Loyal to Rings

Growing up, the one thing I always heard about was players leaving for money. Ben Wallace was one of the first players I remember doing this. He was the first 2004 Champion Starter to depart the team when he signed a four-year contract with the Chicago Bulls for 48 million dollars.

Lots of players were willing to follow paychecks but, unlike today, the top talent seemed to be more prideful and loyal. Players like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kobe Bryant were some of the most competitive players in the league and they refused to leave their home teams. Even players like Carmelo Anthony and Steve Nash stayed loyal to their teams until ownership decided to move them.

Today we see tons of star players making trade requests and are leaving the free agency to join forces with other stars in pursuit of championships. Kevin Durant may have been the tipping point when he left a championship contending team to join the team that eliminated them in the playoffs. This left lots of fans with a salty taste in their mouths. Unfortunately, this is becoming more common. Some other notable players that have decided to team up with other stars to try and win championships include: Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Jimmy Butler.

Now, players aren’t even waiting for their contracts to expire before moving (such as Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler). This has really seemed to hurt small market teams and the competitiveness of the league. Players have decided that it is more important to bring in rings so they put themselves in a position to join other stars; teams with only one or two All-Stars don’t seem to have a chance at winning a title.

Requesting trades has become extremely common among top talent NBA players. The latest player to request a trade is New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis. Davis is arguably top five talent in the NBA and is passing up on at 240 million dollar supermax extension to find a new, more competitive home.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Brooklyn Nets
Anthony Davis: Photo Credit usatoday.com

This puts New Orleans in a very sticky situation as the February 7th trade deadline quickly approaches. Next season is his last guaranteed year on contract which hinders New Orleans trade leverage around Davis as it is obvious that he will not be looking to pick up his player option. This means potential trade partners may be more interested in waiting and trying to sign him out of the free agency instead of having to give up the insane amount of assets Davis’ trade value will surely command. If the Pelicans want to get anything out of Davis before losing him to the free agency, they will likely have to let him go cheaper than what he is worth.

End of November Power Rankings

For the end of November power ranking I will be using a new more accurate model. This model is based off of regression analysis where the following factors were used to predict winning percentages: three-point percentage, two-point percentage, free-throw percentage, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, steals, blocks, turnovers, personal fouls, and points against. Other stats were considered and tested such as assists and were later removed due to autocorrelation issues.

In this model, two-point and three-point percentage are the strongest predictors of win percentage by far. The model has a correlation coefficient of 0.90 which means that it has a very strong linear relationship. The adjusted R square value is a .71 which means that seventy one percent of teams win percentages are explained by the independent variables previously listed. This does represent a relatively strong fit but there is still room to improve in the future.

Final RankingsModel details aside, here are the results. The Milwaukee Bucks lead by Giannis Antetokounmpo have earned the top spot in the rankings. I don’t think that they will finish as the best team in the NBA and they probably aren’t there right now, but with their excellent 58.8 percent two-point percentage and 36.1 percent three-point percentage it is no surprise they earned a high ranking in the current model.

The most underachieving team in the NBA right now, in my opinion, is the Washington Wizards. With names like John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter on their roster expectations were high for this team. They have consistently been a playoff caliber team in the East of the last five seasons and were one game shy of 50 wins since the 1979-80 season. The team is likely to be separated soon as all current starters are on the trading block.

Another team I want to comment on is the Detroit Pistons. In ESPNs last power ranking the Pistons made it into the top ten. As much as I want to see the Pistons do well, I’m skeptical as to how long they can keep this level of success. Blake Griffin seems to be the shining point of the teams offense, while the teams overall shooting percentages are average at best. They are still in the bottom three in the league in three-point percentage with a coach who has them taking the sixth most three-point attempts per game. Despite the shooting struggles, the team is off to a great start and could be a few pieces away from becoming a true threat in the east. Carmelo Anthony, Bradley Beal, and JR Smith could all be potential assets if they come at the right price.

Lastly, I want to talk about a few teams that I believe have the best chance of jumping into the top ten before the new year. The Lakers are my first choice here. LeBron and company seem to finally be showing signs of meshing and James has shown he is still capable of putting up the numbers he did in his finals runs with the Cavs. Expect the Lakers to continue to improve as their chemistry grows.

