- Monday night at the United Center was a great all around performance from the Bulls, who clawed their way to a 92-89 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. No singular performance had an overwhelming influence on the outcome of this game, with no Bull scoring more than 18 points. But with five players in double figures, a balanced offensive attack did the trick against the NBA’s best defense on a per possession basis.
- The story of the game was the great play off the Chicago bench. All four Bulls to enter the game after the opening tip finished with a positive plus/minus rating, with Joakim Noah and Doug McDermott leading the way at +10 each. This was especially impressive considering the skill of San Antonio’s bench, shouted out Tuesday morning by Zach Lowe as one of the best in the league.
- Noah, in just 23 minutes of action, had himself a throwback performance that makes me wonder if he’s finally trusting himself again on the offensive end. Noah scored eight points on 4/6 shooting. This game marked only the fifth time this season Joakim attempted six or more shots, and the first time he hit more than half of them. All of Noah’s shots were through traffic deep in the paint, a place he has struggled to find his touch lately. Hopefully this performance, coupled with the brief spurt of offense in the win over the Trail Blazers, is a sign of good things to come.
- Noah dished out seven assists Monday night, tying his season high. And according to NBA.com, he was also responsible for three additional secondary assists. While Noah is never going to be a polished scorer in the NBA, the mere willingness to look for his own shot has a tremendous impact on his teammates. When defenses know that Joakim is not even thinking of shooting, his man sags off him, clogging passing and driving lanes for everybody else. But when Joakim shows he’s not afraid to take it to the hoop, the Bulls spacing is much improved. Noah has dished out five or more dimes in five games this season, with each game featuring at least five field goal attempts from the big man.
- The Bulls were severely shorthanded at guard with Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich both nursing injuries that sidelined them Monday. Thankfully, E’Twaun Moore was able to contribute 17 solid minutes behind Derrick Rose. Moore is a chunky defender who smartly uses his body to contain point guards and wings. He lacks the ability to facilitate the offense, but he managed to shoot 3/6 from the field and only turned the ball over once. Why it took injuries to two inferior players for Moore to be dubbed the backup is a mystery, and I hope his role remains in tact even when the Bulls return to full health.
- Doug McDermott’s +10 was very exciting, considering his on/off numbers have been abysmal a month into the season. McDermott did most of his damage during a hot run in the second quarter where he scored ten of his twelve points. Doug was 1/2 from three, and knocked down a couple of tough runners in the lane, a shot he has consistently hit all season. More impressive than the offense was Doug’s solid defensive performance. McDermott did not do his typical “chicken with its head cut off” routine off the ball on defense. Instead, he operated within the scheme and managed to do the small things that were required of him.
- Pau Gasol’s 18 points and 13 rebounds earned him player of the game honors, but his 18 points came on an inefficient 24 shooting possessions. While he wasn’t victimized horribly by guards racing by him to the rim, he was mostly unable to recover to Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge, sacrificing quite a few wide open jump shots. Aldridge was 10/18 from the field and was able to get off open shots seemingly whenever he wanted.
- Derrick Rose had another disappointing game, shooting 5/17 and only getting to the free throw line twice. Several times he was able to get to the basket off the dribble, but lacked the explosion to elevate and cleanly finish his layups. (Rose has not dunked yet this season, according to Basketball Reference). Rose had some success with his mid-range bank shot in this game and will hopefully go to it more and more as the season progresses. It has been his only reliable way of scoring so far.
- I attended Monday’s game in person, and the thing that left the biggest impression on me was Kawhi Leonard. He’s already taken home a Finals MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, but seeing him up close truly made me a believer. His combination of strength, size and instincts make him very difficult to guard inside of 18 feet. At one point, Leonard was backing down Jimmy Butler on the baseline about ten feet from the hoop. Just when it seemed like he had dribbled himself into a bad spot, Kawhi spun around Butler and soared to the rim off two feet for a dunk, all in one clean motion. The speed at which he elevated from the floor to the hoop seemed non-human. It was like a glitch in a video game where a character transports through space without taking any steps in the middle. When San Antonio’s big three finally call it quits, the organization will be left in good (and gigantic) hands.
- Coming up: the Bulls host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
I hope you were able to put up with last week’s craziness and learn a thing or two about basic economic concepts and their application to the NBA. Today, we’re going to couple last week’s lesson with some of the league’s latest happenings to construct profitable trade opportunities.
