic nails game winner as time expires in overtimeLuka Doncic drills a fadeaway 3-pointer as time expires to win the game for the Mavericks and tie the series vs. the Clippers 2-2.
Dallas Mavericks | PG

Previous rank: 16

2020-21 projected RPM: 3.4

The next great superstar served notice to the league in his second season, becoming the youngest player ever to earn All-NBA First Team honors based on age as of opening night. Doncic impressed in his playoff debut versus the LA Clippers, knocking down a 28-foot, step-back winner in overtime and averaging 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists in the six-game series. Next for Doncic: Leading the Mavs to a series win for the first time since their 2011 championship. Based on what we've seen from Doncic, that's a matter of when, not if.

More: How Luka compares to the all-time NBA greats

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

play
2:18
Giannis' rise is a product of David Stern's global NBA visionOn this special episode of The Woj Pod, Adrian Wojnarowski talks about Giannis Antetokounmpo's rise to NBA superstardom.
Milwaukee Bucks | PF

Previous rank: 1

2020-21 projected RPM: 7.5

There's a reason much of the league spent this offseason hoarding cap space in preparation for Giannis' possible unrestricted free agency next summer. He has nothing left to prove in the regular season after winning back-to-back MVPs and Defensive Player of the Year before age 26, all while leading the Bucks to the NBA's best record in both seasons. Yet Giannis wasn't having the same impact against the Miami Heat in the playoffs before an ankle reinjury ended his series prematurely. To return to No. 1, Antetokounmpo must improve his scoring against defenses designed to keep him out of the paint.

Listen: "The Giannis Draft" on the Woj Pod

2. Anthony Davis

play
2:34
The best of Anthony Davis' title run in the playoff bubbleTake a look back at the best highlights from Anthony Davis' title run with the Lakers in the bubble.
Los Angeles Lakers | PF

Previous rank: 5

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.0

For the first time in the 10-year history of NBArank, teammates finished 1-2. It's a testament to how well AD played in the Lakers' championship run that he created debate about who should win Finals MVP. It was Davis who hit the biggest shot of the playoffs, a 3-pointer to win Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. And the Lakers played better with Davis alone on the court in the postseason (plus-5.0 points per 100 possessions, via NBA Advanced Stats) than with LeBron James alone (plus-0.5) -- a reversal from the regular season.

More: What it took for Anthony Davis to get to this moment

1. LeBron James

play
2:18
LeBron's most memorable playoff bubble momentsCheck out the best moments from LeBron James' championship run with the Lakers in the bubble.
Los Angeles Lakers | SF

Previous rank: 3

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.1

To quote "The Wire," "The King stay the King." After controversially relinquishing the No. 1 spot to Giannis in the wake of his injury-marred first season in Los Angeles, LeBron reclaimed the NBArank throne he has held nine of the past 10 years by winning his fourth title and Finals MVP at age 35. James continues to evolve, leading the league in assists while ceding some scoring to Davis. With the short turnaround before opening night, it's unlikely James will match last season's 67 (of 71) games played. Come playoff time, however, there's still nobody you'd rather start your team with than LeBron.

Spottie, Thursday, 10 December 2020 22:56 (one month ago) link

ty :)

k3vin k., Thursday, 10 December 2020 23:24 (one month ago) link

I'd quibble with placing Doncic ahead of Lillard, Curry and Harden. That seems based as much on promise as delivery. He's clearly top ten, tho.

Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Thursday, 10 December 2020 23:58 (one month ago) link

yah lillard ahead of curry is smh

Spottie, Friday, 11 December 2020 00:05 (one month ago) link

doncic was top 5 last year, he'll probably be the best player in the league this year. hard to argue with any of the enties in the top 8 really, exact position aside

k3vin k., Friday, 11 December 2020 02:04 (one month ago) link

sorry forgot the rankings lol, harden clearly better player than lillard imo, put him in the top 8 and lillard/jokic rounding out the top 10 seems right

k3vin k., Friday, 11 December 2020 02:05 (one month ago) link

not sure about ad being #2, the +/- stats noted above are janky and hes a permanent second option

micah, Sunday, 13 December 2020 09:02 (one month ago) link

yeah its recency bias+championship glow+LA bias

discourse stu (m bison), Sunday, 13 December 2020 15:33 (one month ago) link

https://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/30453357/nba-five-most-intriguing-players-2020-21-including-kevin-durant

