Archives For NBA general

Looking Like A Season…

Darius Soriano —  November 26, 2011

How u?

Very good, thank you very much.

The wait is over as the owners and players have tentatively agreed to terms on a new CBA that will end the NBA lockout. The deal will need to be ratified by vote by both the players and owners, but that’s seemingly a formality at this point. The plan is to start a 66 game season on Christmas Day with a triple-header that will likely include the Lakers taking on the Bulls as the original 82 game schedule had planned.

We’ll have more details on the actual terms of the deal when we know them but for now, CELEBRATE. The lockout has been lifted and, before you know it, we should have actual basketball to watch.

While watching some of the lockout coverage, the idea of still having an 82-game schedule should the lockout end by this weekend or early next week crept into my mind. I thought about the Lakers roster, and more importantly, the collective age of the members on their roster as it currently stands. I wondered how a compacted 82-game schedule would impact an aging Lakers team and decided to look back at the 98-99 season for comparison.

What immediately stood out was the fact that the Lakers played 17 back-to-backs over the course of 50 games during the span of 145 days including three back-to-back-to-backs(!). To put it in perspective, the Lakers played a mere 15 back-to-backs during the course of their 82-game regular season schedule. One would assume that aging teams wouldn’t fare well with such a brutal schedule with little rest between games, but when I looked at the playoff teams for each conference and compared the average age of the team with where they finished at the end of the regular season, I was a bit surprised by what I found.

(Note: I only looked at the Top 10 rotation guys in terms of minutes played when calculating average age of teams. I didn’t think it was necessary to include 11th and 12th men considering they rarely had impact on games and didn’t see the floor long enough to where their age/physical ability correlation meant much to their respective team. Also, this was able to exclude a lot of guys who spent a huge part of the season on the bench due to injuries.)

The 98-99 Playoff Teams and Average Age

WEST
Spurs – 30
Jazz – 29.9
Blazers – 27.7
Lakers – 28.3
Rockets – 28.8
Suns – 30.2
Kings – 26.1
Timberwolves – 27.4


EAST
Heat – 29.8
Pacers – 30.4
Magic – 28.9
Hawks – 29.9
Pistons – 27.9
76ers – 26
Bucks – 28.5
Knicks – 29.2

What you’ll find above is that the more experienced teams finished with the top two spots in each conference while no team with an average under 28 finished with home court advantage in the first round except for the Portland Trailblazers (who ended up getting swept by the Spurs). While the younger teams might have been better equipped to physically handle the grueling schedule, it was the teams that were better prepared mentally with lots of veteran presence that ended up finishing with the best records at the end of the regular season. Furthermore, the two teams that made the finals had an average age of 30 (Spurs), and 29.2 (Knicks) years old. Now take a look at the average ages of all of the playoff teams from last season.

The 10-11 Playoff Teams and Average Age


WEST
Spurs – 28.8
Lakers – 29.8
Dallas – 34.3
Thunder – 23.9
Nuggets – 28.1
Blazers – 26.5
Hornets – 25.7
Grizzlies – 25.7


EAST
Bulls – 27.4
Heat 29.1
Celtics – 29.6
Magic – 27.7
Hawks – 27.4
Knicks – 24.6
76ers – 24.5
Pacers – 26.5

The Lakers had the second highest average age in the league last season, which, if I could actually make any correlation between the unpromised upcoming season and the 98-99 season, would bode well for the Lakers. In reality, there probably isn’t any connection between what happened over a decade and what might happen next season, but it was interesting to see that the older guys in the league didn’t have a problem hanging with the younger guys after playing back-to-back-to-backs. Also, the style of play was much slower and much more physical than what we see in today’s NBA. It’ll be interesting to see if the rule changes over the last decade will flip the results of the 99 season and have the younger guys running the older guys off the floor in today’s faster paced NBA. Either way, I’ll pay attention to how guys like Kobe, Pau, Metta World Peace, and Matt Barnes handle a much more compressed schedule and how Mike Brown toys with the minutes of these guys as the season progresses.