Remember, the key to developing trade targets and expendable trade chips is understanding where pockets of excess supply and excess demand exist. Hopefully, you’ve taken the last week to identify these two parties specific to your league. For simplicity sake, I’ve established lists of candidates for both that should generally apply to most scoring settings.
Pockets of Excess Demand (where buyers will buy at the slightest of opportunities)- Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka and Ty Lawson. Notice how this group of players all have demonstrated superstar ability but have under performed (to some extent) in the early part of the season. Nonetheless, their respective performances probably have been affected by short-term noise and there is a high probability that they bounce back sooner rather than later. I included a guy like Ty Lawson on this list because prior to posting 15+ assists in two out of his past three games. the former Tar Heel had been reeling a little bit in Denver. Leonard is dealing with this weird, fluky eye issue. Ibaka is weathering the storm until KD and/or Russell Westbrook get back. You get the jist. If you have one of these guys, don’t sell low. If somebody in your league is impatient and a bit short-sighted, give him a ring immediately after you finish reading.
Pockets of Excess Supply (where sellers will sell at the slightest of opportunities)- Goran Dragic, Al Jefferson, Dwyane Wade, Brandon Jennings, Kenneth Faried, Brook Lopez, Josh Smith. One thing these guys all have in common- a fundamental, serious obstacle that impedes each asset’s long term value. For a guy like Dragic, it’s the glut of point guards in the Valley of the Sun. For players like Big Al and Brook Lopez, it’s their inabilities to jump and gobble up rebounds. Scott Skiles had similar remarks regarding a certain Bulls’ big man a decade back.. For creatures like Jennings and Smith, it’s their unwillingness to play team basketball. For Wade, the fact that he can’t physically be counted on for extended periods of time significantly deters his value. You get it. All of these guys are expendable if someone will ante up. A suave owner would best either a) underpay for such assets or b) avoid them altogether.
Once we’ve established our targets, it’s finally time to formulate trades. Here are some strategies that I find most effective.
1. 2 for 1 or 3 for 2 in shallow (10-12 teams) leagues– I talked about this last week, but the strategy of acquiring less elite players and giving up more good players is preferable when one’s opportunity cost for refilling roster spots is less significant. In other words, the value of a rotating roster spot depends on the strength of your league’s waiver wire. If I could get a guy like Boogie for Dirk and someone like Wes Matthews, I’d do it every time.
2. Selling into strength– When deciding it is most opportune to part ways with an asset, selling into strength is a counter intuitive must. Most people understand the notion of buying low and selling high, yet these same individuals cannot successfully enact this strategy when the appropriate time comes. At the height of one’s excitement regarding a certain individual’s play, a crafty fantasy owner should be asking themselves if it’s time to sell. In the market, the phrase “Bulls make money, Bears make money, Pigs get slaughtered” has held true throughout history. When profits (good trade opportunities) are there, take ’em and don’t look back. Even if the asset continues to perform or even outperform, green is green. When you play in a league with 11 or so of your friends, the ability to have trading partners is often taken for granted. It’s important that your friends feel like they are getting a fair (or even superior) deal when you decide to pull the trigger. You never know when you’re going to need to draw from the well again :).
3. The Initial Offer– This may be common sense, but if you’re serious about getting a transaction completed, you best not make your first offer your best one. As a buyer or seller, your strongest source of leverage is keeping your reservation price private. If you spill the beans from the get-go, it will be nearly impossible to capture the edge in your trade. Along with this strategy, I find the underutilized tool of proposing a “serious” offer, deleting it, and proposing a lessor offer very effective. This tactic plays off the idea that recency bias is legitimate in fantasy basketball markets. Even if you constructed the initial offer thinking it was too light, it will look great in comparison to the second offer and will provide you a solid starting point for progressing talks.
4. Knowing, then asking what the market needs– Bringing the article full circle, understanding the intricacies of the market is essential to sustainable success. To put it simply, you need to understand your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses better than they do themselves. Additionally, understanding his or her personality and biases toward marquee names is also beneficial. It will allow you to a) not offend the person on the other end and b) potentially give up less real talent if you play your cards right. By asking what your opponent needs, you are already operating in good standing and your odds of getting a trade done are substantially higher.
You’ve got the basketball knowledge and you’ve got the strategies. Now, it’s up to you to turn your team from a dud into a stud.
