The Inbounds: The NBA Hierarchy of Needs Part II, the Basketball Collective and success


In Part 1, we talked about the individual’s needs in order to play at the highest level they can, those transcendent performances that defy logic and make us love the game. But a player reaching a status as self-actualized doesn’t just sometimes fail to lead to victories, it often times does. The ability to play at the highest level you personally can doesn’t always mean it’s going to lead to the most team success. That lesson is maybe the hardest for star players to accept, because if you’re self-actualized, you feel like you’ve given the absolute most you can. You just scored 50 points. What more does anyone want from you? But it’s not even about the individual game, it’s about the season, the larger sample, it’s about the whole record.

So how do you translate those things? We talked on Monday about how star players have to actually de-actualize themselves in order to make the entire team better, specifically pointing out how Kobe Bryant may have to emulate what Dwyane Wade did with the Heat now that he has Steve Nash and Dwight Howard on board. But what’s the framework for a team success? Why does it need sacrifice? And what actually makes up a team that reaches its potential vs. one that has all the talent and falls apart?

Let’s start with what it needs. In Part 1 we introduced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in the pyramid form, then adjusted it to the individual. Here’s what a team concept looks like using the same model.



We’ll breeze through these real quick.

Physiological: Well, if you’re not actually good at basketball, you can only go so far. Long is the list of teams that genuinely liked each other who didn’t win any games because they were inherently not good enough at playing NBA basketball. You have to have talent and ability if you want to win in this league, and that extends to things like athleticism and size. You can have ten guards as good as any in the league but you’ll still be limited if you don’t have any bigs on the roster, even in a league that’s gone smallball. You also need everyone healthy, obviously, but not just because those players are missing, but because their absence causes the other players to adapt to roles win which they’re not best-suited. The Heat are the obvious counter-example to this, but in reality, the injury to Chis Bosh last year helped them understand their team concept much better.

Safety: Teams going through emotional turmoil struggle. We saw it with the Nuggets in 2011 and the Magic in 2012. If there’s a concern about a team being “blown up’ and several players traded, there’s clearly already problems, but it’s also going to make matters worse by affecting the players’ concentration and ability to work together. Players will start working to protect their own interest, or struggling out of a sense of distraction due to the concerns. These effects aren’t obvious, but subtle yet impactful.

Love/Belonging: Chemistry. That rarified concept that is talked about so much. You need the players to enjoy hanging out with one another, or at least be modeled around a central identity. Whether it’s “all business” or the fun and happy-go-lucky Thunder, you need to know who you are and have everyone buy-in. The players at the end-of-the-bench aren’t as important as the role players, who aren’t as important as the stars, but you need the majority to enjoy being there. It’s like any work environment. If you’re unhappy, then time with your coworkers will be less productive and more prone to challenges throughout the course of the day. You want people to feel like they can succeed there, but more importantly to buy into the idea that the team concept is worth believing in.

The 2011 Mavericks are a great example of this. If you talked to the players, they honestly believed that having the veterans that they did gave them an advantage over opponents. Their entire attitude was one built around the strength of their team’s identity. And while Dirk Nowitzki was the sun and moon for them, Shawn Marion talked about getting in Nowitzki’s face in the playoffs and telling him to go to the rim. The team was reliant upon itself, not its individual accomplishments or abilities.

Similarly, the Heat found a similar identity in “create havoc defensively with our athleticism, then run like hell.” That model really became something their team bought into, not just from a tactical perspective, but for a team concept. And that’s pretty impressive for a team with that kind of starpower. They liked playing together, more than they did in 2011, and the success came with it.

Esteem: This is as simple as having the belief that you are better than your opponent and can beat him. You can believe in what you do and love the guys you’re playing with, but without that experience and confidence, you’re the 2010 Thunder.

How many times have we seen a young team come up short because they looked shellshocked. Teams have to believe without a doubt that they can win. Otherwise you’re hoping for a statistical outlier, and no one feels comfortable when they’re thinking of the odds stacked against them.

Team-Actualization: The best example of this? 

A team that didn’t have players who self-actualized, because they were ravaged by injury. Instead, the team believed in what it did, sacrificed to create opportunities for the entire roster on the floor, and won a ton of games.

