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NBA AM: A Viable NBA Consolation Tournament

Buddy Grizzard proposes that a consolation tournament determine the Draft Lottery for non-playoff teams.

Buddy Grizzard

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There have been a million ideas to reform the draft lottery in hopes of solving the NBA’s tanking issue, but each seems to create as many problems as it solves. Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler illustrated this problem in relation to a separate issue — the idea of seeding playoff teams one through 16 and eliminating seeding by conference — in another NBA AM piece last month. Today we will present a concept to replace the NBA Draft Lottery system with an NBA Consolation Tournament to determine draft order that avoids some of the problems created by other proposals.

Before we start, below is a tweet from Kyler from last month that illustrates how serious the issue of tanking has become for the NBA.

If player agents think more teams are deliberately setting out to lose games to maximize draft position than ever before, then the time has come to find a solution. The idea of a tournament for NBA teams that miss the playoffs isn’t new. For years, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons has proposed what he calls the “Entertaining As Hell Tournament.” However, his idea is to seed the top 14 playoff teams by record without regard to conference, then have the remaining teams play a single-elimination tournament with the finalists receiving the final two playoff seeds.

While Simmons’ tournament would undoubtedly be entertaining, it would push back the start of the playoffs and add days to the NBA calendar, one of the key issues Kyler mentioned in his piece. HEAT President Pat Riley also proposed a tournament for non-playoff teams in which the tournament winner would claim the top overall pick. Again, Riley’s proposal would be incredibly entertaining, but as we’ll show below, NBA owners have already rejected the idea of increasing the odds of a borderline playoff team winning a high lottery pick.

For purposes of this proposal, we’re going to take Kyler’s seeding arguments as definitive and say that it must remain as is. The 2014 Suns won 48 games but missed the playoffs in the stacked West while the 38-win Hawks made the playoffs in the East. In our proposal, nothing would change about the current seeding system and a similar 48-win team that missed the playoffs would participate in the Consolation Tournament described below.

In October of 2014, the NBA failed to get the 23 votes needed to implement proposed changes to the lottery system. One seemingly-counterintuitive feature would have increased the odds for the lottery team with the most wins to move into the top three of the draft by around 400 percent. This was odd since lottery reform is generally aimed at eliminating incentives to lose games deliberately. Under the league’s proposal, a team like the 48-win Suns of 2014 might miss the playoffs on purpose, given the massive bump in odds to receive a top three draft pick.

“I think we all recognize we need to find the right balance between creating the appropriate incentives on one hand for teams to, of course, win, and on the other hand allowing for appropriate rebuilding and the draft to work as it should in which the worst performing teams get the highest picks in the draft,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN after the lottery reform proposal was voted down by the league’s owners.

And yet, as Grantland reported at the time, increasing the likelihood that a team that barely missed the playoffs would luck into a top three pick was a stated goal of the league’s proposal. It was reportedly defeated in part because a number of owners didn’t like it when the Cavaliers won the top overall pick in three out of four drafts. Upping the odds for a borderline playoff team to win a top pick could have made similar “insta-rebuilds” a more frequent feature of the NBA landscape.

This should never happen. The owners have spoken. So now we’ll introduce our draft reform proposal that eliminates nearly every incentive for teams to deliberately lose games.

In this system, teams that miss the playoffs would be seeded by conference for a Consolation Tournament in a manner similar to playoff seeding. Since there are only 14 teams that miss the playoffs versus 16 that make the playoffs, the top seeds get a bye in the first round. Rather than awarding the tournament winner with the top overall pick — a system that would undoubtedly lead to a team like the aforementioned 48-win Suns receiving a potential superstar — teams would move up one spot in the draft order for each round of the tournament the team wins.

The tournament would consist of a two-game home-and-home series with the winner determined by point aggregation. In other words, it doesn’t matter if each team wins one game. The team that scores the most points combined in the two games will move on to the next round. The top seeds for each conference can only win a total of three rounds by winning the tournament since they receive a bye in the first round. Below is the draft order for non-playoff teams as determined by record with the lottery system eliminated. By way of illustration, let’s say the higher-seeded team wins every round of the tournament, with the HEAT winning three rounds to emerge as champions. Next to the teams is the total number of draft slots they can potentially move up based on the number of rounds the team won.

