Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Random Hoop Musings: Playoff Re-seeding, HOF Ridiculousness, League's Worst PERs, More

It's been a while since I dropped some hoop musings, and they've been piling up, so without further ado, let's knock a few out.

The estimable Mr. Tom Ziller is one of the best NBA writers out there, but I still disagree with the idea he resurfaced last week, which would see the NBA Playoffs revised to include the top 16 teams in the league, with teams seeded 1-16 regardless of record.

It sounds great in theory, but as I wrote almost exactly three years ago, I oppose this kind of re-seeding on the basis that it reduces the chances of rivalries developing.

To summarize what I wrote way back in '08, when Tom Thibodeau's defense ruled the world (oh, wait), throughout NBA history, the best rivalries have formed because of multiple playoff series within a short timespan. Having one big pool of 16 teams, rather than two pools of 8 teams, simply reduces the chances of teams running into one another multiple times over the years.

While Lakers-Celtics is the most storied rivalry in NBA history, almost every other notable rivalry has been intraconference. Bulls-Knicks, Lakers-Kings, Bulls-Pistons, Celtics-Sixers, Mavs-Spurs. These great rivalries are a lifeblood of the NBA, and there'd be a much lower probability of them occurring; as such, I'm strongly opposed to re-seeding.

Sometimes when you visit Hoopdata, you never quite know where you'll end up. Not sure how I got to the point of sorting which players with 750+ minutes played have the worst PERs in the league, but here's the current list:
    1. Steve Blake, LAL       7.6
    2. Raja Bell, UTH 8.2
    3. Christian Eyenga, CLE 8.4
    4. Derek Fisher, LAL 8.9
    5. Travis Outlaw, NJN 8.9
    6. Ryan Gomes, LAC 9.0
    7. Carlos Arroyo, MIA/BOS 9.2
    8. Mike Miller, MIA 9.5
    9. Sonny Weems, TOR 9.9
    10. Wesley Johnson, MIN 9.9
I was amazed by a few things here:
i. Egads, don't ever sign middling veteran free agents to long-terms deals, ever. Ever. Blake, Outlaw, Miller were also signed for four or five years, and Bell was signed for three, and expected to fill in for Wes Matthews as a starter on a playoff team.

ii. I knew the Lakers PG position was an open wound, but goodness gracious sakes alive. It's remarkable that L.A. is my favorite to win it all right now, given such extreme lack of production. I still think this Lakers team is in a bit more precarious position than the last two champions - they need Andrew Bynum to stay healthy this year, because they just have too few guys who produce. Can Fish pick it up in the playoffs yet again, at age 36? Well, probably yes.

iii. To continue on that line, man oh man, did the Lakers ever dodge a bullet when Raja Bell declined their efforts to woo him, and were able to procure Matt Barnes instead. What a disaster that would have been.

Congratulations to the Naismith Hall of Fame class of 2011, but once again the class announcement reminded me of the ridiculousness of basketball Hall of Fame system, which needs a complete overhaul.

Take a look at the official release. Ten people were elected in from some combination of the following smorgasbord of six committees: North American, International, Veterans, ABA, Women's, Early African-American Pioneers of the Game.

Satch Sanders is an accomplished and distinguished man, but it must be said that his election into the Hall of Fame as the 598th Boston Celtic from the '60s (estimate) to make it is just ridiculousness.

Here's the description from the release:
    "Contributor, a New York native who was a member of eight Boston Celtics championship teams between 1961 and 1969, playing a critical role in the teams’ legendary defensive success. Retiring as a player, he would coach at both Harvard University and with the Boston Celtics. Following his coaching career he would be instrumental in the development of the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program and was a founder of the player programs for the NBA, which served as the benchmark for league sports throughout the world. He has been enshrined into multiple Halls of Fame, served in critical roles for the Legend’s Foundation and is the associate director for the study of sport in society at Northeastern University. His remarkable career in basketball resulted in his recognition with the Hall of Fame’s John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award. Elected as a Contributor from the Veteran’s Committee."
First of all, people from Tommy Heinsohn to Peter King and beyond are confused, and seem to think that Satch made it as a player rather than a contributor, which is understandable because it *is* confusing.

Sanders absolutely does not deserve induction as a player. He averaged 9 points and 6 rebounds (11.9 career PER) over the course of 13 seasons. Granted, he was more of a defensive stopper, but still doesn't deserve it on those grounds, unless you think Bruce Bowen deserves it, too. To pull a season at random, Satch is now the sixth player from the '64-65 Celtics to make the Hall of Fame. It would be the equivalent of players like Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher making the Hall, possibly worse.

