On Marcus Thornton and the messages sent in free agency

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There’s no use in denying it: free agency in the NBA is kind of a blast, and particularly so when the entire period is condensed into a few hyper-active weeks of player movement. But beyond the surface-level intrigue of roster shuffling is a pretty clear demonstration of league-wide values. Free agency gives general managers the opportunity to bid for players in a restricted market, and thus offers a decent indication of what it is that professional basketball franchises value. Every dollar spent sends a message, as the wide variety of available players forces teams to prioritize their spending based on need and skill valuation.

Obviously, there’s some degree of difference in that regard from team to team and from GM to GM. All franchises are certainly willing to pay big for elite production — or even the potential for elite production. Size, too, has historically provided powerful motivation for owners to open their wallets, largely in the hope that an available center might be able to provide post scoring, rebounding, and interior defense. But beyond those two angles, NBA teams diverge rather strongly in the skills they choose to prioritize, with shot creation as a particularly notable point of contention.

The emphasis placed on shot creation in the NBA is understandable; offense decides the fate of teams on the most basic of levels, and every NBA club has use for another player who can help them outscore their opponent. But the oversimplification of shot creation on a conceptual level is where NBA teams get themselves into trouble. Players who can hit a difficult jumper off the dribble aren’t necessarily worthy of a lucrative contract, and neither are players who are able to generate 20 points per game with significant collateral damage.

Due to the nature of the market, all teams pay for shot creation. But good teams, to great benefit, pay for efficient shot creation.

The determination of a shot creator’s value shouldn’t rely on how many points he scores, but how his production relates to his shooting percentages, shot selection, and turnover rate. Players who grade out well in that regard are worthy of a substantial paycheck, just one reason among many why contracts like the four-year, $31 million deal Marcus Thornton received from the Sacramento Kings is perfectly sensible.

Thornton was an elite scorer for Sacramento last season, but moreover, his 21.3 points per game came on just 17.5 field goal attempts with a single-digit turnover rate. His gaudy scoring contributions come at a perfectly reasonable usage cost, and he’s able to thrive while either creating with the ball in his hands or working without it. He’s also a fair bit more versatile than his scoring-focused reputation gives him credit for; while defense remains an, ahem, area for improvement with Thornton, he’s able to initiate offense in a pinch and does a decent job of setting up his teammates. It’s true that the Kings may have paid a bit more for their own restricted free agent than they had to, but an efficient, highly productive, 24-year-old wing scorer is certainly worth a deal in the vicinity* of the one he received.

*Plus, as noted by Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty, the potential savings from a mythical “better deal” would likely be marginal. Even if the Kings had bided their time and waited for Thornton to sign an offer sheet with another team, how much would they really be saving here?

As a rebuilding team below the league’s salary floor, Sacramento was essentially forced to spend money in free agency. They had to invest in someone, and though the Kings may not have the best track record overall (remember that time they traded Beno Udrih for John Salmons and moved down in the draft in one fell swoop?), President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie capitalized on the team’s situation by signing a useful defensive big and bringing back a prolific, efficient scoring threat. Neither move will usher in a new era or revamp the franchise, but both deals subtly speak to Petrie’s — and the Kings’ — appropriately allocated priorities.

“Tired” Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest. Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.