Is a triple-double worth running it up? The Ibaka-Hawks conundrum

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New Year’s Eve, the Thunder managed a solid win against the Hawks, and were up 101-92 with less than 24 seconds remaining. Game over, baby. Except that Russell Westbrook was one assist shy of a triple-double. Serge Ibaka leaked out in transition, caught an outlet, and dunked it home, making it 103-92. Okay, Ibaka was just playing hard. Except the clock was off. The Thunder could have just dribbled out the possession, game over, no biggie. Instead the Thunder went stat hounding and wound up ticking off the Hawks.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“That’s a sign of disrespect,” Smith said. “Everybody in the whole league knows that you don’t do nothing like that. We remember something like that.”

Smith had a conversation with Durant about the play.

“He said he was going to handle it because he knew that wasn’t right,” Smith said.

via Johnson’s shooting slows Hawks’ offense  | ajc.com.

First, let’s take a second and credit Josh Smith here. Instead of taking a hard foul at Ibaka or getting into a fight, or even just lobbing insults which would warrant a technical, Smith talked to the floor leader for the Thunder, Kevin Durant, and explained it to him. Respectful leadership and conflict resolution in the NBA? Be still, my leaping heart.

Now then, this situation is going to get judged by whatever your pre-conceived notions are. If you’re the type that thinks that running up the score should be allowed, that it’s the objective of the defense to stop the offense, and we shouldn’t punish players for going to the whistle, even when the game is very clearly over and there’s absolutely nothing to be gained from such endeavors, then you’re probably going to side with Westbrook and Ibaka. If you’re the type that thinks there should be limits and rules regarding how you behave in a professional sporting contest where the objective at all times is to create baskets while preventing the same from your opponent, then you’re probably not going to like this. We’re not going to settle it, because we all have our opinions and they’re unlikely to change in this matter.

But it does show a level of immaturity on the part of the Thunder. You avoid riling a team up by just running out the clock, and you do right by your fellow athlete. The Hawks and Thunder don’t have a rivalry, they’re not even in the same conference. It’s not going to be well received by veterans like Smith, and in fact, Scott Brooks wasn’t a fan of it either. From Thunder blog Daily Thunder:

However, Scott Brooks wasn’t a fan of the play and said he talked to Westbrook about it. “When you’ve got the game won, you run the clock out,” Brooks said.

via OKC gets hot from outside to take down Atlanta, 103-94 | Daily Thunder.com.

It’s just kind of what you do. Daily Thunder argues that the Hawks were still trying to score in a similar situation. And that’s accurate. No one’s saying the Thunder shouldn’t play defense, or if the Hawks were to somehow close the gap, that the Thunder should miss free throws or not score to extend the lead if pressured, but in this situation, the Hawks had capitulated. And when the opponent throws in the towel, you don’t give them one more punch on the way down, even if it does get you the triple-double.

That triple-double is what is at the heart of this whole thing, the pursuit of a bit of statistical greatness for a single night. But while all triple-doubles are subject to the same kinds of arbitrary stat attribution that all great games are (“Was that really his rebound?” “Was that really an assist?”), this one feels like it needs more of an asterisk than most. It’s reminiscent of Brett Favre taking a dive to give Strahan the sack record. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it still takes it away to a certain degree.

Should be fun next time these two teams meet.

Oh, and in case you believe in Karma, the Thunder were blown out of the building, down the street, into the river, down the stream, and into the Gulf of Mexico the next night by the Spurs, 101-74. Just sayin’.

 

 

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.