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The drafting habits of embattled GMs

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UConn center Andre Drummond is the type of potential-packed but raw big man who tantalizes general managers. (Anthony Gruppuso/US Presswire)

After the Pistons traded Ben Gordon and a protected 2013 first-round pick to Charlotte for Corey Maggette on Tuesday, Dan Feldman of the blog PistonPowered wrote that the deal smelled like a move that Detroit president Joe Dumars might have made with an eye toward his job security. Swapping Gordon for Maggette’s expiring deal creates major salary-cap space one year earlier than Detroit would have otherwise had it, giving Dumars a shot to tell the Pistons’ (still relatively new) ownership group that he would be able to attempt an honest rebuild sooner rather than later after the disastrous 2009 summer of Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.

I read that and thought of a paper circulating around the NBA about the drafting habits of general managers with shaky job security. The author is a team employee with a deep background in analytics. Team rules prohibit him from talking about the paper or even publicly claiming authorship, but he has shown it to some folks, including and many stats-oriented people employed around the NBA. Several of those people have assured me that the methodology is solid. The paper concludes many things, none of them definitively, but its main conclusion is this: General managers with reason to believe they are on thin ice are much more likely than others to draft centers.

A sample quote: “Decreasing job security by one standard deviation is associated with a 10 percent increase in the odds of drafting a center. The effect is not especially large, but … it is nevertheless significant at the 95 percent confidence level.” The rest of the math is over my head, but experts tell me that it’s sound, and the conclusions are at the very least worth pursuing further.

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  • Published On 3:23pm, Jun 28, 2012
  • Tyler Zeller talks draft preparations, fashion, more

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    Tyler Zeller averaged 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in his final season at North Carolina. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    A quick one-on-one with North Carolina center Tyler Zeller, a potential lottery pick in Thursday’s draft: You must be excited this process is almost over.

    Zeller: I just got done with my last workout yesterday in Detroit. It is really nice to have that over with. Everyone is curious how draft picks feel about the workout process. Would you prefer individual workouts? Or do you like going up against what is essentially the competition?

    Zeller: I actually didn’t have any individual workouts this year. And that was fine. I really don’t mind going up against whomever. [Illinois center and lottery hopeful] Meyers Leonard and I were together a whole lot. We’ve gotten to know each other. We joke around how we’re like a big traveling circus. So do you play one-on-one? Two-on-two if there are some guards around? Do you post up chairs, like Yi Jianlian?

    Zeller: Everything, depending on who is there. If it’s two bigs, we go one-on-one hard. If it’s four bigs, we’ll even do some two-on-two. And if you’ve got some guards and wings, we’ll do three-on-three. And then there are all sorts of individual drills. Any drills you hate?

    Zeller: We’ve seen them all by this point in our careers. But there are some dribbling drills that can get pretty interesting for me. It’s not one of my, let’s say, stronger zones. I can do between the legs and behind the back once or twice, but once you start getting me up and down the court — I had to chase the ball a lot. I got about two dribbles in me, and after that, it gets interesting. You’re a 7-footer, though, so teams probably don’t expect that.

    Zeller: I hope not. You have talked about how your jumper is a strength some teams might not have known about, based on the system you played at Carolina. In Year 1 of the NBA, how far out do you think you’ll go with it?

    Zeller: Probably the college three-point line. I’ve been working on the NBA three, but it’s a very streaky thing. I have never really shot it before. Hopefully I can go out there at some point in my career. Read More…

  • Published On 3:55pm, Jun 26, 2012
  • Dwight Howard to Rockets? No surprise Houston is looking to be aggressive

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    Point guard Kyle Lowry could be trade bait that Houston dangles to shake up its team. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The most important four words in any report on a potential draft-day or predraft trade are: “No deal is imminent.” Still, the Rockets, flush with draft picks and cap flexibility, are always active in their search for a superstar, and so there is little reason to be skeptical of’s report that Houston is shopping the No. 14 and No. 16 selections for higher lottery picks via the Raptors (No. 8) and Kings (No. 5) — with an eye on a potential shot at Dwight Howard.

    The steps here are complex and may involve Houston’s surrendering point guard Kyle Lowry, who has perhaps the best contract in the league. Lowry will make just $5.75 million next season and $6.2 million in 2013-14, and as if that wasn’t enough of a bargain for a very good starting point guard, only $1 million of that $6.2 million is guaranteed, according to ShamSports. The Rockets would be the first ones to tell you that Lowry’s contract ratchets up his value to a place far beyond where his prodigious basketball skills alone might take it.

