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.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.