*praying hands emoji*

I get more mad every day about espn putting lowe behind a paywall in the middle of a pandemic

k3vin k., Wednesday, 16 December 2020 14:46 (one month ago) link

i let mine lapse dont want to pay the mouse

lag∞n, Wednesday, 16 December 2020 16:14 (one month ago) link

theres a ton of video clips in here so the formatting will probably be whack

It's time for one NBA preseason tradition: My six most intriguing players of the season, only there are five here. Blame the supercompressed offseason. As always, we steer away from rookies and sophomores.

Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

Carter and Markkanen felt a connection the first time they took the court together in practice. They linked up on high-lows, and they had an innate sense in screening actions for who should roll and who should pop.

It translated to games right away:

Markkanen's gravity as a pick-and-pop threat unlocked rim runs for Carter.

They reversed rolls, with Markkanen slipping to the rim -- and Carter feeding him:

They looked like a foundational frontcourt for the modern NBA. With Kris Dunn gone, they are now two of three players remaining from the Jimmy Butler trade return -- Markkanen directly, Carter via the high pick the rebuilding Bulls got the following season.

"We clicked before we put in plays or anything," Carter told ESPN. "And then I hit the rookie wall, and we kept getting injured. So there were just glimpses. It was hard to keep the chemistry going."

Carter went out for that 2018-19 season six weeks after Markkanen's return from an early-season injury. He missed 22 games last season; Markkanen missed 15. They have played only about 1,300 minutes together.

EDITOR'S PICKS

Lowe's Redeem Team: Six NBA players ready to bounce back this season

Lowe: The Clippers absolutely need peak Paul George

Predictions: Eight biggest NBA questions, including MVP and the future for LeBron and Harden
Last season was a disappointment for both. One exception: Carter's defense, which has to be really good to cover for Markkanen and Chicago's perimeter leakage.

Carter is fast and mobile, with a knack for verticality and a hellacious second jump in rebounding scrums. (Markkanen is tall for power forward, and he put up solid rebounding numbers in his first two seasons. Chicago protected the glass at a top-10 level with Markkanen and Carter on the floor.)

Carter did not look out of his depth trapping pick-and-rolls in the idiosyncratic, ultra-aggressive scheme favored by now-former Bulls coach Jim Boylen.

Billy Donovan, Boylen's replacement, said the Bulls will toggle schemes but skew more conservative. Carter is excited to see what he can do as a rim protector setting up shop below the foul line.

"It's going to make me even better," he said.

Carter was already Chicago's best defender. Get him engaged on offense and he could be Chicago's best player.

Carter carries a reputation as a capable midrange shooter, but he went gun-shy as Boylen discouraged midrangers. Carter barely looked at the rim. Opponents stopped guarding him.

For better or worse, that's over. Carter went 1-of-9 from deep in two preseason games. He took 29 3s last season.

"Trust and believe, you are gonna see jump-shooting Wendell," Carter said. "My confidence is through the roof."

And 3-point shooting Wendell? "For sure. You'll see him too," Carter said.

Last season, Carter served mostly as a screen-and-dive option. He can dart behind slower defenders, cram lobs, and toss passes on the move.

That setup -- plus Boylen's aversion to long 2s -- marginalized Markkanen into a role as standstill floor-spacer. Markkanen hopes Donovan resurrects sets in which he works in tandem with Carter.

"When you are involved, that's a good feeling," Markkanen told ESPN. "It's important for us to mix it up."

Good NBA defenses demand variety.

"We have to explore all those things," Donovan said.

During Markkanen's best stretch -- February 2019, when he averaged 26 points on 49% shooting -- Boylen made Markkanen the centerpiece of unpredictable screening actions similar to ones the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves have used for Kevin Love.

Markkanen played with ferocity, pumping-and-driving and hunting dunks:

He flew off pindowns from Carter, and ran some big-big pick-and-rolls with him -- daring lumbering centers to switch onto him.

That February 2019 Markkanen was confident and (briefly) healthy. A left ankle injury hobbled him much of last season; Markkanen played with a brace, and could not push off his left leg with power, he said. He couldn't get past slow centers off the dribble.

