The Inbounds: The NBA Hierarchy of Needs Part I, the Star-Builder


Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

The following is a work of theory and more of a thought exercise than anything else. It’s not based on clinical research, nor is it meant to reveal some sort of deeply hidden truth about the game. It’s just an exposition on ideas meant to give you something to think about on a Wednesday with training camp still 18 days a way. Don’t take it too seriously. (But you can take it a little seriously.)

On Monday, we talked about self-actualization and volume scorers, within the framework of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. I wanted to extend upon that a bit by talking about something that came out of the work published on self-actualization, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Quick and dirty: Abraham Maslow talked a lot about self-actualization, which is the development of that old cliche “be all that you can be.” It’s about maximizing your potential, basically. To get there, Maslow talked about needs. You weren’t ever going to be able to fulfill your greatest potential as a person if you were constantly worrying about where your next meal came from, or when your job was going to leave you homeless (wondering where your next meal came from) or if you were always having personal problems (which could lead to you losing your job and wondering where your next meal was going to come from). At some point, someone took Maslow’s research and plopped it into a pyramid. Voila:


I know, I know, you want basketball, not psychology. I’m getting there.

If we’re talking about players, we usually evaluate them based on one of three criteria: production, performance, or earning potential. Production is simply, what you do on the court. Modern basketball evaluation leans heavily on this in the metrics sense. Does he score, rebound, assist, steal, block, and defend? A more simple manner of production is “does he produce wins?” (#CountTheRings). Performance is how we view him, and his stylistic approach. Is his game fun to watch? Does he seem great at what he does? Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan are kind of the bookends on this. Iverson looked awesome at what he did, but wasn’t efficient, and didn’t produce a lot of wins, compared to a lot of the superstars we identify. Duncan, on the other hand, wins, rebounds, scores, blocks, can pass, and is an excellent defender, plus, you know, he won a ton of rings. Kobe Bryant is some sort of weird balancing Cheshire Cat on this parallel, where you can argue that he doesn’t have the production in a game, but his team won, or you can argue that he had his production, but the team didn’t win, either because of how bad his teammates were or because of how he was unable to make his teammates better. The truth on those is usually one, the other, or both, and there’s no way to tell which.

Earning potential is just the ability to translate those talents to dollars. Agents really like evaluating players on this scale.

Getting back to self-actualization, we can kind of see the formula for how the above hierarchy of needs leads to both it, and what I referred to on Monday as “team-actualization” which is a team reaching its maximum potential. Let’s look at it on the individual level first. If you want a player to self-actualize, or if the player himself wants to become self-actualized, that is, capable of those moments where he just absolutely takes over a game (I refer to these moments as “going Nova”), then he’s also got to be in a position to build up to where he’s capable of that. If the elements which make up his ability to get there are not in place, then it’s very unlikely that he’ll be able to, consistently. (There will always be outliers, i.e. “the Flu Game,” but we’ll get there.)



So this is pretty self-explanatory, but we’ll go through it just in case. It’s a bottom-up structure, so you need the lower level to sustain the ones above it, else the entire thing collapses in and then you’re a draft bust.

Physiological: Kind of hard to reach your potential if you have an injury. We see this often in the form of “he’s bothered by a(n injury).” But it also has to do with conditioning. You’re not going to be able to take the game over if you’re not in shape. Not to the best of your ability. Shaquille O’Neal stands as the biggest exception to this rule, but even then, his best moments were when he was in shape and the further he got from that, the more difficult it became. Paul Pierce routinely struggles in the early-goings of a season, because he tends to wait to get his conditioning right. But it also has to do with why players wear the shooting sleeves and tights to keep their arms warm. You have to be physically able to perform the functions at the strongest level you can.

The Flu Game, Rondo’s One-Arm Series and other moments of great physical accomplishment in the face of injury or illness seem to stand against this idea, but it’s because all of the above elements are in place for him to overcome that singular detriment. Also, there are exceptions. It’s basketball. It happens.

Safety: If a player feels he’s going to be traded, that causes anxiety which can affect a player’s ability concentration and thereby his game. If he’s playing for his contract life, he’s likely going to try really hard, but that doesn’t always translate to success, because you have to pace yourself and be in rhythm, which is hard at 120 mph. If you’re having problems with your coach and worried you’re going to lose minutes because he prefers another player, you’re in the same situation. Now, this doesn’t mean that a player can’t hit that top level if he’s in trade rumors. That happens all the time. But it’s typically a player who has the confidence (a higher level need that has been established previously by the lower needs being met) to know that even if he’s traded, he’s still going to be fine, still going to be a star, still going to have the job and life he wants.

