2012 NBA All-Star Game

The Inbounds: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and the actualization of scorers

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Does Kobe Bryant need to be more like Dwyane Wade? Or does Dwyane Wade need to be more like Kobe Bryant? Neither? Both? Hungry? Who’s hungry?

The biggest challenge for any player in the NBA is the same one so many children struggle with: how to play with others. Particularly those whose talents are self-mobilized. When you think about it, much of the NBA is centered around essentially de-actualizing human beings.

Self-actualization is a concept used in psychology usually in regards to the maximizing of one’s potential. It features ideas like “autonomy,” “spontanaeity,” “comfort with solitude,” and “peak experiences.” It’s built around the idea of being all that you can be, essentially. But the key there is that it’s you being all that you can be. It’s about lifting your personal potential to the fullest measure, while still being able to live comfortably with other human beings. And part of that is accepting who you are.

So if you’re Dwyane Wade, or Kobe Bryant, or even Tyreke Evans, what is the most self-actualized that you can be as a basketball player? I’d argue that it’s clearly being an independent scorer who’s able to break down the defense and create offense based off your own isolation abilities. In other words, a volume shooter. In other words, a ball hog. We (rightfully) view that approach as negative when we talk about it conceptually. We want our players to be selfless, to make their teammates better, to be the kind of guy who always makes the right play.

At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.

In reality, we reward results. Michael Jordan is lauded for being able to make his teammates so much better, essentially a revisionist history built around the fact that the jump he made starting in 1991 had more to do with efficiency and production as it did with selflessness and “getting it.” Kobe Bryant is put over the flames for the decisions that he makes, but only when they result in a loss. “It’s a make or miss league” extends to the way we view players as well. Bryant hits the game winner (which statistically, he doesn’t do very often), and no one’s going to criticize him for taking the shot, because, well, he made it. You look stupid talking about someone in those terms after he just stepped up and drained a jumpshot in the closing seconds of a professional basketball game that meant the difference in a win and a loss. You just do.

You know the difference between Kobe Bryant and Tyreke Evans in terms of how they play and the role they execute, at this point in their careers? Kobe’s a lot better at it. He’s not a different player than Evans, and while he’s got a lot more under the hood in terms of mental awareness and skills to turn to, they still do essentially the same thing. They have similar assist numbers (though Bryant has a higher assist rate, a more accurate determinant). They don’t always shoot, because that’s going to get you yanked (well, it would have, Bryant could have and often did completely ignore such ideas last season but no one was going to blame him, and also, at this point, it’s Kobe, who’s going to?). But what’s their instinct?

If these players were truly “self-actualized” in terms of their game, they would allowed to simply be autonomous, independent scorers.

Wade’s much the same way. Like Bryant and Evans, Wade is at his best when he’s using a pick to get a poor fool on an island. His best seasons came when the Heat were most reliant on him, dependent on his skills. I’m not saying that Wade, Evans, Bryant aren’t playmakers, they can be and often are. In fact, their teams are often at their best when they filter more of their skills towards playmaking while also using their unique scoring advantage. But if we’re talking about making them into the most they can be, those things are brilliant for them, but not conducive towards winning.

Which is what Wade discovered last year. Wade struggled last year due to injury and age, but he also shifted how he operated in the offense. Just because he wasn’t shooting didn’t mean that he turned into LeBron facilitator. If anything, James’ facilitated Wade the most (James assisted on Wade scores 85 times in the regular season, 33 times in the playoffs, more than double the next closest assist-maker for Wade – by comparison, Wade assisted James the most, but the margin between he and Mario Chalmers was much more narrow). But Wade moved to working off-ball, to working on offensive rebounds, to slashing to draw defenders and give James room. You can say it was because James is the superior player, but even if he wasn’t, Wade would have gone to that approach. Why? Because of that word again: results. It just worked.

Bryant faces a similar situation in Los Angeles this year. You can debate about whether Dwight Howard is a better player than Bryant, or whether Steve Nash is, or whether Pau Gasol is. But that shouldn’t be the determinant in how you approach your offense. It should be based on results. If giving Steve Nash the ball and letting him freelance is the best approach to the team, then that should be the model. If it’s running the pick and roll with Howard, then that’s the model. Equal distribution between Howard and Gasol, Nash and Bryant in the pick and roll, whatever it is, that’s the key. It’s not based off of what your best weapons are, because that doesn’t always work. Otherwise, the Bucks would be better.