Now healthy, it is on Markkanen to prove he deserves more touches. It starts with living up to his billing as a shooter. He has hit 35.6% on 3s -- average. He does not inspire enough frantic closeouts or extra rotations that leave the defense naked elsewhere.

He has been almost unbelievably bad from midrange: 30% last season, never above 39% on long 2s. Among 260 players who attempted at least 300 shots last season, only 28 underperformed their expected effective field-goal percentage -- based on the location of each shot and the nearest defender -- by a larger margin than Markkanen, per Second Spectrum data.

Markkanen can beat defenders off the bounce only if they fear his jumper enough to press him. If they give any cushion, he dribbles into walls.

He has not been able to exploit guards on switches, a must for any screen-setter with his skill set. The Bulls have scored less than 0.85 points per possession in each of the past two seasons when Markkanen shoots out of the post or dishes to a teammate who fires -- bottom-25 numbers leaguewide, per Second Spectrum.

Markkanen sometimes struggles to shove guards backward. His dribble can get high and loose -- prey for swiping defenders:

Carter's presence mucks up the lane, at times. On most switches last season, Markkanen slunk toward the corner.

What makes all this so frustrating is that Markkanen has shown flashes of a mean streak:

He is willing to initiate contact, but not forceful enough to finish through it yet.

He should have the chops to shoot over smaller guards, which would in turn force them to pressure him -- and open up his off-the-dribble game.

Practicing full-contact post-ups was difficult amid a pandemic, but Markkanen spent the offseason honing footwork and ballhandling. "With someone like Dirk [Nowitzki], you couldn't switch on him because he'd punish you," Markkenen said. "That's the goal."

Markkanen worked afternoons with a private skills trainer in a gym so small Markkanen did not have room to shoot corner 3s.

They drilled basic ballhandling, including with two balls. The trainer would toss the ball off the backboard, and have Markkanen rebound and push it up the floor on a one-man fast break.

2020-21 NBA season preview

The new season is fast approaching. Keep it here for all the latest rankings, projections and storylines to watch ahead of 2020-21.

• NBA Power Rankings, training camp edition
• What this drastic rest disparity means
• Games to watch | Must-see Christmas battles
• How will this NBA season actually work?
• Win projections for all 30 teams
• Every team's biggest camp question
Hovering over everything is Chicago's lack of guard playmaking. Like most bigs, Markkanen and Carter need to catch the ball with some small advantage. They rely on guards to provide it by puncturing the defense, and kicking to them on target and on time.

Chicago's lead ball handlers are scattershot, and the Bulls did not address the issue in the draft or free agency. Zach LaVine is a scorer first. So is Coby White, who appears to have snatched the starting point guard job. Opponents duck picks against Tomas Satoransky, allowing defenders to stay home on Markkanen and Carter.

Chemistry on the pick-and-roll has come slowly. Chicago's guards sometimes look off mismatches in the post to chase their own.

"It has been a work in progress getting on the same page with the guards," Markkanen said.

On defense, Markkanen needs more reps chasing stretch power forwards. (Carter might be better at that, but the Bulls want him around the basket.) If Markkanen straggles, he might not have a consistent position on defense -- a problem for him given the Bulls just drafted Patrick Williams, who projects as at least a part-time power forward.

The Bulls have played Markkanen at center, but it's unclear if those alignments can survive on defense. That setup did not work with Thaddeus Young at power forward; smart teams stuck their centers on Young and kept faster power forwards on Markkanen, vaporizing the speed advantage that is the entire point of slotting him at center.

The Bulls will revisit that lineup with Otto Porter Jr. at power forward, Donovan said. "It could be a come-from-behind lineup," the coach indicated.

At this point, Carter and Markkanen are just eager to play together again. And they want to win, to point the Bulls somewhere after half a decade of aimlessness. They have always been team-first guys, even in moments of internal drama. During Boylen's first speech as coach in December 2018, Carter stood and told Boylen -- and by extension, the team -- "Whatever you need, coach, I'll do it," multiple witnesses recalled.

If Markkanen and Carter click, the Bulls have some direction. If they don't, they could wander the wilderness.

"It's a big, big year for us," Markkanen said.

Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

Bagley knows he will always be tied to Luka Doncic.