14. HEAT (+3)
13. Nuggets (+2)
12. Pistons (+2)
11. Hornets (+1)
10. Pelicans (+2)
9. Mavericks (+1)
8. Kings (+1)
7. Knicks (+1)
6. Timberwolves
5. Magic
4. 76ers
3. Lakers
2. Suns
1. Nets

In this example, there’s very little movement since the higher-seeded team won every game. By winning the tournament, the HEAT could potentially move from the 14th pick to the 11th pick since the team won three rounds. However, the Nuggets also won two rounds. In our final order below, the HEAT moves ahead of the Nuggets since we’re also awarding all tie-breaks to the higher-seeded team. As a rule, tie-breaks would go to the team that had the highest point differential for the tournament, with a second tie-break being total points scored.

Final lottery order after tie breaks:

14. Nuggets
13. HEAT
12. Hornets
11. Pistons
10. Mavericks
9. Pelicans
8. Kings
7. Timberwolves
6. Knicks
5. Magic
4. 76ers
3. Lakers
2. Suns
1. Nets

The only way for the HEAT to jump all the way up to the 11th pick would be if the Nuggets, Hornets, and Pistons all lost in the first round. In our example, the Hornets and Pistons were still able to pick ahead of the HEAT since each won at least one round. Where the concept gets more interesting is when you consider a less-predictable scenario. Let’s say the consensus first pick was set to enter the league with hype on the level of LeBron James. The Nets, Suns, Lakers, and 76ers would all be supremely motivated to field the most competitive teams possible since an upset of a higher-seeded team in the first round could allow that team to move up in the draft order. For example, if the Suns — the seventh seed in the West — upset the second-seeded Pelicans in the first round while the Nets lost, Phoenix would move ahead of the Nets in the draft order.

This system would create two types of teams that end up in the lottery — those that miss the playoffs despite their best efforts and those that are rebuilding but never deliberately bottoming out. Those rebuilding teams will always get higher draft picks than teams on the fringes of the playoffs. But a deliberate tank job like the 76ers’ “process” would result in rebuilding teams having little chance to win rounds in the Consolation Tournament, which could cost those teams a chance at a once-in-a-generation player.

Finally, some of the rebuttals to proposals to eliminate conference seeding from Kyler’s piece apply here and must be addressed. Kyler wrote that a tournament would add days to the NBA calendar for lottery teams for which the offseason normally ends sooner. He also argued that pending free agents wouldn’t want to risk injury in a relatively-meaningless tournament to help a team potentially draft a replacement player. And finally, Kyler questioned if television networks and ticket buyers would pay for games that run concurrently with the playoffs.

The answer is that yes, fans and networks would be phenomenally engaged with a tournament built to decide who gets the top picks in the upcoming NBA drafts. In a scenario where a LeBron-level talent was set to enter the league, these games could potentially overshadow the first round of the NBA playoffs. The revenue thus produced would be the league’s primary incentive to implement the Consolation Tournament. Players would get paid out of the additional revenue just as they would from a playoff bonus.

And as for pending free agents fearing injury and being reticent to help a team draft a replacement player, there are two sides to that coin. NBA players pay as much attention to the draft and free agency as anyone. Players such as Magic Johnson have admitted timing their entry to the league to maximize their chance of playing on a preferred team with ideal personnel. Teams could certainly sit players with too much to lose, but most players would relish the opportunity to help their current team improve. If a pending free agent helps a team secure a generational talent with a spectacular run in the Consolation Tournament, that player will have increased their value in free agency and made a strong argument for the current team to keep them.

The NBA needs to end the era of tanking and a postseason tournament for teams that miss the playoffs is the right idea to create new revenue streams for the league and greater engagement for NBA fans. This proposal checks nearly every conceivable box. Teams will still rebuild by necessity, but never again will we see a team deliberately assemble the worst possible product. A postseason for 30 teams rather than the current 16 might seem like overkill, but when the revenue and ratings start pouring in, the NBA will wonder why it didn’t implement the tournament sooner.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs

Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?

Joel Brigham

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This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.

Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.

The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.

For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.

That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.

The Eastern Conference

Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.

In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.

Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.

Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.

The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.

What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.

That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.

The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.

The Western Conference

Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.

The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.

Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.

The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.

That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.

Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.

The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.

Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.

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