    The prospect of dealing Lowry for the Kings’ No. 5 pick or the Raptors’ No. 8 pick alone seems dicey, even factoring in Goran Dragic’s stellar two-way play during Lowry’s absence due to injuries and a bacterial infection. Dragic is an unrestricted free agent, leaving no guarantees he’ll return to Houston, and on the flip side, the Rockets are open to the idea that he and Lowry might be able to work effectively together. (Lowry doesn’t agree, and he isn’t keen on playing for coach Kevin McHale anymore, either.) Those lineups didn’t have much of an impact either way this season, but the sample size is small (316 minutes), and this season wasn’t exactly conducive to that kind of chemistry development.

    (Just a reminder: Houston got Dragic and a first-round pick from Phoenix in exchange for Aaron Brooks. Ouch.)

    Nevertheless, dealing Lowry for a mid-level lottery pick isn’t necessarily a bad outcome if the team is confident in Dragic’s return; the average production of a No. 8 or even No. 5 pick is exponentially lower than that of No. 1 or No. 2, but the ceiling remains quite high. The Rockets as constituted aren’t title contenders, and Lowry makes obvious sense for a Raptors team in need of a point guard to succeed Jose Calderon. Toronto’s Jerryd Bayless is a free agent, and though he finished last season on a scoring spree, the long-term track record suggests that he is not the post-Calderon solution. Lowry is better than Calderon now, particularly on defense (it’s a landslide), and he comes cheaply.

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  • Published On 11:34am, Jun 25, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • Couper Moorhead of the Heat’s official web site examines the development of LeBron James’ post game, complete with video analysis and insight from David Fizdale, the Miami assistant who works most closely with James (and Dwayne Wade) on post play. Great read.

    Beckley Mason analyzes the film from last year’s Finals and says that the difference between LeBron James’ post game then and now is not where he’s catching the ball, but what he’s able to do with it afterwards.

    • John Hollinger notes that while the Heat have tightened up their three-point defense considerably in the postseason (a reversal that may or may not be linked to Miami’s extended use of smaller lineups), the Thunder have shot far more ineffectively from deep than we would’ve expected in this series. James Harden has missed some great looks, and Hollinger notes that Thabo Sefolosha is just 2-of-10 in the Finals. Sefolosha is so important to the Thunder — provided that teams actually have to guard him. He can defend both Wade and James, and in the regular season, Sefolosha nailed 31 of his 71 three-point attempts. That’s a small number of attempts, and that hit rate — 43.7 percent — represents a huge outlier in Sefolosha’s career as an otherwise below-average three-point threat. Before this season, Sefolosha hadn’t shot better than 33 percent from deep in any season since 2006-07 (his rookie year). In these playoffs, he’s shooting 33 percent exactly. We could simply be seeing some regression to the mean.

    Really enjoyed this line from Ken Berger’s piece about LeBron, on the threshold:

    At 27, Michael Jordan had one league MVP award, no championships and no Finals MVPs — not even a trip to the Finals. If James and the Heat avoid something that has never happened in Finals history, blowing a 3-1 lead, LeBron at 27 would have three league MVP awards, three trips to the Finals, one championship and, unless LSD infiltrates the voting, one Finals MVP.

    That’s not really the point, but it is a fact. Jordan won his first title and Finals MVP in his first trip to the Finals, at age 28 in 1991. It was in his seventh season; James is in his ninth. If James finishes the job — Thursday night, or back in Oklahoma City — this won’t be revisionist history. But perhaps it will be the strongest proof yet that the perception of James’ first eight seasons was a case of previsionist history, if I may.

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  • Published On 3:36pm, Jun 21, 2012
  • David Stern testy over lottery questions

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    David Stern described as “ridiculous” a question about whether the draft lottery is fixed. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    On the surface, it looks bad, and it’s certainly not good: Radio host Jim Rome asked NBA commissioner David Stern on Wednesday whether the league rigged the lottery for the league-owned Hornets. Stern, after calling the question “ridiculous,” responded by asking Rome, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

    Like I said: It looks bad. Making light of spousal abuse isn’t funny. The fact that Stern said this on the same day the league fined Kevin Garnett $25,000 for skipping out on the media after Boston’s Game 7 loss on Saturday makes it even juicier. What would Stern do to a player who tossed out a zinger like this on a national broadcast? It’s a fair question. The league’s ownership of the Hornets also presented conflicts-of-interest from Day One.

