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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?

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson suggests Seattle starts a petition to bring back Sonics

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, left, signs autographs for fans during the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Barclays Center, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a dumb idea about the Sonics.

So, he posted it to Twitter:

Yes, because this is how the NBA decides where to place teams.

Seattle’s City Council voted not to sell part of a street to Chris Hansen, essentially blocking a new arena – which is probably for the best. Why build a stadium when you might not even get a team? NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league isn’t expanding anytime soon, and no franchise appears imminent to move.

But a petition could change all that do nothing – except rile up Wilson’s fans, no matter how detached the idea is from reality.

Kyle Lowry, in historic postseason slump, shoots at arena until nearly 1 a.m. (video)

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) and Jonas Valanciunas walks towards the bench during the second half against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Toronto. Miami won, 102-96.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Raptors’ Game 1 loss to the Heat ended at 11 p.m last night.

Kyle Lowry didn’t finish shooting until nearly 1 a.m.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:

Beyond his half-court buzzer beater to force overtime, Lowry scored four points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Lowry, via Arthur:

“I passed up a lot of shots,” Lowry said after a 102-96 loss, cradling a basketball an hour after the game, after going to the team’s practice court to shoot postgame. “I passed up a ton of shots. The poor shooting, I think that’s what it did to me tonight.

“I’m going to hang out here for a little bit and just be in the gym, try to get back to just enjoying it, being in the gym, and having fun . . . I shoot the ball well when I’m by myself, but I’m by myself . . . it’s weird . . . I have (been through slumps like this), but not at this time, and that’s what sucks. Playoffs, all eyes are on you. So it sucks that I’m playing this bad when all eyes are on me, because I know I’m way better than this. So I’ve got to pick this s— up.”

Lowry is being more selective, waiting for only the shots he believes he has the best chance of making. And he’s still missing them at an alarming clip! That’s a major problem.

Unfortunately for him, this game wasn’t an aberration.

Lowry’s field-goal percentage – 30.6 – is the lowest in the playoffs since the NBA-ABA merger (minimum: 100 attempts). His teammate, DeMar DeRozan, isn’t far behind at 33.1%.

Here’s the full “leaderboard:”

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The Raptors came to expect so much from Lowry, who should make an All-NBA team for his regular-season performance.

But this postseason has been a disaster, Lowry’s scoring average fell from 21.2 in the regular season to 13.0 in the playoffs. It’s one of the biggest drops in the league this year:

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Stephen Curry, Lowry, Blake Griffin and DeRozan are the only premier scorers on that list.

Curry has an excuse. He has played just 38 total minutes in two injury-shortened games. Lowry is averaging 39 minutes per game. Likewise, nobody expected Blake Griffin to near his early-season output after injuries and suspension.

And at least DeRozan showed some signs of shaking loose in Game 1 against Miami. No longer hounded by Paul George, DeRozan scored 22 points (albeit on 9-of-22 shooting).

But Lowry has been a colossal disappointment, which speaks to both the high standard he has set for himself and the low marks he’s hitting now.

Maybe he’s banged up. Maybe playoff basketball, where teams can better scout individual players, doesn’t suit him. Maybe he just hit a cold stretch at the worst possible moment.

No matter the cause, it’s difficult to see Toronto advancing with its biggest star struggling so mightily.

Can Lowry fix this?

He’s at least putting in the time.

Report: Larry Bird still hasn’t told Frank Vogel about his future with Pacers

Larry Bird, Frank Vogel
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Addressing coach Frank Vogel on Monday, Pacers president Larry Bird said: “What I don’t want to do is leave Frank hanging — there’s other jobs out there he could get.”

Two days later, Vogel is still left hanging.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

If Bird’s statement isn’t the kiss of death, I don’t know what is.

Vogel is a good coach, and based on what we can see from the outside, the Pacers should keep him. But if Bird is waiting this long to give Vogel a new contract, that’s probably a telltale sign.

I doubt this lasts past tomorrow. Bird won’t want to get grilled about Vogel’s job status then do it all over again once he makes a decision. And at face value, Bird has the decency to end this saga before Vogel misses on the Rockets job (which I think would be an excellent fit) or any other.

Warriors GM Bob Myers: Stephen Curry doesn’t know when he’ll return, nobody does

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, center left, sits on the bench during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Stephen Curry said there’s a “pretty good” chance he plays in Game 3 Saturday.

The bad news: Warriors general manager Bob Myers says Curry isn’t qualified to make a definitive statement.

Myers on 95.7 The Game, as transcribed by Diamond Leung of The Mercury News:

“I know everybody wants to know is it going to be Saturday, is it going to be Monday? It’s in that range, but it’s hard to say. But those games (3 and 4) are so close together.

“I don’t know if he’s coming back (ahead of the two-week timetable),” Myers said. “Nobody knows. He doesn’t know. He thinks he is, but that’s good.”

The good news: Myers puts Curry on a similar timetable. With Golden State leading the Trail Blazers 2-0, it probably doesn’t matter whether Curry returns Saturday, Monday or next Wednesday for Game 5.

As long as he’s healthy enough to stave off a potential Portland comeback and produce in the conference finals, the Warriors can’t ask for more.