As we slog into month 3 of the NBA lockout, we all know that the major issue at hand is money. The owners want a bigger piece of the pie than they’ve been getting and want to ensure that their franchises are profitable. NBA teams are businesses, after all, and profits are the way that businesses not only sustain themselves but grow for the future.

However, one of the other talking points the commissioner and owners consistently mention is parity. The logic goes like this: parity equals better competition; better competition equals more interest in the league; more interest in the league equals more money for the league through higher TV ratings, stronger attendance, and more merchandise sales.

And held above all other professional sports leagues as the king of parity is the NFL. You know, the league where there have been 5 different champions in the last 5 years and 7 different ones in the past decade. Where different teams consistently rise and fall into the ranks of contenders; where fans of (nearly) all teams feel that this could be the year their team goes on a magical run to the Lombardi trophy. When looked at in this light, parity is a great thing that every league should strive for and, thus, fight for.

However, parity isn’t truly achieved through the battle ground topics that have come up in the NBA’s current collective bargaining negotiations. Parity (at least to these eyes) isn’t achieved through a hard salary cap, more restrictions on player movement (like franchise tags, exclusive rights free agency, etc), or ensured profitability gained through revenue spits (or even revenue sharing). These things help level the playing field for all franchises and ensure that they have similar resources in order to build a successful organization. But they don’t ensure competitiveness.

Parity is accomplished by the distribution of the best and most impactful players across the league.  For the NFL, that means getting your hands on one of the best quarterbacks and keeping him in your uniform for as long as possible. However, the truly elite quarterbacks aren’t plentiful. There are, maybe, 5 or 6 truly great quarterbacks in the NFL and the teams with those signal callers are the ones that stay at or near the top for the longest periods of time. In fact, these players carry so much value and contribute so much to winning that they can tilt the fortunes of a franchise even when the rest of the roster isn’t managed in a way that would typically lead to success.

Over at one of the better NFL team sites I’ve found (Cowboys Nation), this is explained quite well when discussing the success the Colts and Patriots have had while possessing two of the best QB’s of their eras (Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) while continuously missing on their draft picks:

…of the 41 players the Patriots drafted from 2004 through 2008, only four, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, guard Logan Mankins, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and inside linebacker Jerod Mayo remain.  (Geer missed ’08 backup WR Matthew Slater, so there are five.)

Five players.  That’s it. Three quality starters and a kicker. The players in the 2004-2008 window will be entering years four through eight in their careers.  They should arguably be the core of New England’s or any other NFL club’s squad.

And yet, in the seven seasons played since those draft classes flickered out, the Patriots have won seven consecutive divisions, played in two Super Bowls, and won a championship.

The quirky stat sent me to examine the Indianapolis Colts’ drafts in that same five-year span.  I found six hits, four starters (RB Joseph Addai, S Antoine Bethea, G Mike Pollack, WR Pierre Garcon) and two backups (WR Anthony Gonzalez and TE Jacob Tamme) in Indy’s haul.  Good players, but no big stars.

Like the Patriots, the Colts performed superbly.  They have six division titles, two Super Bowl appearances and a title to their credit the past seven years.  Their GM Bill Polian is considered one of the best football men in the business.

This demonstrates, in part, the value of an elite quarterback.   Peyton Manning’s and Tom Brady’s ability to operate their offenses at extreme high levels despite constant churn on their rosters and in their teams’ coaching staffs has helped their teams overcome drafting records that might hobble others.

What does this have to do with the NBA you ask?

Just as elite quarterback play leads to contention in the NFL, having one of the 5 or 6 best players in the NBA will often lead to contention as well.

How many truly great players are there in the NBA today? Five? Seven? Ten? Forget all-star appearances and scour the all-NBA rosters of the past several years. The players you see consistently – Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett – are the foundation for title contending teams nearly every season. (Sure, there are exceptions. Paul hasn’t achieved as much as the other players mentioned but he serves as a foundation for a playoff team that would lose 50 games a season without him. He has immense value and is one of the few impact players in the NBA.)

