Boston Celtics v Phoenix Suns

Old man game is winning in the NBA

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In the NBA — like in society at large — we have this fascination with youth. Blake Griffin is a YouTube sensation. We all fall in love with the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder. Fans obsess over draft picks.

But what about the other end of the spectrum — who are the oldest teams in the NBA this season?

The Miami Heat top the list at an average age of 31.32 (all those older veteran minimum deals to put around their big three cause that). Followed by the Lakers (29.98), Mavericks (29.47), Nuggets (29.09), Celtics (28.69), Magic (28.44) and Spurs (28.42).

You know what else that is? A list of every NBA title contender. And Denver.

If you use a team’s “effective age” — weight age by playing time as they did at Hoopism — your oldest teams are Mavericks (31.75), Lakers (30.87), Celtics (30.48), Suns (30.27), Spurs (29.62) and Heat (29.55). Shows you that the Suns have some serious long-term issues, but doesn’t change much else. The best teams are still some of the oldest teams.

Coincidence?

No.

We get pumped about the athletes that can leap out of the building, but at the end of the playoffs, it’s often teams with old man game that are left standing. If you just asked what “old man game” is you’ve never played pickup against that 45-year-old guy who looks slow but always makes the right pass, seems to know where the ball is going to be and never misses the midrange shot. He’s the least athletic guy on the court, and his team keeps winning.

Not that (to use last year’s example) the Lakers and Celtics don’t have some quality athletes, but is Paul Pierce really a guy you just look and think he can create space and never misses a 17-foot fadeaway? Do you look at Pau Gasol standing there and think he’s one of the hardest bigs to defend the game? Yet those are the kind of guys — them and the Tim Duncans and Manu Ginobilis — that are left standing when all is said and done.

This is not something new. Kevin Pelton studied the numbers at Basketball Prospectus two years ago and found those older teams tend to be better at both ends of the floor (and he went back to 1980). That veteran savvy on the defensive end and knowing how to get the shots they want on offense tends to offset any loss of athleticism. Older teams tend to be more efficient teams. There is no perfect correlation (there never is in the real world) but the fact is older teams tend to win more and have for three decades.

This doesn’t mean you go out and drop a 40-year-old on the Cavs roster they start winning, but rather if you combine a handful of good veterans — sometimes as role players, sometimes as key cogs — the sum may be greater than the individual parts. Those older teams just know how to play the game at the NBA level.

I have one other theory as to why. The average NBA career is about four years (the number has decreased in recent years). If you have a veteran team — this season’s Spurs, Celtics and Lakers — you have a lot of players who have played well beyond that average. Why? Because they are better players. The reason a guy lasts 10 years in the NBA is because he can ball. Get enough of those guys together and, even though they’re older, they can win together.

The risk is always injuries — those older bodies breaking down. It’s happened to the Spurs and Celtics in recent years.

So far this season though those older teams are by-and-large staying healthy and as a result they make up the list of contenders (maybe Chicago skews the graph, but they have to prove they can hang in the playoffs still).

Those veteran teams have adjusted. Tim Duncan has taken a back seat to more Tony Parker and Ginobili being the hub of the San Antonio offense. Rajon Rondo sets the table for those older guys to do their thing in Boston. The veterans were willing to give up something to get what they really want — wins. And a shot at a ring.

So enjoy Griffin and Durant. Watch Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins start to figure it out in Sacramento. Love Derrick Rose.

But know, when you’re watching the NBA in June, it will be some old-man game.

Will Jonathan Isaac jump from high school to NBA draft?

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Satnam Singh, the Mavericks No. 52 pick in the 2015 draft, was the first player drafted directly from high school in a decade.

Another, much higher-profile, high schooler could follow his path.

The NBA’s “one-and-done” rule effectively prohibited anyone from jumping from high school to the NBA. Amir Johnson, whom the Pistons drafted No. 56 in 2005, was the last high school player drafted before the rule was implemented.

But Singh spent five years at IMG Academy in Florida and was eligible. Now, another IMG player wants to follow a similar path.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:

In a decision that could signal a new avenue to the NBA for elite American basketball players, Top 10 high school prospect Jonathan Isaac told Sports Illustrated on Friday that he will explore declaring for the 2016 NBA draft directly from prep school.

Isaac, a 6’10” small forward from IMG (Fla.) Academy, said in a phone interview that he expects to take advantage of a new rule that allows prospects to enter the NBA draft and return to college if they don’t feel good about their projected draft position. The new rule allows Isaac to participate in the NBA draft combine, hold an NBA workout and pull out of the draft without compromising his amateur standing at Florida State, where he’s signed to play next season.

