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NBA AM: Does Playing 82 Games Really Matter?

Do we make too much out of the value of an 82-game player? You would be surprised how few player log a full season.

Steve Kyler

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Is 82 Games A Meaningful Measurement?:  There is almost no debating that the NBA’s 82-game regular season is long. Between back-to-backs, long travel days and late night arrivals, it’s a wonder that players can survive it and be at the top of their game.

A lot has been made in the last few days over comments made by Bulls’ star Derrick Rose, who admitted that he was sitting out games not just to recover from his current ankle injuries, but that he was also thinking about quality of life after basketball in not pushing himself to be on the court when maybe he wasn’t ready.

“I’m thinking about long term,” Rose said to Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com. “I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball. Having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to. I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. [I’m] just learning and being smart.”

While these comments took on a life of their own as others applied their judgments to them, the truth is Rose isn’t just thinking about life after basketball, he is thinking about the short term too: being available in the postseason and able to help his team contend for a championship – things he hasn’t been able to do for the last two years.

The comments clearly weren’t what fans wanted to hear and if most players were honest about the topic, more players than not would tell you they think about the long-term damage they do to their bodies every day, especially after coming off an injury when they have to have surgeries and face their own mortality.

The truth of the NBA is that a lot of teams don’t value players that can play all 82 games like they used to. In fact a lot of teams want guys that are a little banged up to sit. They’d rather have the backup guy who is closer to 100 percent be on the floor gaining trust and experience than pushing a guy that is maybe 75-85 percent and risking a small injury becoming a major one. A lot of that mindset comes from rosters having more depth, an understanding that all the mileage adds up and that a break is good for the recovery process.

If you look back to the 2013-14 NBA season, only 29 players logged 82 games (Ramon Sessions, due to a trade, logged 83 games). Of those 29 players, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis were not among them. Does that make them any less valuable?

In 2012-13 there were just 28 players that played 82 games, and again the five aforementioned stars were not among them. Are they damaged goods? Should teams simply give up on them because they didn’t log 82 games?

Not sure anyone is going to take that stance on those players just because they missed a game here or a game there.

There is no doubting that there is more public scrutiny on Rose because he missed two years to knee injuries. However, trying to measure or discredit Rose because he is sitting out a game here and there to stay healthy and at 100 percent isn’t out of the norm. In fact, it is the norm in the NBA, in an increasing fashion.

His comments to the media likely didn’t help his cause, as there is a perception that Rose could have played last season and opted not to, and these comments sort of reinforce that he may have doubts about his own durability. But can you really blame him? Rose missed two seasons and endured hours upon hours of grueling medical procedures and rehab. Getting the trust in your body back isn’t always easy; letting go of the fears that players face every time they step on the floor is often the most difficult part of coming back from an injury.

Before we go crushing Rose over some badly placed comments, keep a few things in mind: More players than not don’t log 82 games. Teams don’t value 82-game players like they used to and making sure you are 100 percent is every player’s responsibility to their team and their teammates, because while 82 games is a grind, every one of those games usually ends up meaning something at the end of the season.

Is Anthony Davis The Best Player In The NBA?:  In the statistical age of sports, the holy grail is being able to define things down to a single number that establishes an accurate representation of how good a player really is.

No one has that stat. A lot of people have tried to develop one. There are likely some big brained math geeks working on a formula or algorithm right now. Some of the advanced stats we talk about now are better predictors than others. Some add more value to the equation than others, but none of them solve the problem completely.

Celtic’s president Danny Ainge once joked that while he loved advanced stats and seeing what the numbers reveal, no one could produce a stat that accurately valued what Kevin Garnett meant to a team. This is one of the biggest flaws in statistical review of a player. The numbers don’t tell the entire story and they really can’t, but what they can be is an additional tool.