Love/Belonging: It’s really hard for you to contribute to the best of your ability if your teammates hate you and won’t give you the ball, if your coach hates you and won’t call plays for you, and if you’re getting booed by the homecrowd just for existing. You can do it. But it’s going to be pretty hard to reach the maximum level of production. Think of it this way. Look at how good DeMarcus Cousins is right now. Now imagine if his coaches and teammates didn’t think he was a gigantic pain in the ass. As we get higher, you’ll notice the ability for guys to rise above a detriment to these needs. For example, do players really care if the media writes something harsh about them? They’ll say they don’t all the live-long day. But if you talk to a beatwriter who’s done this for more than a few years, you’re going to find that they’ve had players upset with what they’ve written. They don’t all care. But some do. And many care what the fans think. Dwight Howard’s apologies to the media and fans for the circus over the past year is a good indicator of that.

This also extends to a player’s personal life. If he’s having problems with his family or loved ones, that can spill out and distract a player.

Esteem: You have to believe you’re going to make it. There’s a reason shooting coaches emphasize visualizing making the shot. Confidence is talked about so often as such a crucial element, because it’s the biggest barrier between a player who has all the tools, but can’t put it together, and a star. Even if he’s just a roleplayer at best, he has to be confident that he can box out his man, help on the defensive rotation, hit that spot-up three. We’ve seen players get traded and suddenly detonate under new coaches, and this is in part because of how they’re coached, but also because they develop a sense of confidence in their new environments.

If Kobe Bryant (or Dwyane Wade) miss 20 out of their 25 shots on any given night, the next night they’re still going to put up 18-25 shots. Because they believe 100 percent that they will, not that they can, that they will make it.

Competitive spirit plays a part in this, too, the ability to reach a mindset of being driven to beat the other team. It’s hard to drop 40 on a team if you don’t really care about winning the game or at least about proving that you can. That fire has to be there, which is what makes playoff performances seem so much different.

Confidence can be a bad thing, no doubt. You don’t want J.R. Smith always having that confidence in himself, at least not if you’re George Karl or a Nuggets fan. But that has more to do with the team concept that we’ll talk about later, not the individual.

Self-Actualization: On a player’s level, if you’re still wondering what I’m talking about, here:

Self-actualization as a player doesn’t mean a victory. It doesn’t mean a loss, either. It’s part of the greater make-up and we’ll talk about that in the next post. But what we see from this is a design of what players need to reach their individual utmost potential, and how it translates to some classic psychological theory.

In Part 2, we’ll talk about how teams need to establish the meeting of their needs which often requires the sacrifice of players who have reached that special place of self-actualization, and like it.

NBA, referees argue on Twitter

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As tension rises, players and coaches are taking it out on the officials. The NBA releases daily two-minute reports assessing calls late in close games. The referees’ union keeps complaining about that practice.

It all boiled over to a rare show of the league publicly calling a National Basketball Referees Association claim “not accurate:”

The NBRA is doing its members no favors with all these attempts to defend the process behind incorrect calls. People want correct calls and calls that favor their team. There’s nothing referees can do about the latter. They should focus on the former.

The inbound took longer than five seconds. It should have been a violation. The end.

Want to curry favor? Advocate for the NBA adopting the technology necessary to get these calls right. There’s no reason, in the year 2018, five-second calls should be determined by a referee tracking time with arm waves while watching for other calls. Nobody expects refs to count out the shot clock. Other timed calls – including three-second violations – should be handled with digital timers.

Instead, the referees union picks these lame public fights. The league’s response only increases the off-putting pettiness all around.

Nobody wants to root for referees. This is not going to turn mass opinion.

Watch Justin Timberlake drain half-court shot, a couple of three pointers

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Justin Timberlake is filthy.

At least in this NBA video he is.

Maybe the world’s biggest performer right now — and part owner of the Memphis Grizzlies — swung by the Washington Wizards practice facility and drained a few shots like it was nothing. The man can’t stop the feeling.

We see you, JT 👀 (repost @justintimberlake & @washwizards)

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Three Things to Know: What is with more and more coaches, players ripping referees?