Isaac, 18, and IMG officials expect that he’ll be eligible for the 2016 NBA draft because he started high school in 2011, which would make him one year removed from his initial graduating class. Isaac did not graduate from high school in 2015, but IMG officials expect he’d be eligible because former IMG player Satnam Singh had a similar circumstance and was eligible for the 2015 Draft.

Isaac is a potential first-rounder. The new rule doesn’t affect his ability to declare for the draft, but rather his ability to withdraw and play for Florida state IF he declares for the draft.

The bigger question: Can he declare for the draft?

The relevant requirement in the Collective Bargaining Agreement:

The player (A) is or will be at least nineteen (19) years of age during the calendar year in which the Draft is held, and (B) with respect to a player who is not an international player (defined below), at least one (1) NBA Season has elapsed since the player’s graduation from high school (or, if the player did not graduate from high school, since the graduation of the class with which the player would have graduated had he graduated from high school

Isaac turns 19 in October, so he’d meet the age requirement. He also hasn’t graduated high school, so he could claim his class graduated last year – four years after entering high school.

However, that argument works only if he doesn’t graduate this spring. If he does, that takes precedence over his class’s graduation, and he’d have to wait another year to declare for the draft.

As crazy as this sounds, Isaac will have more options for his professional future by NOT graduating high school.

This passage in the Collective Bargaining Agreement should probably be changed in the next edition.

It’s also difficult to tell how this situation compares with Singh. Although academics kept him from receiving college scholarships, Singh graduated from IMG, according to his father. Perhaps, Singh didn’t actually graduate. A quote from his dad isn’t a verified transcript.

No matter how Singh got to the draft, Isaac and those close to him at IMG should know the details of the path.

Now, it’s a question whether Isaac can and will follow.

Kevin Durant chokes up talking about Monty Williams’ wife (video)

Oklahoma Thunder players, from left, Cameron Payne, Kevin Durant, Andrew Morrow and D.J. Augustin bow their heads during a moment of silence for Ingrid Williams, the wife of Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams, who died Wednesday as the result of a car accident Tuesday, before an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder, in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder held a moment of silence for assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife before their game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night, a day after she died following a car crash.

Williams coached New Orleans last season, and the Pelicans also held a moment of silence for Ingrid Williams before their game Wednesday night against Utah.

The family’s pastor, Dr. Mark Hitchcock of Faith Bible Church in Edmond prayed for the family.

Thunder star Kevin Durant was overcome with emotion as he reflected after the morning shootaround.

“Just love Coach Monty so much, man,” Durant said. “I feel for him, man. It’s somebody we all love.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said it would be different Thursday without Williams to his right, but the team had no choice but to prepare for the game.

“I thought our group this morning was as good as it could be coming in,” Donovan said. “Everybody, I think, personally, is hurting for Monty and his family. Just trying to have faith right now that Ingrid is in a better place, and hopeful that our guys will come out there and play to the best of their ability.”

Ingrid Williams, 44, was involved in a crash Tuesday night. An oncoming car crossed the center line and hit her SUV just outside of downtown Oklahoma City, said police Capt. Paco Valderrama. That driver was pronounced dead at the scene, Valderrama said.

Monty Williams was hired by New Orleans to his first and only head coaching job in 2010 and fired after last season. He helped guide the Pelicans to the postseason twice and had a record of 173-221.

Pelicans star Anthony Davis spent three seasons with Williams as his coach and said Ingrid Williams was important, too. He said in a tweet: “Completely devastated. Ingrid Williams was like a 2nd mother to me when I got to NOLA. My thoughts & prayers are with Monty & the family.”

First-year Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Ingrid’s impact was significant. It really affected his team as it prepared for its game Wednesday night, and the players were still dealing with it Thursday.

“It was really difficult for our guys to get through it because he (Monty Williams) has had such an impact on the players, and she had even more of an impact, maybe, with the mothering that she did for most of the guys and the type of person that she was,” Gentry said. “She wanted everybody to feel like they had a home away from home.”

Suns spin Markieff Morris-Archie Goodwin scuffle as brotherly bickering

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Markieff Morris got into a physical altercation with teammate Archie Goodwin during the Suns loss to the Warriors yesterday.

Then, Morris flipped off a Phoenix fan.

This might not have been a low point for the Suns, who’ve had a miserable season due in part to Morris problems. But if it wasn’t, it was close.

At least everyone was on the same page in characterizing the scuffle (videos via Bright Side of the Sun):

Suns coach Earl Watson:

There was one point in the year where those two lived together. They’re closest on the team. They’re like big brother, little brother.

We have to control our emotions. Other than that, those two are really close. There’s no in between. The team is not split. Those two are the closest on the team. They have a bond. They have a unique relationship.

I wouldn’t saying it was a fight. I would say it was a pushing match, what I saw. I’ve never seen NBA players really fight.

