Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Quick Note About Scott Brooks

Soon after the regular season ended, talk of the Thunder firing Scott Brooks started. This was my Twitter reaction:

Let me expain.

In 2015, the Thunder lost 14 more games than they did the previous year. The Thunder, according to Kevin Pelton, also lost 19.2 wins above replacement to injury this year. They lost 14.4 wins from Kevin Durant's injury alone, measured by the year over year change in his win shares. The point? The Thunder didn't miss the playoffs because of Scott Brooks. It was a minor miracle that Brooks was able to keep his team together, adjust on the fly, and give the Western Conference shivvers at the prospect of playing his Thunder squad.

The major differences between this year's Thunder and the teams that made deep playoff runs in past years are injuries and luck. That sounds simplistic or misleading, but it's true. Last year's bunch survived a seven game first round series against Memphis on the back of some timely shooting and good luck. The next round, they won in six against the Clippers, a series that may have been decided by a few bad calls. Would Brooks have been fired if they had lost in the first round instead of the conference finals?

Scott Brooks hasn't really changed in three years. He still manages his team well. He's gotten better at rotations, though still fails to make adjustments quickly. He still doesn't know what a modern NBA offense looks like but his guys play hard on the defensive end. He's the same guy. If you thought Brooks should have been fired two years ago, then today is a belated vindication, and a sad one since the Thunder have missed out on two years of potential development. But if you thought that Scott Brooks was a good coach a year ago, then he's still a good coach now. He's the same guy.

My point isn't to defend Brooks. My point is that the process behind his firing is indicative of everything that's wrong with the league's darling small-market team. By firing him now, Sam Presti is acknowleding that he knew - he knew his coach was holding the team back - and did nothing. He sat by because the Thunder were getting lucky and going on playoff runs. He sat by as his players went through a streak of injury luck before the wheels fell off in the worst possible way. He watched the Thunder waste the beginning of Durant's prime without a guarantee that Kevin will stick around for the end of it.

Presti took two seasons too long to decide to part with his coach, and that has had a cascading effect on the franchise. Forget the Harden trade. They had their reasons for that. Over the last two years, the Thunder have gone from timid (keeping Brooks and Kendrick Perkins too long) to panicked (trades for Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter). Instead of trusting whatever process he sold himself on two years ago, he's gone off-script. And that tells me Sam Presti may need to go. He has done great things for this franchise, and has Durant, Russel Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams to show for it. But those were decisions made under the auspices of the broader plan. He isn't so good at improvising - just look at what happened with Harden. Maybe he can get his mojo back. But my guess is that with Kevin Durant's free agency looming, the Thunder will be forced to think more about results than process. They'll be forced to go against everything that made them the NBA's small market template.

I really hope that they can get it together and keep Kevin. I think the Thunder make the NBA better. I hope that Presti can take a deep breath, trust the process, and reboot. I will admit that part of me will miss decrying Scott Brooks and his decisions on Twitter. Here's hoping that he, too, can get back to the big stage.

NBA Playoffs First Round – Eastern Conference Edition

Atlanta Hawks. I did not like the way the Hawks ended their year. Yeah, a few guys were banged up – is it possible that’s because they were playing at half speed, trying not to get injured (obviously I’m speaking of guys other than Thabo Sefolosha). They would get up for marquee games, like a late matchup with the Cavs, but otherwise coasted with that huge lead for the 1st seed. And I hated it. Full disclosure – I had Kyle Korver and Paul Misap on my fantasy team, and they killed me in the semifinals with DNP-rests. But compare this to how the Warriors finished the year. Sure the warriors had guys miss games too, but for the most part they kept everything going. Momentum in sports is notoriously hard to quantify, so much so that it doesn’t exist. But I believe that there is something to the notion of the hot team, the team that peaks in May and June. It’s like when you play pickup and your team wins two or three in a row – you get fatigued, but you also build a nice chemistry, you start figuring out what each person can and should do. Maybe Atlanta will be fine – of course, they will win their first round matchup easily and possibly their second as well, considering how Washington and Toronto are playing. I’m just concerned that after a few weeks of playing disjointed lineups, the defensive rotations won’t be as crisp and the ball won’t fly as fast on offense.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NBA Playoffs First Round – Western Conference Edition

Yes, I realize the playoffs already started. I wanted to get some thoughts down while they're fresh.

The Warrior’s defense is like ballet. Nobody is on an island. For a jump shooting team, being able to rely on the defense is such a relief. Bogut is causing havoc in the lane – just watch what happens when anybody, with or without the ball, tries to cross that area. He’s irreplaceable, and so is Draymond Green. How many players in the NBA can do what Green does? Kawhi gets close, but there’s a difference between a small forward that can slide to big forward and a big forward that can slide to shooting guard (defensively). LeBron could do it but we haven’t seen peak defensive LeBron for two years. Milsap has the body to do it but his instincts and feet are nowhere near as good.

Monday, April 13, 2015

NBA Playoff Tiebreakers for the 21st Century

This season has been a ton of fun. That muderous Western Conference that we were all expecting? Yup, it was murder. The following picture is nuts:

Standings from

Just a half game separates 2nd through 6th place (with the Blazers in there because of their division). This inevitably begs a question: What happens if there's a tie?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

NBA Uniforms: A Quick Aside

Some of you will remember my post from this summer about better championship hardware. I was pleasantly surprised when the NBA announced a change to their jerseys to reflect championship pedigree, simlar to what national soccer teams do to reflect world cup wins. But after watching the product in action this season, I think they need to tweak the concept a bit. You see, everyone on a team that's won a title gets the patch. So everyone on the Bulls gets patches. That's right - the last time the Bulls won the title, MJ was hitting basketball shots in Utah, not golf shots. You see the disconnect - it cheapens the meaning of the notch.

Thankfully, this problem can be rectified, and the jerseys made cooler, very easily.

2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament: Top 10

I'm not going to wax poetic about Jusise Winslow's NBA draft position or Coach K's ridiculous ability to win titles 25 years apart. Others have written all you need to know about that. Instead, here are 10 things I’ll remember from the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

1.       The Hunters and Georgia State. Like many, I was at work during much of the round of 64, constantly refreshing gamecast, listening on radio, and occasionally tuning in to good games on the March Madness app. I turned on Georgia State – Baylor with about 1 minute left thinking the Bears would probably win with FTs but hoping for some magic. That was a good decision. Gamecast failed to convey how much the atmosphere had changed in that game over the last several minutes, how Georgia State’s press and shot making started to transcend into the mythical. That’s why, when R.J. Hunter pulled up from deep, my first feeling was of trepidation. This is a tough shot – he’s going to be lucky to draw iron. Then, as the ball hung in midair, I thought differently: if this team goes down, this ain’t bad way to go. Turns out I was right. The ball didn’t draw iron. It did send the team and stadium into a frenzy, the coach off his stool, and the GSU (insert name) into the second round. That was the shot of the tournament.