"You see it, you hear it, but I pay it no mind," Bagley said. "I'm not here to please anyone outside the team. I'm here to help the team win. I'm here to help this organization get to places it has never been."

The Kings have one cornerstone in De'Aaron Fox, whose presence as lead ball handler contributed to the decision to pick Bagley over Doncic, Vlade Divac, the Kings' former general manager, told ESPN last year. Whether Fox becomes an occasional All-Star or perennial All-NBA candidate will be one determining factor in how far these Kings go.

Bagley is the other. He is still something of a mystery after playing just 13 games last season due to a foot injury.

He was slated as a starter before contracting the coronavirus prior to camp, Luke Walton, the team's coach, told ESPN. Walton would not say whether Bagley would have started at center or power forward. (He started Sacramento's preseason game Tuesday next to Richaun Holmes.)

The hope is that Bagley can play either position depending on matchups and health.

"For now, it's kind of, 'Who cares. Let's get him on the court,'" Walton said.

Bagley has proved he can inflict damage as the center of a spread pick-and-roll attack, with Fox and three shooters around him. Bagley is fast and bouncy, with a nasty streak. He seems to relish dislodging defenders with forearms to the gut, and then dunking them into oblivion:

Bagley can face up and roast centers in open space, and doesn't need a right hand to do it:

He is a terror on the offensive glass. He tosses rivals aside with swim moves like a defensive lineman. He can jump twice in the same time it takes some centers to get up and down once.

The next steps are spraying passes on the move and abusing switches; Bagley has been unsteady in the post, prone to traveling violations.

The larger challenge at center comes in anchoring the defense. Bagley is agile enough to switch onto most guards, but that leaves the Kings vulnerable to mismatches and small around the glass. Drop him back and Bagley becomes responsible for making more reads and quarterbacking the defense.

Walton intends to use both schemes. "We'll keep him back in coverage, but to me, that's more challenging for him than switching," Walton said.

Walton is confident Bagley can defend power forwards of all stripes, and he will have him switch even more at that position. Bagley struggled as a rookie chasing stretchier 4s around the arc, but he hasn't had much game time to adapt.

His role on offense at that position is murkier. Holmes and Hassan Whiteside are paint-bound dive guys. Sacramento tried to have the best of both worlds last season by signing Dewayne Dedmon as a center who could shoot 3s, clearing the lane for Bagley, but the experiment went bust.

Defenses are not worried about Bagley spotting up as a power forward. He is 34-of-118 (28.8%) on 3s. Opponents ignore him. He can fade out of plays:

The Kings are optimistic Bagley's jumper will come with time. He has shot well on long 2s, and went 25-of-31 at the line last season.

Bagley has ambitions on offense beyond rim running and spot shooting. "I feel like I can do more," he said, "but I'll do whatever the team needs."

During his pre-draft workout with the Kings, Dave Joerger, their former coach, tested Bagley's ballhandling by having him dribble up and down the court -- sometimes with two balls -- and execute moves at full speed when Joerger called them out: Through the legs! Crossover!

"It was the weirdest workout I've been a part of, but it was fun," Bagley said. Divac talked about Bagley playing small forward.

Walton will let Bagley stretch himself -- eventually.

"You have to do other things first to help the team," Walton said. "Then we can look at expanding some of the other stuff."

Bagley is going to score a lot. He might sniff 20 points per game this season if he stays healthy and gets enough minutes. He is a prodigious talent. Honing the other parts of his game is the only way he can take Sacramento to new places, and render Doncic a minor part of his story.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

The league didn't lose a normal superstar when Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon during the 2019 NBA Finals.

Durant is a historic giant. He was just 30 years old during those Finals, and had already amassed almost 23,000 regular-season points (31st in NBA history). He was one basket away from tying Tony Parker for 10th in postseason points. With good health, Durant appeared likely to pass Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list -- leaving him at No. 4, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and LeBron James. With pristine health and unusual longevity -- not an unreasonable expectation for a 7-foot sniper -- Durant might have challenged Abdul-Jabbar's record.

The NBA on ESPN and ABC

The NBA is back! Catch all the 2020-21 season action on ESPN, ABC and the ESPN App.