Thanks for the read and happy Thanksgiving,
Today, we head to the Wild, Wild South West Division of the National Basketball Association.
This cohort of teams might be the most-competitive division in the league. They feature a little of everything: powerhouses, budding elites, aging rosters and up-and-coming gunners. Today, we’ll focus on the most established teams in the division: The San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies.
San Antonio Spurs: Sell
While betting against a team that was six seconds away from snagging their fifth title in 14 years is taboo, I gotta do it. Eventually, every winner becomes a ‘dog. In the case of the San Antonio Spurs, stellar management, terrific drafting and the steadiness of Tim Duncan have made “eventually” seem like light years away.
Nevertheless, all good things have to come to an end. While I do think the Spurs will enjoy a solid 2013-2014 season, the window of opportunity is closing. The combination of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich retiring in the not so distant future and the emergence of the Clippers and Rockets in the West don’t necessarily scream optimism towards this investor. Throw in the fact that Manu Ginobili resembles another southpaw on the court who happens to write for this site and you see why I think the writing is on the wall.
On another note: I wish I was 7-foot and coordinated. Apparently, everybody who fits this mold makes $9 million annually. Tiago Splitter, cousin of HDMI, was just handed a fat four year, $36 million contract.
The Spurs are coming down from the peak of the Western Conference. It’s just amazing that they’ve been able to stay there for so long. While I’ll concede that Tony Parker still has some game left and Kawhi (Cowhi) Leonard is a more than adequate young talent, it’s time for the Spurs to head towards NBA purgatory. At the end of the day, every player who’s sported a Spurs Jersey (other than Timmy and arguably Parker) are all just pawns of Pop’s game. If Pop’s no longer there to play the game, I cannot buy the Spurs’ stock at its current, pricey level.
Memphis Grizzlies: Buy
Here’s why a stock, or team, like this intrigues me as an investor. Any organization that says “hey, our most marketable guy is holding us back. Let’s trade him” is a ballsy organization. In a small market like Memphis, you have to be ahead of the curve in every possible way to succeed.
Enter basketball sabermetrics beast John Hollinger into the Memphis front office. While I’m a proponent of the eye test when it comes to evaluating talent, I’m a bigger fan of the numbers. If trading Rudy Gay enabled the Grizz to unleash their full potential, I’m all for it. If axing head coach Lionel Hollins added value to the franchise’s successful algorithm, so be it. I love a front office that does things different than everybody else.
In terms of the roster, the Grizzlies are well equipped to be perennial contenders. They’ve got a budding star in Mike Conley at the point coupled with the most dynamic low post duo in basketball, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Geo compares my game to Grizzlies reserve Quincy Pondexter, who might be one of the game’s best sixth men. I’ll take that compliment in stride. Sorry guys, had to get that in there.
Thanks for reading everybody, I’ll finish the division off on Monday.
P.S. Thanks for all the love on my hedging piece. I’ll do something more analytical next week.
Like any red-blooded American, I love the US men’s national basketball team. The best players on the planet teaming up and playing an entertaining brand of basketball is something that turns even the most casual fans into die hards for a couple weeks every four years. The Dream Team and the Redeem Team are two of the most popular sports teams in American history and now as we are at the beginning of a new four-year cycle, it is time to start thinking about who will be on what is arguably the toughest team in the world to make. Next summer is the World Cup of Basketball, formerly known as the world championships, and will prove to be a good indicator of who will be on the roster when the 2016 Olympics in Rio rolls around.
What we know already: Black Kevin and White Kevin have committed to play in 2014! We also know that the thing named LeBron (I mean this with this utmost admiration as he is definitely not a human man and is some type of specimen that we have never seen before) is likely done playing for the US at the international level. That leaves us with 10 spots and lots of deserving candidates.
Locks: Kevin Durant, Kevin Love
They obviously just committed to playing in this tournament and look to be the cornerstones of USA Basketball for the foreseeable future. In fact, USA Basketball chairman and U of I alum (gotta throw in any Illini reference I can) Jerry Colangelo described Durant as the face of the program going forward. After seeing Durant making a mockery of the FIBA three point line (which they have now changed because of his performance) and have a phenomenal Olympics, I see him as the perfect player to build around.