The honorable mention for most likely to hit the top ten before the new year goes to the Philadelphia Seventy Sixers. I loved the move they made to get Jimmy Butler especially because the players they had to give away were mostly role players and can be replaced with signings and draft picks in the future. Butler, Embiid, and Simmons seem to be getting along just fine and should easily make the jump to the top ten very soon as well as move towards the top of the Eastern Conference by the end of the season.

The Wild West

For quite a while now, there has seemed to be a discrepancy between the competitiveness of the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NBA. And, for as long as I can remember, the discrepancy has always seemed to favor the West.

In recent years and this season especially, we continue to see this difference in the NBA’s competition level.  This year, eight out of 15 teams in the East that have a 50 percent winning percentage or greater. In the West, there are 11 teams at or above the 50 percent mark in winning percentage. If any of the top 12 teams in the West were to move to the Eastern conference today, they would be a playoff-qualifying team. This seems to happen every year. There are always a few teams in the East who make the playoffs that wouldn’t even get a sniff of them if they were competing for a sport with teams in the West.

The discrepancy between conferences seems to grow almost every year when the free agency rolls around. In recent years, some of the biggest names to flip from the Eastern Conference over to the West are Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, and LeBron James. There doesn’t seem to be one clear answer as to why the West tends to attract and retain better talent. We have seen players move from team to team to follow friends, All-Stars, and coaches while other players seem more interested in large sums of money and the local nightlife. Perhaps some of the movement is based on the competitive nature of players. To some players, it may have felt less rewarding to be one of the best in the East so they moved over to take on a new challenge. Whatever the players’ reasoning for choosing their teams it seems like the majority of big names in basketball end up in the West.

It is certainly much harder for players to make the NBA All-Star team in the West due to the saturation of star players. In the interest of basing these claims on statistics, a friend and I took a minute to look at each player and make a list of this seasons star caliber players based on their performance thus far. Labeling of these players was discretionary based on this year’s performance only compared to the rest of the players in the league (scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, shooting percentages, and blocks were considered in the decision making). After sifting through the data, we found that there were only 18 star players in the East Compared to the 28 star players in the West (full list in table below). Every team in the West has at least one star player while in the east we see five teams (Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland) with no star caliber players at all. Many of these teams do have up and coming talent such as Trae Young, but they just aren’t performing at a level that puts them above and beyond their competition yet.

NBA Star Players as of 11-21-18

If the skill level discrepancy was a once and a while issue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But, year after year we see deserving teams miss the playoffs just because they happen to be surrounded by stronger competition. I believe that the best teams should be represented in the playoffs regardless of their geographic location and under the current system they aren’t. The NBA should make playoff qualifying decisions based on overall record and not solely on conference placement.

Is Rondo a Good Fit for The Lakers?

At this point in his career, Rajon Rondo may be known more for his temper and clashes with coaches than his accomplishments. Since Rondo was traded to the Mavericks in December of 2014, it has been a bumpy road. Even when he puts up respectable stat lines he can’t seem to find a long-term home. This season, Rondo finds himself as a Los Angeles Laker, his fifth team in five seasons.

When it comes to basketball IQ and ability, Rondo is no slouch. He has made a career off of dazzling passes and deceptive moves around the rim. As a result, he has led the NBA in assists three times (2011-12, 2012-13, and 2015-16), is a four-time NBA All-Star, and was the starting point guard of the 2007-08 champion Boston Celtics.

Rondo's Hustle Stats - ChartRondo's Shooting - Chart

It’s hard to imagine that a player with these accolades would have any trouble finding a long-term contract. Unfortunately, Rondo’s attitude and issues with teammates and coaches have become expected and seem to impact his performance. Drama reached its peak for Rondo when he played in Dallas and Chicago where he regularly butted heads with teammates and coaches. This is also when we see Rondo’s numbers take a dip.

It would be easy to say that Rondo’s performance issues were exclusively a result of his bad attitude. The only problem with that is even in Sacramento, where Rondo referred to the locker room as tense and called his teammates a bunch of bums, he performed relatively well. I believe that the explanation that shows why Rondo played well in Sacramento is revealing of what causes him to be successful in general. Rondo needs to be surrounded by talented teammates to produce at his highest level. His best seasons were when he was paired with the Boston Big Three and in Sacramento with DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Darren Collison.