    But there is some important context here:

    • This specific question is apparently a standard rhetorical device designed to entrap someone into admitting something that isn’t true. Think about it: If you say “no,” you have admitted that you do, in fact, abuse your wife. If you say “yes,” the natural denial, you have admitted to abusing your wife in the past; that tricky “yet” tacked on at the end does you in.

    I’ve never heard this particular device used before, but several lawyer friends and Twitter followers alerted me immediately that it is considered a classic loaded question — and a classic lawyerly trick, even though it’s the sort of question typically disallowed in court proceedings. Stern, of course, was a litigator at the high-powered law firm Proskauer Rose before moving to the NBA. The question appears near the top of Wikipedia’s entry on “loaded questions,” and though I’m normally loath to cite Wikipedia (I don’t think I ever have, actually), this seems relevant here.

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  • Published On 4:34pm, Jun 13, 2012
  • An NBA draft lottery conspiracy? It didn’t seem that way

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    Monty Williams and the Hornets were awarded the top pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft lottery. (Getty Images)

    The NBA still owns the Hornets for another couple of months, so the conspiracy theories were inevitable on Wednesday night when New Orleans beat the odds — a typical outcome over the last 20 years, by the way — and snagged the No. 1. pick. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports documented the grumbling that followed:

    “It’s such a joke that the league made the new owners be at the lottery for the show,” one high-ranking team executive told Yahoo! Sports. “The league still owns the Hornets. Ask their front office if new owners can make a trade right now. They can’t. This is a joke.”

    The reaction of several league executives was part disgust, part resignation on Wednesday night. So many had predicted this happening, so many suspected that somehow, someway, the Hornets would walk away with [Anthony] Davis. That’s the worst part for the NBA; these aren’t the railings from the guy sitting at the corner tavern, but the belief of those working within the machinery that something undue happened here, that they suspect it happens all the time under [commissioner David] Stern.

    As I wrote Wednesday night, the league conducts the real lottery in a closed-off room an hour before the television broadcast. Every lottery team has one representative in the room — a different person than the one who represents it on television later, so that the televised suspense is legitimate. The league also allows three or four media members to watch the process, and on Wednesday, I was one of them. I described the drawing process in detail in that post: the air-powered machine, the scrambled ping-pong balls, the precisely timed intervals between the sucking up of each ball, the Ernst & Young accountant watching it all, etc. Click on that link if you want the full blow-by-blow of how the real thing works.

    For now, let’s say this: If the process is actually rigged, the league does an incredible job of hiding it. Rigging the drawing would involve somehow tinkering with the machine (or the balls) so that it is more likely to suck up a particular four-ball combination out of 1,001 possibilities. I’m honestly not sure how the NBA could do that, or how the official drawing the balls at the prescribed times could actually pull off the trick of picking the right one in each instance.

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  • Published On 1:09pm, May 31, 2012
  • Behind the scenes at the draft lottery

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    Coach Monty Williams and the Hornets just got a huge boost in their post-Chris Paul rebuilding effort. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

    NEW YORK — The number to watch, I learned while observing the NBA’s actual lottery drawing on Wednesday night, is the lowest one in the four-number sequence of ping-pong balls that determine which team gets the top pick in the draft. The balls are drawn from one of those air-powered lottery machines more than an hour before the television broadcast of the lottery, in a room open only to officials from the 14 lottery teams (one from each) and a few media members. Everyone in the room must surrender mobile devices and slip them in yellow packing envelopes, and no one is allowed to leave until ESPN’s telecast is over.

    There are elaborate rules to the process and contingency plans in case of a power outage or if multiple balls fly out of the machine at once — disaster scenarios that have never happened. (The plan in case of a power outage, by the way: A league official sticks all the balls inside a basketball with an opening cut into the top, and they draw from the makeshift Spalding.)