It’s unlikely that a system that self-actualizes Bryant is going to be the optimal, is the point. More weapons creates more stresses on the defense, which produces easier mechanisms which produces higher percentage looks and easier shots, which is going to produce more efficiency. This seems like a really complicated way of saying “ball movement and playing as a team is better” which is a stupidly simple concept that’s been reinforced a million times in sports and sports film history. But the modern NBA demands a bit more exploration. Because we’ve specifically seen players self-actualizing their individual, anti-team talents and have great success. The Spurs’ championship offense began and ended with Tim Duncan. Yes, the terrific supporting players and ridiculously good system built by the coaching staff had an impact, but the model was for Tim Duncan to be the star that the Spurs’ universe rotated around. (2007 may be the exception to this, the year Parker rightfully earned Finals MVP status, but it wasn’t as if you could say Duncan wasn’t the focus, just that Parker was simultaneously splitting that role.)

Jordan. Olajuwon. The model of having one guy go bonkers really did work from 1991 (maybe even further if you want to make the argument for Isiah’s Pistons), all the way to 2008. Then the Celtics kicked off this arms race, and here we are.

Think about it. How many times has a team won the title with their point guard the best player, with the facilitator the best player on the floor? We have to go back to either the 2007 Spurs team, and that one is clearly rife with mitigating factors, or to Isiah’s Pistons, dependent upon beating the crap out of the other team. What we’ve seen is self-actualization, letting guys do their thing, works.

But the environment has changed. And it’s less about all the other star-studded teams because those teams aren’t putting up 125 offensive ratings and having three guys score 40 a night. It’s not the talent. The defensive systems have changed, which kick-started the accumulation of talent to override that. But now the defenders are better, because the talent is better. It’s a vicious cycle. And the solution is to get back to the idea of ball movement and of team-actualization.

A key element in actualization is an “efficient perception of reality.” And on the singular level, this is difficult to translate to team success. This is manifested, essentially, as confidence. The “you want guys who aren’t afraid to take that shot?” is built out of their own knowledge that they can make that shot. They may not have an efficient perception of reality, but in that sense, those players are not self-actualized. This is essentially the difference between J.R. Smith and Kobe Bryant. Smith and Bryant both feel they can hit that shot. The difference is that Bryant has been able to. And the slide that’s occurred with Bryant’s standing in the league mirrors his ability to convert just those shots, the pull-up 40-foot three.

But on the team level, the best teams are those that have an efficient perception of reality when it comes to what they do well. The Mavericks in 2011, by example, knew what they did well. The Heat in 2012 discovered this very thing in the playoffs. They stopped trying to force their reality, to be the villains they said they wanted to be in 2011, to be a team that played with a traditional center, a team that resisted everything going through LeBron, and instead accepted reality. He is not just the best player, but the player most capable of creating quality offense.

Bryant may find himself in a similar situation as Wade this year, having to accept coming off screens to shoot, having to be used to spread the floor. It’s a test of what he has always said about himself, that he just wants to win. By his definition, for him to really be self-actualized, he must do whatever leads to victories. In the past, he’s always been able to justify his shooting as in pursuit of that goal, even if it was simply an extension of his own self-actualization as a player. Now he may have to de-actualize his own game to team-actualize and bring the title.

If we consider the hierarchy of needs, he has what he needs, but that’s a subject for tomorrow.

Charles Oakley plans to attend Knicks game in Cleveland

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2011 photo, then-Charlotte Bobcats assistant coach and former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley directs players in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Charlotte, N.C.  Oakley was forcefully removed from his seats at Madison Square Garden and arrested after an altercation near team owner James Dolan. Oakley shoved security guards before they pulled him away from his seat behind the baseline during the first quarter of the Knicks' 119-115 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
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Charles Oakley might not be welcome at Knicks games in New York.

Knicks games in Cleveland? I suspect he’ll get a different reception.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Charles Oakley plans to attend New York’s road game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, the former Knicks player told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

Oakley, a Cleveland native, has grown close with the Cavaliers. LeBron James particularly backed Oakley in his dispute with Knicks owner Jim Dolan.

To be clear, Oakley’s feud is more with Dolan than the Knicks, Oakley’s former team. So, assuming Dolan doesn’t attend tonight’s game, this won’t into the fireworks we saw at the last Knicks game Oakley attended.