If they want to play, then they are in: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler
This is a large group and one made up of Derrick Rose, who would have been on the 2012 Olympic team if he were healthy, Blake Griffin, who was on the team until a late injury forced him off the squad, and the rest of the 2012 Olympic Team that is not KD, K-Love, Kobe (he is too god damn old and is coming off a major injury), and LeBron. If any of these people want to play, they have enough clout that they will be on the team. I suspect that Melo who is a veteran of three Olympics (like LeBron) is done playing internationally. I would also bet two time Olympians, Chris Paul and Deron Williams who are approaching thirty with injury histories are also likely done. Also please watch this video if you want to see the greatest moment of 13 year old Ben’s life and why I will always love Deron Williams. Chandler is getting old and also has injury problems and is likely done playing for Team USA as well. That leaves realistic options for next summer as Rose (a healthy Rose would love to play for team USA), Westbrook, Harden, Davis, and Iguodala. If you get 3 or more of those guys next summer than the US will be looking pretty good.
Very likely to be included if they tryout: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George
My love affair for Curry has been well documented (shout out to Michael Rosenson for sharing in this platonic love of Curry with me). He would be the perfect offensive player for the international game and if he is healthy than he would be a great asset. Kyrie is just plain filthy, but he too needs to stay healthy. He was the star of the recent mini camp, as discussed by my comrade Jake Weiner. He is looking like the point guard of the future for Team USA. Now time for a little horn-tooting. I knew Kyrie would be this good from the first time I saw him play at Duke and did not understand why there was so much doubt (other than injury concerns) about him being the number 1 pick and becoming star. If you can shoot, dribble, and pass that good, you are likely going to be a stud. George was the breakout star of the playoffs and would be an excellent, versatile option for this US team.
Intriguing options: Ryan Anderson, Harrison Barnes, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Andre Drummond, Jrue Holiday, Larry SANDERS!, Klay Thompson, John Wall
These players are all intriguing to me for different things they bring to the table. Athleticism and rim protection (Drummond and SANDERS!), perimeter shooting (Thompson), versatility on the wing (Barnes), stretch 4 (Anderson), size and interior scoring (Boogie), shooting ability and can guard both guard spots (Holiday), and elite athletic ability and can guard both guard spots (Wall). These players are all intriguing to me and are all very talented players, but these players will all have to have good seasons as well as a good training camp next summer to be on the team.
Filling out the rest of the team: Everybody else in the player pool
There are some really good players I did not mention and really like. Players such as Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, and many more are extremely talented and have as good of a chance as the guys in the section above of them to make the squad. There is a year between now and the World Championships and players will emerge and have breakout campaigns between now and then. Two personal favorites of mine that I hope are given the opportunity are everyone’s favorite Chicago Bulls two guard-Jimmy Butler, and my St. Louis homer pick of Bradley Beal, who I have been watching play for 6 years and has the prettiest jumper I have ever seen in person. Another guy who would be a great fit to this team is Kawhi Leonard. You saw what he could do in the finals and no one would be surprised if he turns in an all star caliber season in 2013-14. Lots can happen between now and then and it will be fun to see how it shakes out.
Here is my prediction of the 12 man roster 2014 World Cup of Basketball Roster:
Guards/Wings: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard
Bigs: Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin
This squad is a bit small and that is definitely worrisome against the behemoth front line of Spain, but the versatility of this roster should offset those concerns. This team would have two rim protectors (Davis and Drummond) and two major glass cleaners/contrasting offensive weapons (Love and Griffin) on the front line. This team would also have three guys (Durant, George, and Leonard) who can guard both forward positions and play as an effective small ball 4. Westbrook and Rose would bring dynamite athleticism in the backcourt. Harden is a monster in the pick and roll and is a great all around offensive talent, while Irving and Curry would bring the necessary outside shooting strokes to space the floor. I constructed this team assuming ideal health and certain players opting or opting not to participate. Regardless, the US will enter next summer as the heavy favorite to win the World Cup of Basketball.
But those weren’t things that were cluttering the minds of Lebron James and his teammates last night. This was a team that played with a singular purpose, with a clear plan and an even clearer goal in mind. The big picture, the pressure, the fear of failure, the things that many people, myself included, thought would potentially derail the greatest team in 2012-2013 ended up not being distractions. Last night, the Heat played about as well as a team can play, receiving contributions from its stars and its important role players, with some unexpected play from both categories of players.