Thursday, Dec. 17
• Nets at Celtics, 8 p.m. on ESPN

Friday, Dec. 18
• Nets at Celtics, 8 p.m. on ESPN2
• Lakers at Suns, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN

All Times Eastern
By the end of this season, he could become the seventh player to compile 22,000 points, 6,500 rebounds, 3,000 assists, and 1,000 each of steals and blocks. (The other six, per Basketball-Reference: Abdul-Jabbar, Malone, Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Hakeem Olajuwon.)

Unlike five of those six, Durant is an annual threat to crack the 50-40-90 shooting club. He made it once, and barely missed several times. (His career shooting line: 49-38-88, which is just ridiculous.)

He was on track to finish as one of the 10 greatest players ever, with a possibility of breaching even loftier territory.

If Durant is back and the Nets avoid chemistry landmines, they can contend for the title. Durant is that powerful a two-way force.

The Nets have not found that third star to flank Kyrie Irving and Durant, but the upside is the sort of depth that should be unusually valuable during a perilous season. Lineups with Durant at center -- a look coach Steve Nash has vowed to use -- will test that depth and Brooklyn's culture.

Joe Harris should be a regular third wheel alongside Brooklyn's two stars. He is a solid, multipositional defender, and one of the best shooters alive. There are at least seven reasonable candidates for two remaining Durant-at-center spots: Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Landry Shamet, Taurean Prince, Jeff Green, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Bruce Brown.

Dinwiddie and LeVert are the best pure talents, but the group featuring both would be small and might bleed points and offensive rebounds. (Defense will make or break the Nets as a real contender.)

Irving, Dinwiddie, and LeVert played only 67 minutes together last season, and Nash has talked of LeVert accepting a Manu Ginobili-like sixth man role.

Brooklyn could go bigger with both Prince and Green -- the latter coming off an encouraging stint in precisely this role with the Houston Rockets -- but that might alienate two crafty ball handlers in LeVert and Dinwiddie hungering for larger roles.

Brown looms as a potential wild card, if his 41% mark on corner 3s last season sustains -- and his hideous 26% hit rate on above-the-break 3s improves. Luwawu-Cabarrot jacked from deep with bravado last season.

DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen might do so well rampaging through open space for dunks and barricading the rim that Nash won't need the small-ball card much.

We're up to 12 rotation guys, and have not mentioned Nicolas Claxton, Rodions Kurucs, Tyler Johnson, or Reggie Perry -- the 57th pick in the draft who has drawn positive reviews, and a likely candidate for a two-way spot.

These guys are super deep. Depth is handy, but star power wins on the biggest stages. Peak Durant would tie everything together.

Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers

We've seen it before: Intriguing young guy on win-now team suffers injury after injury, and inexorably falls out of the team's planning. It might not be something anyone says out loud. There might be no loss of trust or affection. There is just a general, almost tangible sense of, We can't wait anymore.

It is a testament to Collins' work ethic, likability, and potential that the same plotline has not befallen him after he lost last season to shoulder surgery and then ankle surgery. Other teams have called, assuming Collins is Portland's main trade chip. Portland's veterans are fine waiting longer -- waiting to see if Collins becomes the rare 7-footer who shoots 3s and protects the rim.

ESPN Daily podcast

Monday through Friday, host Pablo Torre brings you an inside look at the most interesting stories at ESPN, as told by the top reporters and insiders on the planet. Listen
"You get that respect from veterans by how you compete -- by not backing down," Terry Stotts, Portland's coach, told ESPN. "Zach is fearless. He wants to win. He's got some s--- to him."

The Blazers have to wait about a month for Collins' return. In the meantime, Portland acquired or re-signed five players capable of taking his minutes at power forward (Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr., Carmelo Anthony) or center (Enes Kanter, Harry Giles III). There is a scenario in which those guys thrive, Collins' struggles early, and the season -- Collins' pivotal fourth campaign, sending him into restricted free agency, barring an extension before Monday -- slips away.

The happy flip side: Collins roars upon returning, reclaims the starting power forward spot next to Jusuf Nurkic, and snags a chunk of minutes as a stretch center. Collins played well in both roles in the 2019 Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, a seven-game slugfest that served as his coming-out party.

"In the biggest moments, I showed up," Collins told ESPN. "That was huge for my confidence."

That version of Collins raises the present team's ceiling and changes Portland's broader trajectory. A Covington-Collins-Nurkic frontcourt could stabilize Portland's leaky defense, allowing them to play ultra-big without sacrificing skill.