These players are the difference makers in the league; they’re the players you need if you want to compete. Compile one or more of them (like the Heat have with James and Wade or like the Lakers have with Kobe and Gasol) and you have a foundation for success that most other teams will not be able to keep up with.

In a league where there are only 5-10 truly great players but 30 teams, how do you achieve parity? Create incentives for keeping players on the team that drafts them, put a ceiling on spending, or reduce the allure of player friendly markets all you want and the issue of too little top shelf talent remains.

Parity is not a myth, but it is hard to achieve in a league that’s expanded as much as the NBA has. Even with the influx of several young players that look to make the leap into that super-star class of talent (Rose – last year’s MVP, John Wall, Russell Westbrook) there is not enough talent to go around, especially if keen talent evaluators (Sam Presti comes to mind) are able to stock pile talent while less competent GM’s miss on draft picks or don’t spend money wisely.

The commissioner and owners may preach parity and may look to the NFL as the model they want to follow. But, if they look closely, they’ll see that they already have that model in place. Like the few excellent QB’s do for the NFL, the truly elite basketball talent makes a contender out of an average team.

From where I sit, it’s time to stop the talk about parity being a goal of the current CBA negotiations.

Happy Labor Day…Kinda

Darius Soriano —  September 5, 2011

With today being Labor Day, I hope everyone takes the time today to relax, eat some good food (preferably some barbecue), and enjoy (what I hope) is some time away from the day job. After all, history tells us that today is a day “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

Actually, I take that back. I don’t hope everyone is taking a day off today. I hope that the owners and the players union are hard at work trying to end this lockout.

We’re now a week into September and the progress has been so slow that meetings where more meetings have been planned can be considered a success. Frankly, that’s nice to hear but we still need more.

You see, I want this season to start on time and still believe it will. But in order for this to happen, both sides need to actively seek a solution together. If either side decides that winning this negotiation is more important than actually starting the season on time, there actually won’t be any winners. We all will lose.

The NBA is entering a period that could easily be described as a second golden era. There are aging veteran superstars putting their stamp on the league (Kobe and Dirk have won the last three championships), established superstars that are on the brink of doing the same (LeBron, Wade, Howard), and a young crop of superstars that are trying to make the league their own through their unique skill sets (Durant, Rose). When you add in the stockpile of other talented players and teams that populate the league you’d have to go back to the mid 80’s and early 90’s to find a time where the league was this strong in the present day with a future that looked just as bright.

Now is not the time to piss it all away by missing games and not getting this season started on time.

So, today, I hope that all of you – the fans – are enjoying your day off (if you’re lucky enough to have one). Devour some ribs, put your feet up, and turn on the tube to whatever entertains you. But for all the players and owners out there, I hope that you’re working towards a solution as the rest of us relax. By my calendar, training camps would typically open within the month. Please try to make sure that we get there on time (or at least within the next 30 days or so).

Thanks,

All NBA Fans

Today, we pay tribute to Tex Winter as he receives the long overdue honor of being inducted into the pro basketball Hall of Fame. Tex’s contributions to the game go beyond his short time with the Lakers, but I claim him as one of our own anyway. He came to the Lakers with Phil Jackson, instituting the Triangle offense that led to three consecutive championships. His teachings have endured beyond his time behind the Laker bench to help claim two additional titles as mainstays Kobe and Fisher give him credit to this day. He’s a basketball lifer and we, as Laker fans, were lucky that his path crossed ours a little over a decade ago. Congrats Tex, you certainly earned it. Now onto the links…

When I first started this site, my goal was to demystify the triangle and explain the basics of the offense.  As time passed, it became clearer to me that the real importance of the blog was to show that the triangle wasn’t some magical system for winning championships. The triangle is a philosophy of basketball whose format is dependent on the execution of simple fundamentals that can be applied to any team that seeks to play unified basketball.  As the triangle’s time in the NBA seems to be coming to an end, it’s fitting that its architect will finally be enshrined in the Hall of Fame after six decades of service to teaching the game of basketball.  To the man who helped me learn how to throw a proper chest pass I can only say thank you, and congratulations.