Associated Press

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) As playoffs near and pressure mounts, coach/player release valve is to vent at referees. Sunday we saw the latest in the run of coaches or players ripping NBA officials, leading to questions of just how strained are the relationships between the two sides. The most recent guy to vent was DeMar DeRozan after the Raptors did not get calls down the stretch in a loss to the Thunder at home Sunday.

DeRozan is about to get his second fine of the season for criticizing officials.

Also, in this case DeRozan is right — Corey Brewer absolutely fouled him on a drive to the basket when the Raptors were down two with :30 seconds left in the game. It was a critical missed call by Marc Davis and the crew. Then a frustrated DeRozan got tossed. Then Serge Ibaka got tossed for continuing on the same arguments DeRozan was having. Then Dwane Casey got thrown out for something a fan said behind him because by this point the officials had a case of rabbit ears (the best part of the Casey ejection was OKC’s Brewer laughing and shaking his head at the bad call). The Last Two Minute Report on this should be ugly.

That follows on the heels of Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry venting “you can’t guess on plays.” Which itself was on the heels of Stan Van Gundy venting “we got absolutely screwed all night” after a loss to red-hot Portland. Both of those coaches were fined $15,000 Sunday for their outbursts.

What gives with all the venting at officials?

Welcome to the stressful time of the NBA season. With playoff chases going on and pressure mounting on coaches and players, they need a release valve and so the officials take the brunt of it. Sure, there have been enough tensions between players and referees all season that there was a sparsely attended meeting All-Star weekend between the players and referees unions, but the reality is tension between coaches/players and referees existed when George Mikan was playing and it will exist 25 years from now. Players are trying to gain every advantage, referees are trying to enforce the rules in a fast-paced, hard-to-officiate sport, and the tension is natural. There are peaks and valleys, but it’s always there. It always has been.

Right now, the Raptors feel the pressure that this is their window — with Cleveland and Boston stumbling (and banged up), this year is Toronto’s best shot at a trip to the Finals, and they know it. Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans are in the midst of a fight to make the playoffs. Stan Van Gundy feels the pressure of keeping his jobs (GM and coach) in a league where the buzz is he’s going to lose at least one of those titles. Every game takes on added meaning, the pressure makes everything feel heavy, so guys need to vent and the officials become the target. That doesn’t mean the coach/player is wrong — DeRozan was not, the officials were terrible at the end of Sunday’s game — but that’s not the only reason Toronto lost (Serge Ibaka was bad, Steven Adams pushed the Raptors around inside, and I could go on).

It’s the time of year in the NBA when the referees get an outsized portion of the blame when teams and fans are frustrated with a loss. And that will continue right through the playoffs.

2) By the way, Thunder won and Russell Westbrook has five straight triple-doubles. The mess with the officiating obscured what was an entertaining basketball game Sunday in Toronto.

Oklahoma City was a team that looked on the playoff bubble a couple of weeks ago, but since has rattled off six straight wins. There are three reasons for that. First, their defense is back to being top five in the NBA (it had fallen way off when Andre Roberson went down). Second, Corey Brewer has become the rare buyout signing that actually has a real impact — he has stepped into Roberson’s starting spot and given them three-point shooting and a solid veteran presence on both ends.

The third reason, Russell Westbrook is a beast. He had 37 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds against the Raptors.

For those of you out there who are saying, “See, this loss is why I can’t trust the Raptors in the playoffs,” you’re just wrong. You need some context. This was the Raptors third game in four days, and it had an early (1 p.m. ET) start. At the end of the game, the Raptors just looked tired. If you’ve watched Toronto all season, they have done well in the clutch. They are 22-14 in games within five points in the final five minutes this season. Nothing to see here, move along.

3) West playoff chase update: Thunder, Pelicans, Rockets, Trail Blazers all pick up wins; Timberwolves, Clippers pick up losses. There were some key games in the West playoff chase on Sunday. The Pelicans picked up a quality win against Boston as Anthony Davis went off for 24 points and 11 rebounds. James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists as the Rockets beat the Timberwolves. Finally, Portland had little trouble getting their 13th straight win, knocking off the Clippers.

Sunday’s action means Portland remains the three seed and the Thunder the four seed, and those teams seem to be moving toward locking in those spots. The Pelicans are the six seed, and with a couple of losses in a row now the Timberwolves have fallen back to the eighth and final spot. Still, Minnesota is 1.5 games up on Denver (ninth seed) and 2 games up on the Clippers, who have lost three in a row at the wrong time of the season.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.