In scouting circles there is a concept called the “Eye Test” – does the guy look the part? When you watch him play, does he look like he knows what he’s doing? The test is fundamentally flawed; just because it looks good, does not always mean it is good. The argument of “just look at the tape” doesn’t tell the whole story, and what we have now is the ability to combine the test with mountains of data to reinforce what we see.

Rocket’s GM Daryl Morey is often labeled as a stats guy and portrayed as someone selecting talent based off a spreadsheet. The truth of the matter is Morey is as active in watching players play as he is at crunching the numbers they produce.

So what does all this have to do with the Pelicans’ big man?

Average PER Ranking

Player PER
Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL  15.58
Randy Foye, DEN  15.57
Goran Dragic, PHX  15.53
Tyreke Evans, NO  15.27
Robbie Hummel, MIN  15.22
Paul Pierce, WSH  15.11
Kris Humphries, WSH  15.06
Brandon Bass, BOS  15.01
Cole Aldrich, NY  15.00

PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is a commonly used stat. It takes into account a large swath of details including pace of game, the impact guys with limited minutes make. It is a level baseline in which to compare players. It has its flaws for sure, but it’s a pretty solid predictor. A PER of 15 means you are an average player, and for the most part of you look at the players floating around the 15 PER mark right now, you’d agree they are average to slightly above average NBA players, or are at least playing like one right now.

It’s important not to confuse future ability, with current production. Most people who watch Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo play can see his potential to be a very special player. However, PER isn’t trying to predict what you’ll be in the future, it’s measuring what you are doing right now.

There are always a few outliers in PER especially when the sample size is small, because a bench guy that goes off for an uncharacteristic night is going to skew the stats. That is not unique to PER. Points per game gets skewed when you have only played a small handful of games. Lance Stephenson is currently the ninth leading rebounder in the NBA, with 10.9 boards per game. He’ll settle down to earth as the season progresses.

So again, what does all this have to do with Davis?

All-Time PER Leaders

RK  Player  PER  Season
1  Wilt Chamberlain*  31.82  1962-63
2  Wilt Chamberlain*  31.74  1961-62
3  Michael Jordan*  31.71  1987-88
4  LeBron James  31.67  2008-09
5  Michael Jordan*  31.63  1990-91
The highest recorded PER’s in a single season is a who’s who of the best players to have ever logged time in the NBA. Wilt Chamberlain holds the record at 31.82 back in 1962-63. He logged the second best season a year prior with 31.74 in 1961-62. Michael Jordan logged a 31.71 in 1987-88, while LeBron James logged his best regular season PER in 2008-09 with a 31.67. For most of that season James looked like he was going to shatter Chamberlain’s records, at times during the season having a PER almost at 40.

Current Top Ten PER

RK  Player  PER
1  Anthony Davis, NO  35.33
2  Brandan Wright, DAL  27.05
3  DeMarcus Cousins, SAC  26.95
4  Dirk Nowitzki, DAL  26.61
5  Stephen Curry, GS  26.55
6  Isaiah Thomas, PHX  26.28
7  James Harden, HOU  25.52
8  Chris Bosh, MIA  24.55
9  Dwight Howard, HOU  24.45
10  Dennis Schroder, ATL  24.37

This becomes relevant when you look at Davis who is averaging 24.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game. He is shooting a scorching .548 from the field and poking away 2.3 steals per contest. His .766 free throw percentage drags his numbers down a little, but is still sporting an impressive 35.33 PER so far on the season.

Now we are talking about a seven game sample, so it’s very possible Davis’ number drop down, because most of the players who logged impressive PER’s started out much higher than they finished. That said, PER has been a pretty good indicator of who is having a great season, and seven games in, Davis is logging a whopper of a campaign.

When you look at the other PER leaders, Davis is having far and away the best season of anyone in the NBA right now. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain it.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap

Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.

Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.

NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.

Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.

The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.

DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.

LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform, he clearly has his eyes open. On Silver’s watch, the league also eliminated the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, and it’s become clear that he simply gets it. Silver isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in order to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

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