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.

Kevin Durant: ‘They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league’

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first quater in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, insisted his decision to give Draymond Green a flagrant 2 rather than suspending him had nothing to do with Green’s star status or the Warriors’ place in league history.

But Kevin Durant doesn’t believe that.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Durant:

They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league on arguably one of the best teams in the history of the game. They’re not going to suspend him. I didn’t even really think about it. I knew the league was going to let him play or fine him or upgrade him to a flagrant 2. We all knew that was going to happen. The league is about business.

Durant will probably get fined for this. Team employees questioning the league’s integrity is at the heart of why the NBA fines people. The league is trying to protect its image, and Durant completely blew that up.

I have no idea whether Durant is right. I can read VanDeWeghe’s mind as much as I can Green’s while he’s extending his foot toward Steven Adams‘ groin. I.e., I can’t. There’s definitely financial interest in extending the Western Conference finals (which the Thunder lead 2-1) keeping the best players on the floor and having bigger markets advance deeper into the playoffs. But there’s also financial interest in people believing the NBA is fair. It’s not always clear how the league balances those sometimes-competing forces.

Here’s what I know: This is getting fun. It was fun when Russell Westbrook was involved in the Green controversy. It’s even better with Durant looping himself in.

7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye staying in NBA draft

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 20:  Mamadou Ndiaye #34 of the UC Irvine Anteaters in action against Mangok Mathiang #12 and Quentin Snider #2 of the Louisville Cardinals during the second round of the 2015 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Key Arena on March 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye declared for the NBA draft without an agent.

And he’s staying in it.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

If Ndiaye makes it to the NBA, he’d be the league’s tallest player since Yao Ming – becoming just the fifth player taller than 7-foot-5 to play in the league. Gheorghe Muresan and Manute Bol were 7-foot-7, and Shawn Bradley and Yao were also 7-foot-6.

But Ndiaye is not a lock even to be drafted, let alone make a roster. He has developed tremendously, but he’s still unrefined offensively – though good luck stopping him when he gets the ball near the basket. Defensively, he protects the rim and is predictably awful in space. Teams have too much shooting to allow him just to camp out in the paint.

Someone could take a flier on him in the second round – especially if he’s willing to delay signing to spend a year in the D-League or overseas.

Going pro is probably a good move for Ndiaye, though. He needs to face taller and more athletic foes than he sees in the Big West.

Cavaliers getting open 3s again, just not making them

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a three point basket in front of the Toronto Raptors bench in the third quarter in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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LeBron James backed down Kyle Lowry on the left block and swung a bullet pass to Matthew Dellavedova in the right corner. As Dellavedova caught the pass, Richard Jefferson screened a closing DeMar DeRozan, ensuring Dellavedova remained open for his 3-point attempt.

Airball.

LeBron tapped the rebound to Channing Frye for a 3-pointer from the top of the key, his spot.

Miss.

After that sequence with about two and a half minutes left, the Cavaliers scored just three more points in their Game 4 loss to the Raptors. The Cavs are again getting the outside looks they desire. They’re just not making them.

Toronto (relatively) shut down Cleveland’s potent long-range attack in Games 1 and 2, holding the Cavaliers to 7-of-20 and 7-of-21 3-point shooting as Cleveland took advantage inside. The Cavs averaged 36 3-point attempts per game in the first two rounds.

But the Cavaliers have adjusted in Games 3 and 4, taking 41 treys in each game. Their 27 and 29 open 3-pointers (defined as the defender being at least four feet away) are right in line with their averages against the Pistons and Hawks and far above the 13 and 15 they produced in Games 1 and 2:

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Cleveland just isn’t making those open 3s.

The Cavaliers shot 34.5% on open 3-pointers in Game 4, a far cry from the 43.6% these made against Detroit and 51.5% they made against Atlanta. It’s even below their regular season mark of 37.8% – which is misleadingly low, considering Channing Frye – a key playoff 3-point shooter – didn’t arrive until a midseason trade.

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There’s a school of thought that 3-point defense is more about limiting attempts than lowering percentage. The Cavs are generating plenty of good attempts. They space the floor and share the ball, getting it to open shooters. LeBron attracts so much attention.

They were probably bound to regress from their hot shooting in the first two rounds. But likewise, they’re better than they appeared in Game 4.

If the Cleveland keeps getting these shots, I’m not convinced Toronto has much control over whether they go in.

The Cavaliers just have to make them.

Report: Goran Dragic pledged to re-sign with Suns before they traded him

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 10:  Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns moves the ball upcourt during the second half of the NBA game against the Houston Rockets at US Airways Center on February 10, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Rockets defeated the Suns 127-118.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With trade rumors swirling, Goran Dragic told the Suns in February 2015 that he wouldn’t re-sign the following summer. Dragic said he no longer trusted Phoenix’s front office.

So, the Suns traded him to Miami.

But did they have to?

Then-Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek apparently got Dragic to change his stance.

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

Within days of Hornacek having a heart-to-heart with Dragic and securing a commitment from the Slovenian point guard to re-sign with the Suns as a free agent the following summer, the Suns shipped him to Miami in a three-team trade, a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports.

This substantially changes how we view that trade. At the time, it seemed the Suns got a tremendous haul for a player they were going to lose anyway. But if they could’ve re-signed him, it changes the equation.

Maybe not enough to say Phoenix erred, though.

Dragic was clearly wavering in his thinking. He later said he regretted his harsh comments about the front office. Just because he told Hornacek he’d re-sign doesn’t mean he was bound to re-sign

And Phoenix got solid return – a top-seven protected 2017 first-rounder that becomes unprotected in 2018 and an unprotected 2021 first-rounder. Picks with so few protections rarely move anymore. The Heat look solid right now, but they’re fairly old. That far into the future, anything can happen – giving those picks great upside.

So, maybe the Suns still made the right move. But maybe just keeping Dragic was more on the table than we previously realized.