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On the NBA’s perpetually underpaid non-scorers

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It doesn’t take too much game-watching acumen to follow the ball as it goes through the hoop and praise the shooter who put it there, but there’s a certain concentration that’s required in following the game’s off-ball action. The gravitational pull of a basketball is undeniable; the most amazing things on the court happen in the immediate area surrounding that sphere, and the eyes of most every observer of the game trace its movements through crossovers, jumpers, and even more complex sleight-of-hand trickery.

Yet what goes on away from the ball, while not quite as amazing, is crucial for the implementation of actual basketball strategy. The best NBA defense are sophisticated machines, and the most fluid offenses require all kinds of movement and screening to create a single open shot. Each of these actions and skills are valuable in their creations; scorers are obviously required to win games, but having players capable of setting quick, effective screens, snatching up offensive rebounds, or slashing to the bucket to draw a defense’s attention are also incredibly valuable. The age of accessible internet video (and in particular, the incredible utility of services like Synergy Sports Technology) has made certain elements of the NBA game easier to appreciate and analyze than ever. We’re gradually moving away from a world that judges player worth in points per game in part because of all the information and footage that’s available on a wide scale, but it’s worth considering if the salary structure of the NBA will ever truly allow for skills that aren’t quantified in the traditional box score to be valued appropriately.

Obviously not every owner and general manager in the entire league puts the same weight on the same skills, but box score statistics remain the simplest way to determine a player’s direct impact on the floor. It makes sense that players who grab oodles of rebounds or dish out a ton of assists would be paid accordingly. But why not players who defend the pick and roll expertly or lock up the opponent’s best scorer? The smartest NBA clubs in the room keep track of all kinds of quantifiable skills that don’t show up in the public sphere — ranging from things like deflections to merely making a smart read on a play — so it’s not like we’re dealing with abstractions here. The numbers are at their fingertips, and yet non-scorers continue to grab reasonable salaries, but ones dwarfed by those capable of scoring 15 points per game.

The simple reason? The economics of the NBA dictate that some players have to get a short end of the stick, and though the collective logic of the league favors unconventional talent more than ever, the baseline perception still puts money in the hands of scorers. That means that non-box score contributions like defense, while essential, can be bought on the cheap while the Corey Maggettes of the world regularly rake in eight-figure salaries. The owners of the league are indeed speaking with their wallets; every team needs scorers, and that simple desire to put points on the board has led some scorers to pull more of their team’s resources than their contributions actually suggest they should. Yet under the shade provided by lofty salaries afforded to those scorers, the smartest NBA GMs and owners make a killing by exploiting the current market dynamic. Skills that show up indirectly in the box score or fail to at all are still essential for team success, and those with the means — be they statistical or merely observational — to most accurately assess those skills are usually the ones scooping up valuable contributors on the cheap.

The precedent has been set that scoring gets players paid, and reversing that trend is more complex than simply increasing awareness of the value of non-scoring contributions. This is true primarily because those best positioned to shell out money to deserving non-scoring players are encouraged to play the free agency game by its current rules. After all, why should the owners and managers who embrace a holistic understanding of the game pay any more than the market dictates they have to? So long as capable non-scorers remain underpaid, they’ll fill up less of a team’s cap space while largely being courted by only those in the know. There are real contributors in the league who simply produce in ways not accurately measured by the box score — and not encapsulated by trope tags like “championship experience.” By reinforcing the current NBA values, savvy execs are able to find said contributors in the bargain bin. Fair or not, the current system provides a notable advantage for those willing to dig in to the minutiae of the game, and one that would be surrendered if those same owners made an honest attempt to balance the pay scale for non-scoring skills.

The NBA market is stilted, but what empowered owner or manager would seek to establish equilibrium?

Gordon Hayward scores 30 points as Jazz beat Wizards 102-92

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WASHINGTON (AP) Gordon Hayward scored 30 points, Rudy Gobert added 15 points and 20 rebounds, and the Utah Jazz beat the Washington Wizards 102-92 on Sunday for their third straight victory.

Northwest Division-leading Utah led by as many as 24 points before Washington got within six with just over 2 minutes left. Hayward hit a pair of jumpers to seal the win.

George Hill added 21 points for Utah.

Washington, the Southeast Division leader, has lost two in a row for the first time since early January. John Wall led the Wizards with 23 points and 11 assists. Bradley Beal, who was scoreless in the first half, added 22 points.

Utah converted 23 of 32 free throws, while Washington made 10 of 13. The Jazz outrebounded the Wizards 52-27.

Utah led 49-39 at halftime and opened a 62-43 lead with 6:48 left in the third quarter on Derrick Favors‘ dunk off a feed from Gobert, necessitating Wizards coach Scott Brooks’ second timeout of the quarter.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Hill soon increased the lead to 24.

Bojan Bogdanovic‘s 33-footer capped a 14-3 Wizards run to end the quarter and Utah’s lead was 73-60 to start the fourth.

