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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: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?

As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.

Jordan Hicks

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Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.

For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?

The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.

Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.

What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.

Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.

While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.

Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.

One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.

As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.

The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.

Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”

Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.

As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.

Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.

Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.

But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.

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How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports

Basketball Insiders

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The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.

Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.

Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.

And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.

The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.

Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.

The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.

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NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

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Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

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