    Each lottery team is assigned a batch of four-number sequences, of which there are 1,001 in total, all involving various combinations of the numbers “1″ through “14.” The league assigns the sequences chronologically, so that the Bobcats, the team with the best odds of winning the lottery, got the first 250 sequences — all containing the number “1.” The Charlotte sequences started with “1-2-3-4″ and went up to “1-7-12-14.” Though the Wizards, the team with the second-best odds, also had some sequences containing a “1,” the odds were very high that if a “1″ came up at all among the four ping-pong balls, the No. 1 pick would belong to the Bobcats.

    The machine whirred the balls around for the required 20 seconds and spit out the first number — a “6.” Ten more seconds of scrambling passed before a “4″ emerged. Hornets general manager Dell Demps scanned a worksheet of his team’s sequences and noticed that at least a few were in play after the “6-4″ drawing. New Orleans had the fourth-best odds of winning the top pick — a 13.7 percent long shot — meaning many of its sequences contained a “4.” A lower number, Demps knew, would shift the pick elsewhere. After the mandatory 10-second pause for the remaining 12 balls to bounce around inside the machine, a league official drew out the next ball — a “9.” Demps was in business.

    So was Jeffrey Cohen, vice chairman of the Cavaliers. If the final ball was marked with a “3,” the Cavaliers would win the lottery for the second straight season. A “7,” Demps knew, would give the Hornets the top spot. Ten more seconds passed, and a man with his back to the machine raised his hand, indicating that the official in charge of the machine should have it suck up the last ball.

    “I was just thinking, ‘Come on, seven! Come on, seven!’” Demps told after the drawing.

    The ball surfaced: a “7,” only the way it came out, it initially looked like a “1.” Demps slumped in his chair for a second. “I couldn’t tell,” he said. He then looked more closely and was sure it was a “7.” He was getting excited. “But then I just told myself I had to wait for them to announce it.” That came a few seconds later: The Hornets had won the No. 1 pick. Demps responded with a fist pump underneath the table.

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  • Published On 11:12pm, May 30, 2012
  • Altering NBA draft could be costly, ineffective

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    The NBA proposed adding a third round to the draft, but players countered with an array of changes. (AP)

    Former ESPN reporter Chris Sheridan, writing at his new site, reports that NBA owners have proposed adding a third round to the draft as part of the collective bargaining talks set to resume today. Sheridan also fleshes out a union proposal that would force good teams to give up first-round picks and redistribute those picks to bad teams. The union’s backing of that general concept has been reported before, and it fits in with the players’ view that owners can achieve the stated goal of increased competitive balance without imposing a hard team-by-team salary cap. Move around some picks and share some revenue, and — bam – there’s your parity! (I remain unconvinced that true, NFL-style parity is possible in basketball.)

    Here’s Sheridan with the details of two separate union proposals: Read More…

  • Published On 11:16am, Sep 07, 2011
  • Kings are biggest losers in three-team trade

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    John Salmons is on the move again, this time to Sacramento. (Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE)

    Draft day has been heavy on rumors and light on action so far, but now we have a three-team deal involving the Bucks, Kings and Bobcats. The particulars:

    • The Kings traded the No. 7 pick to Charlotte and sent Beno Udrih to Milwaukee. Sacramento received the No. 10 pick from the Bucks and (gulp) John Salmons.

    • The Bobcats snagged that No. 7 pick to go with the ninth pick they already own. To do so, they acquired Corey Maggette from the Bucks and sent Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston to Milwaukee.

    • If you got all that, you know Milwaukee dealt Maggette (to Charlotte), Salmons and the No. 10 pick (both to the Kings) for Jackson, Udrih, Livingston and the No. 19 pick.


    Let’s start here: If the Kings don’t have a second trade lined up for later Thursday, they have done something very puzzling here. They have voluntarily moved down three spots for the privilege of taking on Salmons, who is owed $24.16 million guaranteed over the next three seasons — and another $1 million for the season after that, just for kicks. Udrih is the only current player the Kings sent away in this deal; he is on the books for $14.3 million over the next two seasons.

    In other words, the Kings took on an extra $11 million in payroll, dropped three spots in the draft and acquired a 31-year-old swingman who was one of the very worst heavy-minutes offensive players last season. In Salmons’ defense, he was banged up from the start, and he’s a much better scorer than he showed last season. He also fills a need in Sacramento because he can swing between shooting guard and small forward.

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  • Published On 5:51pm, Jun 23, 2011