This might make you question why Rondo didn’t put up better numbers in Dallas when he was paired with Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. The answer stems from the issues between him and Head Coach Rick Carslile. Rondo saw inconsistent playing time and averaged less than 30 minutes per game for the first time since his second year in the league (2007-08 where he averaged 29.9 MPG). He was on a team and in an environment that didn’t give him the playing time or support he needed to succeed. Rondo saw similar issues with playing time in Chicago when he was benched for an extended period of time and regularly fought with veterans Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler.

Looking back at Rondo’s stats tells an interesting story. Though Rondo’s worst seasons seem to come when there was the most drama he has proven that he can still perform at a high level when given the opportunity. He led the league in assists when he played in Sacramento and posted respectful numbers in limited minutes as a Pelican.

To determine whether or not Rondo is a good fit for the Lakers we need to look at the environment he would be in as well as the players around him. Head Coach Luke Walton was hired when the Lakers were dealing with the aftermath of the issues between D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young. Long story short, he should have an idea on how to deal with locker room drama. If Walton isn’t enough to keep Rondo’s attitude in check, maybe LeBron James, the likely team leader, will have the respect of the former All-Star and ability to keep him in line.

NBA: Preseason-Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers
Rajon Rondo Bringing the ball up the court; Photo Credit to thesportsdaily.com

As far as the roster goes, there may not be a dominant big-man like in Rondo’s previous successful seasons, but there is no lack of talent. Players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have demonstrated the ability to score and stretch the floor leaving space for Rondo to drive the paint where he is most effective scoring. Rondo should have plenty of targets for his dazzling dimes.

It seems the only barrier to success for Rondo will be how the Lakers decide to split minutes among guards. With up and coming talents like Lonzo ball, Josh Hart, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, it may be hard for Rondo to earn the minutes he would need for a chance to return to All-Star production. Even though the Lakers will likely be able to handle Rondo’s attitude, it seems that Rondo will not be a part of the Lakers long-term plans. In my opinion, once Ball is able to return to his regular workload, Rondo will see limited minutes (under 30 per game) to allow for the development of younger prospects and will serve more as a veteran with experience to offer.

Bandwagon Fan or Basketball Fan?

It’s official, LeBron James is now a Laker and DeMarcus Cousins is heading to the Bay Area as a Warrior. Every year, the NBA’s free agency period seems to send all-star caliber players across the nation followed by a flood of fans. To many, these fans are known as bandwagon fans.

Lebron James Lakers Photo
LeBron James in a Lakers uniform. Photo Credit to clutchpoints.com

Bandwagon fans are commonly viewed as some of the most obnoxious fans in sports. They are known as people who blindly follow good teams or players just because they are successful. The fact is, a lot of bandwagon fans have stronger reasons to back their fandom than the traditional location-based sports fans.

Historically, fans were taught and expected to have pride in the local teams. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact it gives people who know very little about sports the opportunity to associate strongly with an organization. The problem that we see is when fans are scrutinized for choosing to follow teams or players that aren’t local. Just because someone doesn’t live near a team or isn’t able to recite the starting lineup for the last ten years doesn’t mean they aren’t a true fan.

Kyrie Irving Dribbling
Kyrie Irving bringing the ball up the court. Photo Credit to celticslife.com

For example, people who have grown up around the game, like playing or coaching, are more likely to appreciate skill or excellence when they see it. A person who spent hours practicing dribbling when they were younger is much more likely to have an appreciation for a player like Kyrie Irving and his ball handling ability. Someone like this would have every right to be a Kyrie Irving fan because they have an appreciation for basketball and a player who has mastered a skill that they know to be challenging.

I remember the first time I saw Steve Nash play in person. It was February 9th of the 2009-2010 NBA season and Nash led the suns to a win with 21 assists. I was inspired by his fast paced, deceptive playing style and dead eye shooting ability. Though I wasn’t cheering for the Suns at the time, I was able to appreciate the impressive performance that was coming to fruition right in front of me because I knew that a 21-assist game didn’t happen very often. I now realize that if I was fixated on the success of my home team, I would have missed out on appreciating a special moment from one of the best point guards to every play the game.

For all you non-bandwagon fans out there, continue to cheer for the local team (the Kings need fans too). Just remember that there is more than one way to qualify as a true fan and make sure you don’t let hometown pride distract you from appreciating the greatness around you.