Washington trailed by 16 when Wall hit a 3 and Beal followed with five quick points to make it 93-85 with 3:11 remaining. Bogdanovic’s two free throws cut the deficit to six at the 2:01 mark, but Hayward sandwiched a 3-pointer and a long 2 around a Washington turnover to stall the rally.

The Jazz shot 50 percent from the field and hit 13 of 18 free throws in the first half to build a 10-point lead.

The margin could have been bigger but Utah turned the ball over 14 times, leading to 15 Washington points. The Wizards shot 36.7 percent (18 of 49) and made their only free throw attempt.

After scoring 40 points in his previous game, Beal went to the bench with 5:08 left in the first half with three fouls and no points.

TIP-INS:

Jazz: Gobert was fined $25,000 for making physical contact with an official in the third quarter of Utah’s 109-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. . Rodney Hood, who had three points Friday night in his return after missing seven games with a bone contusion in his knee, had nine points in the first quarter. . It was Utah’s first win in Washington since Nov. 17, 2012.

Wizards: The 39 points were the team’s lowest first-half total of the season. . Washington had reached 100 points in 23 straight games. . It was Wall’s 37th double-double of the season. . Bogdanovic, in his second game with Washington, scored 15 points. . Washington last lost two in a row on Jan. 2-3 in back-to-back road games at Houston and Dallas.

UP NEXT

Jazz: Travel to Oklahoma City on Tuesday for the finale of a three-game road trip.

Wizards: Host the Warriors on Tuesday night.

Kawhi Leonard scores 25, leads Spurs to 119-98 rout of Lakers

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MAY 2: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts after a defensive stop against the Oklahoma City Thunder during game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 2, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles’ first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise’s basketball operations.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.

Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.

Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers’ dismal season still hasn’t changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.

Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season.

One more defeat will clinch the Lakers’ longest stretch of losing seasons since 1961, the former Minneapolis Lakers’ first year on the West Coast.

Jordan Clarkson scored 19 points and D'Angelo Russell had 18 for the Lakers, who have lost their first two games since Buss dismissed general manager Mitch Kupchak and her brother, Jim.

Johnson made no pregame speech to the Staples Center fans who have watched the worst four years in franchise history. Jeanie Buss watched the game from her usual spot in the second row, while Kupchak’s normal seats were empty.

SPURRED ON

The Spurs have won eight straight over the Lakers, surpassing their 2004-06 run for their longest winning streak in the series between these longtime Western Conference rivals. San Antonio also has beaten the Lakers seven straight times at Staples Center.

Leonard, who grew up 60 miles east of Staples Center in Moreno Valley, scored 19 points in the first half while the Spurs streaked to a 21-point lead.

AFTER LOU

In the Lakers’ first home game since trading leading scorer Lou Williams to Houston for a draft pick, Clarkson excelled off the bench in Williams’ usual spot as the second unit’s offensive fuel. Brewer scored five points in his first home game, while Ennis played eight minutes and hit a late 3-pointer in his Lakers debut.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Gasol played 20 minutes in his second game back from a 15-game absence with a broken left hand. Gasol, who won two NBA titles in Los Angeles, got a warm ovation from Lakers fans. … USC product Dewayne Dedmon had 11 points and nine rebounds. The Spurs’ unlikely starting big man is another product of LA’s far-flung suburbs, growing up in Lancaster.

Lakers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received a standing ovation at halftime when the Lakers honored him for his social activism. … The game was just the Lakers’ second home game in February and their third home game in five weeks. After playing eight of their previous 10 on the road, they began a four-game homestand.

UP NEXT

Spurs: Host Pacers on Wednesday.

Lakers: Host Hornets on Tuesday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 28, Bucks beat Suns 100-96

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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MILWAUKEE (AP) Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points, Tony Snell made a clinching 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Phoenix Suns, 100-96 on Sunday.

Michael Beasley added 17 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 15 as the Bucks swept the two-game season series with the Suns. Greg Monroe finished with 14 points and Snell had 13.

TJ Warren led the Suns with 23 points. Alan Williams scored a career-high 17 points and tied his season high with 15 rebounds, while Devin Booker added 15 points and Eric Bledsoe had 11.

Clinging to a one-point lead, the Bucks came out of timeout with Monroe inbounding the ball to Antetokounmpo. He dribbled the clock down before passing to Brogdon, who whipped the ball to Snell in the corner. Snell hit a 3 with a defender flying at him.

Watch Pistons C Andre Drummond blow a fancy breakaway dunk (VIDEO)

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Andre Drummond had a breakaway on Sunday against the Boston Celtics. Fans in Detroit should have been in for a treat from their franchise center — a former NBA Dunk Contest participant — but instead they got something worth of Shaqtin’ A Fool.

Unfortunately for Drummond, the result of the one man fastbreak was a blown dunk, a ball that went sky high, and a sheepish look from the Pistons center.

Bummer.