Does being in foul trouble really merit a substitution?

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Among the most sacred truisms in basketball is the concept of “foul trouble”; head coaches yank players out of the game without compromise and regardless of import due to the number of fouls the player has acquired relative to how much time is left in the game. Two fouls in the first quarter? Benched. Three in the first half? Benched. The very notion that a pivotal player could receive four fouls in a half of basketball is apparently so threatening to head coaches, that they simply refuse to even allow it as a possibility.

If only that strategy made the slightest bit of sense. Dr. Jonathan Weinstein of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, writing at The Leisure of the Theory Class, explains (via Jason Kottke):

Conventional wisdom seems to regard foul management as a risk vs. safety
decision.  You will constantly hear something like, “a big decision
here, whether to risk putting Duncan back in with 4 fouls.”  This is
completely the wrong lens for the problem, since the “risky”* strategy
is, with the caveats mentioned, all upside!  Coaches dramatically
underrate the “risk” of falling behind, or losing a lead, by sitting a
star for too long.  To make it as stark as possible, observe that the
coach is voluntarily imposing the penalty that he is trying to avoid,
namely his player being taken out of the game!

The most egregious
cases are when a player sits even though his team is significantly
behind.  I almost feel as though the coach prefers the certainty of
losing to the “risk” of the player fouling out.  There may be a
“control fallacy” here: it just feels worse for the coach to have a
player disqualified than to voluntarily bench him, even if the result
is the same.  Also, there is a bit of an agency/perception problem: the
coach is trying to maximize keeping his job as well as winning, which
makes him lean towards orthodoxy.

To put it a different way, the worst thing that could possibly happen by keeping a player in “foul trouble” in the game is that they could get their sixth foul, which would limit the amount of time they can spend on the floor. So in order to avoid that outcome, coaches…limit the amount of time the player can spend on the floor. It’s safe to say that in-game context can make things slightly more complicated, but on a basic level, it makes little sense to sit a player for any reason other than ineffectiveness or rest.

At the heart of this discussion is essentially a debate over whether or not fourth quarter minutes matter more than minutes played during the rest of the game. After all, that’s essentially what coaches fear in such a scenario: if a player picks up his sixth foul too early, he may miss playing time in the fourth quarter.

From where I’m sitting, the points all count the same. A first quarter run can demoralize an opponent, a second quarter run can protect a lead when it’s in danger, and a third quarter run can put the game out of reach for an opponent (see Celtics vs. Cavs, Game 5). The only thing the fourth quarter really has going for it is its finality, as teams can put up points without the clock allowing time for the opponent to bounce back.

Does that really make fourth quarter production that much more valuable? Hardly. It’s just different. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to have a very efficient fourth quarter scorer. It’s just not all that much cooler than having a very efficient first or second quarter scorer. The biggest factor seems to be the reputation that comes with fourth quarter scoring.

The significance of clutch scoring is rather obvious, but the affinity for player success in the entire fourth quarter likely has more to do with the common casual sports fan assertion that NBA games “aren’t interesting until the fourth quarter,” or that players “don’t really try until the fourth quarter” more than anything else. Considering how ridiculous both of those claims are, what criteria exist that could possibly elevate the importance of fourth quarter minutes? 

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry
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The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.

Byron Scott says they just have to get Kobe Bryant better looks

Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Byron Scott

Kobe Bryant is averaging 15.2 points a game at age 37. It’s just taking him 16.4 shots per game to get there. After his 1-of-14 shooting performance against the Warriors the other night — with too much isolation and too many plays run just for him — there has been a lot of talk about his shot. With reason, this is his shot chart so far this season.

Kobe shotchart season

So what do the Lakers’ do? Get Kobe to shoot less and get the ball in the hands of the young stars they supposed to be developing more? Nah.

They just need to get Kobe better looks, Scott told the Los Angeles Times.

“I know his mentality is that he can still play in this league,” Scott said. “And we feel the same way….

“Obviously he’s struggling right now with his shot, and I think everybody can see that,” Scott said. “So it’s trying to get him in better position to be able to have an opportunity to knock those shots down on a consistent basis. That’s No. 1.

“I don’t know if it’s his legs. I don’t think so. Again, our conversations are pretty blunt. … He tells me when he is tired and he tells me when he’s not tired. And the last few days, he said he feels great. So, I don’t think it’s a matter of him being tired or his legs being tired. I think it’s a matter of his timing being a little off.”

Yes, how could it be his legs? It’s not like he’s a 37-year-old with more than 55,000 NBA minutes played, and coming off an Achilles rupture and major knee surgery.

Honestly, I hope the Lakers and Kobe find a balance soon, because they have become just hard to watch. And I don’t want Kobe to go out this way.

Is Stephen Curry the Lionel Messi of the NBA?

Lionel Messi

Stephen Curry has reached the transcendent point in his career. We’re now talking about if he has passed LeBron James as the best player on the planet (he has), and we’re starting to think about his legacy as the perfect point guard for a modern NBA small-ball, space-and-pace offense. Plus he’s just a joy to watch play.

Does that make him the Lionel Messi of the NBA?

Curry was asked to compare himself to the Barcelona/Argentinian player who (arguably) is the greatest soccer player in the world, certainly as elite a finisher as that sport has ever seen. Here is his answer, via the Sydney Morning Herald of Australia. Is Curry the bigger international star now?

“I don’t know – it’s a chicken and egg kind of conversation,” Curry said while laughing.

“We both have a creative style, a feel when you are out on the pitch or the court. I’m trying to do some fancy things out there with both hands, making crossover moves and having a certain flair to my game and that’s definitely the style Messi has when he is out there in his matches.”

I love Curry, but Messi is the bigger international star.

But I love the comparison in terms of the must-watch nature of the two stars, the flair in their games, the sense that you have to keep an eye on them at all times because the spectacular could happen any time they touch the ball. When the ball comes to them, everybody leads forward in their chairs. That is the sign of a real superstar.