That hinges on Collins doing enough damage from the perimeter on offense. At power forward, he has to spot up around Nurkic pick-and-rolls. Collins is a career 32% shooter from deep on low volume. He has been bricky from the corners. Instead of standing in those corners, Collins sometimes lingers in the dead zone along the baseline -- short of 3-point range, but too far away to catch and dunk.

"He has to be one or the other -- a corner 3-point shooter, or one power dribble from the rim," Stotts said.

Collins believes he can be a 40% 3-point shooter. If he fails, it will not be for a lack of practice. Collins' father, Mike, coached him from a young age, and instilled an intense competitive drive. On visits to Portland's practice facility, he assured Blazers coaches Collins would keep improving, telling them, "I raised a monster" and "I raised a machine," according to Collins and others.

If Collins performs below expectations in shooting drills, he often insists on starting again -- over objections of coaches tasked with monitoring his workload.

The job description of Portland's power forwards goes beyond shooting. They have to make quick drive and pass decisions when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum kick them the ball. Collins has shown flashes -- an explosive pump-and-go, an occasional floater -- but only flashes. He prefers the more predictable job description of Portland's centers: screen, roll, make plays in the paint.

"I like [center] a little more," Collins said. "You're involved more. It's more clear-cut."

Collins has a nascent post-up game against switches, and has been productive taking guards to the block, per Second Spectrum.

He should be able to defend both power forwards and centers, though true-blue wings sliding to power forward might give him issues -- as they do most bigs. Collins has quick feet and a churning motor. Stotts in the Florida bubble trusted Collins to switch onto Ja Morant, LeVert, and other quick scoring guards. Collins held his own, though he can bite on pump fakes and get handsy when he is worried a guard might scoot by him; Collins fouls a lot.

"I've watched a lot of film on that with our coaches," he said. "They have given me ways to get around it, so that if I touch someone, it's not as obvious."

Switching can take him away from the basket, where Collins has emerged as a fearsome -- if foul-prone -- deterrent. He blocked 15 shots in just 145 minutes in that Denver series, and he has held opposing shooters to a low field goal percentage around the basket, per NBA.com.

Collins might be able to leverage that skill more often at center. He has bulked up enough so that brutes can't bully him as easily. Still: There is a hard ceiling on available center minutes as long as Nurkic -- just 26, and extension-eligible -- remains in Portland.

But the actualized version of Collins is flexible enough to help Portland at multiple positions. If the Blazers get that guy this season, they will be a problem.

Spottie, Wednesday, 16 December 2020 16:21 (one month ago) link

ty!

k3vin k., Wednesday, 16 December 2020 17:51 (one month ago) link

Bagley said. "I'm not here to please anyone outside the team. I'm here to help the team win. I'm here to help this organization get to places it has never been."

The Kings have been an NBA team since 1945 (as the Rochester Royals) and won an NBA championship that year, so Marvin has a pretty high opinion of himself.

Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Wednesday, 16 December 2020 19:27 (one month ago) link

pretty please :)

https://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/30523584/eight-nba-tiers-rating-all-30-teams-top-bottom

k3vin k., Wednesday, 23 December 2020 13:05 (three weeks ago) link

Seconded. Dear god this thread gonna get busy with the mouse putting every writer worth a damn behind the paywall.

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 16:54 (three weeks ago) link

cheers mate

lag∞n, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 20:32 (three weeks ago) link

lol. can you just do that with every article??

k3vin k., Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:08 (three weeks ago) link

lol! thanks

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:25 (three weeks ago) link

lol incredible

trans-panda express (m bison), Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:33 (three weeks ago) link

that rules thx micah!

Clay, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:42 (three weeks ago) link

idk if it always works, normally i just read whats posted here

i thought lowes piece was ass btw - its a very difficult season to predict but i still think he did it poorly

micah, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 23:05 (three weeks ago) link

really? his tiers basically made sense to me.

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 23:08 (three weeks ago) link

plz sir just a crumb of content https://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/30626423/nba-teams-going-need-james-harden-trade-soon

lag∞n, Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:17 (one week ago) link

1) boston celtics

k3vin k., Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:56 (one week ago) link

rude

lag∞n, Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:57 (one week ago) link


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.