It’ll just be a chance for more people outside Dolan’s payroll to embrace Oakley.

Paul George says he was in dark as trade rumors swirled, “thought I would have been in the loop”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 18:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers greets fans prior to practice for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 18, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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If your goal over the next few months is to make your star player happy, build a contender around him, and convince him he wants to be here as a free agent in 2018, the Pacers got off to a rocky start Thursday.

George had been linked to the Celtics, while teams such as Denver and Atlanta made runs at him. It was a swirling vortex of rumors with a lot of “will the Pacers pull the trigger or not” intrigue.

What was it like to be in the middle of that? George wouldn’t exactly know, he was learning of things when we were, and he sounded a little ticked when talking about it to the media Thursday.

Damn.

Those rumors you hear about George going to the Lakers as a free agent in 2018 have some real weight behind them, much of the league thinks that could well happen (2018 is a long way off, but other teams that would like to get in the conversation think that’s PG’s intention).

The Pacers need to change his mind, and it sounds like the first step was in the wrong direction.

Hawks trade Mike Scott to Suns

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Mike Scott #32 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks wanted a stretch four to back up Paul Millsap and likely spend time with Dwight Howard.

Realizing its roster lacked an adequate one, Atlanta traded for Ersan Ilyasova.

The stretch four the Hawks already had — Mike Scott — has barely played this seasonand looked lousy when he has, shooting just 4-for-27 on 3-pointers ((15%).

Hawks release:

The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club has acquired a protected second-round draft pick from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Mike Scott, the draft rights to Cenk Akyol and cash considerations, it was announced today by President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach Mike Budenholzer.

Money was the driving force behind this trade.

The Suns can count Scott’s entire salary ($3,333,334) toward the floor while paying only the prorated portion remaining ($941,177). So, Phoenix saves the difference ($2,392,157) and gets whatever cash Atlanta sent.

Presumably, the Hawks included an amount less than they would’ve had to pay just to waive Scott themselves ($3,333,334).

The Suns can undertake a reclamation project on Scott. Or they could just waive him. The 28-year-old looks pretty wayward.

Phoenix also gets Akyol as another nearly valueless piece. The window for Akyol, the No. 59 pick in 2005, to join the NBA is rapidly closing, if it hasn’t already. He’ll turn 30 in April.

Even in the likely event Scott and Akyol amount to nothing for the Suns, they still get the financial benefits. And so do the Hawks.

Magic Johnson’s Lakers trade for point guard: Tyler Ennis from Rockets

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores on his layup as he is fouled by Tyler Ennis #6 of the Houston Rockets during a 120-114 season opening win at Staples Center on October 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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Has legendary Lakers point guard Magic Johnson found someone to follow in his footsteps?

Almost certainly not.

But, in his second trade with the Rockets since taking over the Lakers’ front office this week, Johnson found a point guard to take a flier on: Tyler Ennis, who was exchanged for Marcelo Huertas.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired guard Tyler Ennis from the Houston Rockets, league sources told The Vertical.

The Lakers sent guard Marcelo Huertas to Houston in exchange for Ennis, sources said. The Rockets will waive Huertas.

Ennis was the No. 18 pick in the 2014 draft. But he has just looked over his head in three NBA seasons with the Suns, Bucks and Rockets. There’s a reason the Lakers got him so cheap. It’s unlikely he’ll stick in the NBA, and D'Angelo Russell is clearly still the franchise point guard.

Still, point guards tend to develop late, and Ennis is just 22. There’s always a chance he’ll rediscover the court vision he displayed at Syracuse.

The Lakers will hope he plays better — just not too much better. Because his fourth-year team-option was declined, they can re-sign him for a starting salary up to just $3,066,713 (what he would’ve earned, with the rookie-scale adjustment under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, if his option had been exercised).

Also in the final guaranteed year of his contract, Huertas is making $233,880 more than Ennis. That’s not much, but if the Rockets were going to waive Ennis anyway — this trade suggests they were — why not save that money?

The 33-year-old Huertas likely drops out of the NBA. He already fell out of the Lakers’ rotation.

And with that spot open and a little extra money to spend — including more from the K.J. McDaniels trade — Houston can be a player in the post-buyout market as it revs up for a playoff run.