Quickly looking over the box score, its incredible to see that the Heat were able to win despite getting zero offensive contribution from 40% of the starting lineup. Chris Bosh went 0-5 from the field, although he did manage to haul down three offensive rebounds. The previously hot Mike Miller was also 0-5 (0-4 3pt) from the field in just 19 minutes of play. For Miller, an off shooting night is to be somewhat expected, especially against such a smart team like the Spurs. But for Bosh, his absence on the offensive end was pretty inexcusable. Had Miami lost last nights game, he would have been forced to shoulder a large chunk of the blame. The last three years for Bosh have been strange ones, going from being regarded as a true star in the league to the world’s most over-paid role player. Despite the championship win, speculation exists that Miami would consider moving the former Raptor this offseason to create some breathing room in the cap and to be able to draft young assets to keep Miami an attractive location for Lebron when he is able to opt out of his contract at the end of next season.
But Bosh’s poor play will not be the enduring memory everyone has of last night’s game. The thought most people will associate with Game 7 was the masterful performance Lebron James put on yet again, silencing those who criticize him for having a fear of The Moment. Lebron tied the record for most points in a Game 7 win, with 37 points, a record that was previously held by Tom Heinsohn alone dating back to the 1957 NBA finals. My dad was born in 1957, so ya, that was a record that has stood for a pretty long time.
Lebron was absolutely incredible in this game. All throughout the series, the Spurs had made it clear they would live with James taking long jumpers. They were primarily concerned with keeping Lebron out of the paint and away from the rim. Last night, Lebron finally decided to take advantage of the breathing room San Antonio was so gracious to give him. James finished the game with five 3’s on 50% shooting, including two from the right corner, the spot that Lebron seems to love shooting from the most. James also finished the game with a double-double, bringing down 12 rebounds, and was a perfect 8-8 from the line.
Dwyane Wade had a double-double of his own. The ailing shooting guard scored 23 points and grabbed 10 boards. While his 11-21 shooting was impressive, his two monster blocks in this game will be my personal memory of his performance.
The great unexpected surprise for Miami was Shane Battier’s rise from the dead. Battier, who spent much of the season in the starting lineup, seemed to have worn down in the playoffs. Battier spent much of the year guarding power forwards, a taxing job for a man who was giving up quite a bit of weight in the post throughout the entire season. But after shooting an abysmal 29% in the playoffs, Battier somehow found his stroke just when the team needed him, going 6-8 with all of his attempts (and makes) coming from beyond the arc. And while Battier provided the offensive spark that was necessary in light of Miller and Bosh’s cold performance, Battier’s made his presence felt on the defensive end, bothering Tim Duncan juuuuuuuuust enough to force him to miss a shot at the rim that would have tied the game up with less than a minute to play.
Poor Tim Duncan really did all that he could to push his team in this game and series. Duncan, who likely would have been series MVP had the results been different, posted a solid 24-12 in this last game of the 2012-13 NBA season. But the always even-keel veteran let his frustrations show in the closing moments, pounding the floor in agony after missing not one but two attempts at the rim that would have knotted the game up with about a minute to play.
Let us not forget the amazing play of Kawhi Leonard from last night. Leonard, the San Diego State star who somehow managed to slip all the way to 15 in the 2011 draft (just guessing Minnesota, Washington, Charlotte, Sacramento, Phoenix and Houston would want a do-over on that) played magnificently, scoring 19 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Leonard had the impossible job of guarding Lebron James, a task that would leave most players with no energy left for the offensive end. But Leonard, who hit a monster three the bring the Spurs within two points in the fourth quarter, left nothing on the floor in terms of effort. Leonard, who doesn’t turn 22 until next week, is sure to develop into a star in the coming years.
But allow me to congratulate the Miami Heat. After putting together the best regular season run of the last 40 years, this team showed resolve and confidence after facing what seemed like their first real adversity since ripping out Boston’s heart in last year’s conference finals. They overcame the size of the Pacers and the depth of the Spurs, and at no point did Lebron ever really have to do everything by himself. This was truly a great team, one that will forever be compared to the greatest teams ever to be assembled. While I myself was never able to root for Lebron and the Heat, I am thankful to them for making this one of the greatest NBA Finals of all time. The constant drama, the see-sawing of momentum from game to game, and the unforgettable finish in Game 6 made the last seven games of 2013 fulfilling enough to hold me over until October, when Miami will begin the quest of title defense yet again.