As a coach, Satch went 23-39 with the Celtics, and 40-60 with Harvard. I'm going to say that's short of the coaching threshold.

So, essentially, Satch Sanders made the Hall of Fame as a contributor, for developing the league's Rookie Transition Program. The Rookie Transition Program is a wonderful thing, but think about that for a second. He made the HALL OF FAME for it.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is just out of control. I'm not in favor of abolishing it or anything; it can keep on inducting anyone and, more specifically, everyone, it wants. But now that there are Halls of Fame specifically for college basketball, FIBA basketball and women's basketball, we need a Hall of Fame dedicated specifically to NBA basketball.

All along, with such a weak draft class projected in 2011, we thought this was a great year in which to dangle unprotected first-round draft picks to make a bold trade happen, as the Nets did to acquire Deron Williams.

Now, with this draft depleted even further thanks to Jared Sullinger staying in school, and players like Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight, John Henson and Jonas Valanciunas possibly on the fence, these trades could end up being pure genius, none more so than the deal the L.A. Clippers pulled off to acquire Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for Baron Davis and L.A.'s unprotected first-rounder.

The deal was good enough when the Clippers cleared $6M in cap space for 2012 while also acquiring a serviceable replacement for Baron, with Mo. Now it looks like they gave up an asset that isn't as nearly valuable as it looked on paper AND, by holding Minnesota's unprotected pick in 2012, L.A. gets to reap the rewards of Sullinger et al presumably strengthening next year's draft. They could end up being the long-term big winners of this year's trade deadline.

On the flip side, while the struggles of the Celtics and the Jazz and the Knicks following the deadline trades have been clear, has there been any team which was more quietly hurt than the San Antonio Spurs (assuming they retain the no. 1 seed) indirectly were? It looked like they'd have a relatively clear path to the Western Conference Finals. Oklahoma City might provide a second-round challenge, but it didn't seem like the Thunder were ready for primetime.

Now, with the Thunder and the Nuggets vitalized by their trades and poised for what should be a wildly entertaining first-round series, the Spurs seem like they're going to be hard-pressed to make it past Round 2. It's starting to get perilously close to a 50-50 proposition.

Ages of Butler's starters in Monday night's game:
    - Matt Howard: 22
    - Shawn Vanzant: 22
    - Chase Stigall: 21
    - Shelvin Mack: 20
    - Andrew Smith: 20
Ages of Oklahoma City's starters, if James Harden were subbed in for Thabo Sefolosha:
    - Kendrick Perkins: 26
    - Kevin Durant: 22
    - Russell Westbrook: 22
    - Serge Ibaka: 21
    - James Harden: 21
Additionally, in OKC's game in L.A. on Saturday night, the Clippers started three 22-year-olds in Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan, with Eric Bledsoe (21) and Al-Farouq Aminu (20) getting rotation minutes, as well.

Back in the glory days of college basketball, Hall of Fame players like Jordan and Worthy and Ewing and Olajuwon and Drexler and Mullin and Robinson routinely played into their junior or senior years. You had games like Houston-Louisville in 1983 which were awe-inspiring displays of athleticism, and it was really a beautiful thing and a great sport to watch. Even a Cinderella 8 seed like Villanova was anchored by a solid NBA rotation big in Eddie Pinckney, who could make plays inside against Patrick Ewing.

Those days are largely gone. The Tournament still has its unassailable format of all Game 7s and everyone's grandma filling out a bracket and Gus Johnson screaming and the retro '80s glory of One Shining Moment, but the quality of basketball played has deteriorated drastically. The best 21- and 22-year-old basketball players no longer play college basketball. They are in the NBA, winning MVPs (Derrick Rose, age 22). No American sport has seen such a steep decline in quality of play over the last generation. Things change. Oh well, the ball is tipped, and there you are.


At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Olexiy said...

>> While Lakers-Celtics is the most storied rivalry in NBA history, almost every other notable rivalry has been intraconference.

Aren't intraconferencial rivalries clearly CAUSED by the current seeding? How can you develop an cross-conference rivalry if you never play a series?

With all respect to Sixers-Celtics (I am following NBA since mid 90ties, so maybe they've had great matches in the 80-ties), wouldn't Suns - Celtics or Lakers - Pistons be better?

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lakers-kings was not a rivalry

At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Olexiy He's not saying that Suns/Celtics or Lakers/Pistons would be worse that the intraconference rivalries that did develop; he's saying that in a pool of 16, teams would meet, on average, only half as often as they do now, reducing the total number of rivalries.

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