Markieff was trying to motivate Archie.

Morris:

That’s nothing. That’s part of being a leader, being a big brother. Sometimes, big brothers and little brothers get into it.

What happened wasn’t supposed to happen. Wrong place, wrong time. But that’s my little brother. I’ve been here with him for three years, and I know him really well. I know his family, and we’re a little closer. And it happens sometimes.

Big brothers shake little brothers up sometimes. It happens.

No, it don’t look good. But nothing I do is going to look good. Like I’m telling you all, it’s between us. We’re family.

Like I said, I apologized to him. And I like I said, that’s my little brother. We’re going to move forward, no hard feelings.

[What Goodwin said when Morris apologized] I love you. That’s what I said to him. No hard feelings.

Ain’t no, ain’t any of that bull, BS be talking about choking somebody.

Goodwin:

Family. It happens. I love him like a brother. He loves me. That’s all there is to say about it. No more comments.

When someone asked him about Morris choking him, Goodwin walked away.

I’m not sold on the choking charges. You can pause the video at the right moment, and Morris’ hand is on Goodwin’s neck. But it’s quick, and it’s while Goodwin is standing up. I don’t see credible evidence Morris tried to choke Goodwin.

But these quotes paint a far rosier picture than the video presented. I’m hardly convinced everything is as hunky dory as the Suns say. There was a lot of frustration behind that dispute.

That said, it’s meaningful Morris and Goodwin both told the same “brother” story – true or not. At best, it’s accurate, and they’ll be fine going forward. At worst, they were cool enough with each other to present a nice message to the public.

And even if it’s that worst-case scenario, that’s far better than what could’ve been – especially for Phoenix this season.

Reports: Raptors looking hard for power forward upgrade at trade deadline

Al Horford Thaddeus Young
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There are precious few windows in the NBA when everything comes together for a franchise and it can make a deep playoff run (well, unless you’re the Spurs). When those opportunities arise, teams have to grab them. Carpe Diem.

The Toronto Raptors are the clear second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and the top seed Cavaliers do not look invincible. But the Raptors have a glaring hole in their lineup at the power forward spot. The Raptors start veteran Luis Scola, but they are 10 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court than on it — not one Raptors lineup with Scola and center Jonas Valanciunas has a positive plus-minus this season. They have Patrick Patterson off the bench, but he has a limited offensive game that would cause matchup issues in the postseason.

The Raptors want to seize their moment — expect them to be active at the trade deadline trying to upgrade at the four.

Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun said that in a recent ProBasketballTalk podcast. He said their ideal player would be Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks. However, if the Hawks decide to keep him or the price is too high, the Raptors are looking at other options as well, something Brian Windhorst discussed in a recent radio conversation in Toronto, as transcribed by The Brooklyn Game.

“I think they’re gonna go for it. I think from what I understand, from what I’m hearing, they’re pretty aggressive in the trade market. They’re looking for power forwards. I’ve heard them attached to Thaddeus Young. I’ve heard them attached to (Nuggets forward) Kenneth Faried. I’ve heard them attached to (Suns forward) Markieff Morris. They have extra draft picks. I wouldn’t trade that New York Knicks pick unless it was for a blockbuster acquisition, because you can’t protect it, you can’t protect another team’s pick. I would do it if I could put, like, a top-five protection on it. But you can’t do that. You can’t say, allright, we’ll give you two of our picks if it falls in the top five. But they have assets to do it. They have some young players.”.

The Nuggets have tested the market for Faried, and he is available, his energy/glue-guy game would pair well with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Although, if I were Rockets GM Masai Ujiri and I was talking to Denver, the name Danilo Gallinari would come up a lot, more often than Faried. His shooting and pick-and-pop skills would fit with the Raptors guards well.

Young would be a good fit and an upgrade. Morris could be an improvement on the court, and he’s on a reasonable contract, but there are concerns about time he could miss (suspension and maybe jail) for a pending felony assault case with his brother Marcus.  The Raptors also need to ask themselves if they have the right internal structure and locker room leadership to provide the support/guidance teams need if they bring Morris on — something incidents Wednesday night emphasized. But Morris is better than anyone on the Raptors’ roster.

The Raptors have multiple first-round picks coming up they can move, the New York park would have to be included in a Horford deal but not necessarily the others. There are also young players that the team is high on, such as Lucas Nogueira, that could be moved in the right deal.

Raptors fans were angry last season at the deadline when Ujiri didn’t pull the trigger on any deals, but that seemed the right move at the time. The Raptors were a few steps away from the top rung of the East, and the reported deals would not have changed that picture.

This season feels different. Expect a bold move out of Toronto during or after All-Star weekend. Carpe Diem.