There has to be a balance between self-actualization and team-actualization, though. You need those moments in the playoffs where one guy takes over. That’s why the Rockets fell to the Lakers in that series after Yao Ming went down. It’s why the Nuggets lost in seven to the Lakers last year despite a much stronger team concept. You have to have those players to lift you over.

So while Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade may have to adjust their games to make their squads better, moving off-ball and maximizing their individual abilities inside of the team’s offense, there will still be times for them to take over.

As with anything, it’s a matter of balance.

Three Things to Know: Nothing but takeaways from Cavaliers beating Raptors

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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. Today we’re doing things a little differently, despite some other interesting games — Dwight Howard dropping 30-and-30, the genuine concern about Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ankle, and the Pelicans beating the Pacers because Anthony Davis is ridiculous — we are going to focus on the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup of Toronto at Cleveland, which the Cavaliers won 132-129.

What we are not taking away from this is a prediction of a playoff matchup between these two teams. Forget the fact that regular season meetings are crappy predictors of playoff series in general, here are three other issues: 1) Toronto was on the second night of a back-to-back and it was their fifth game in seven days, which factored into their poor defense and late fade; 2) Cleveland is going to be healthier and have different guys in the rotation come the playoffs; 3) If Dwane Casey or Larry Drew/Tyronn Lue have a tactic they think could be a great weapon against the other side, no chance they break it out for long in a late-season game — they will save it for the playoffs. Sort of like to NFL teams playing each other in week 16 when they know they could meet in the playoffs. We didn’t see the best of either side.

That said, let’s get on to the real three things.

1) The biggest factor in the Eastern Conference remains LeBron James and his level of play. There are questions about how well the new-look Raptors will carry over to the playoffs. There are more questions (at least in my mind) about how well this Cavaliers roster can defend, even when healthy. All that said, this game was a reminder of one simple fact:

LeBron James can lift a team to the NBA Finals almost by himself — he’s been to seven straight Finals for a reason. He is the force of nature, he’s still playing at an MVP-level (at age 33 in his 15th season), and he took over this game with 35 points, 17 assists, and zero turnovers.

LeBron shot 62 percent from three on the night, had 14 points and 5 assists in the fourth quarter alone, and was the difference in this game. OG Anunoby is the guy the Raptors will likely lean on in the playoffs to make LeBron work for his buckets, but he looked like a guys still working his way back from injury (and like a rookie with tired legs late in the season), it was Pascal Siakam who did the best of any Raptor (LeBron was 4-of-10 with Siakam guarding him on the night). That’s something we would see in the postseason, but nobody really had an impact, and the Raptors need to figure out how to make LeBron work harder for his buckets.

Put simply, the Eastern Conference is all about LeBron James. Still. And it will remain so until further notice.

2) Which one of these teams will defend better come the playoffs? The Cleveland Cavaliers gave up 79 first half points and allowed the Raptors a 135.8 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions). Kyle Lowry put it this way after the game, “Disgraceful display of defense by us. We’ve got to be better than that.” The Cavaliers had an offensive rating of 140.4 (stats via Cleaning the Glass).

Neither team defended well. If this was an Eastern Conference playoff preview, the team that improves their defense the most between now and then will come out on top.

Toronto has defended better all season — they are fifth in the NBA in defensive rating — but it didn’t show Wednesday. Maybe it was the back-to-back, fifth-game-in-seven-days that took their legs out from under them, particularly for the older Serge Ibaka who had an off night on both ends. (Tired legs also would explain the lack of transition points by the Raptors on the night, they needed those easy buckets). Maybe it’s the fact nobody has a good answer for LeBron. Maybe a lot of things, but the Raptors need to do better defensively in a playoff series or the outcome will be the same.

The Cavaliers lack cohesion on defense, and while they will get better defenders back from injury — Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. — that is not going to speed up the team getting used to each other on that end. Cleveland has to have better energy, they need to close out on shooters better (the Raptors got open looks late on kickouts, they missed injured C.J. Miles), and they just need more efforts like veteran Jose Calderon gave (it was a good night for him). Cleveland has time to get its defenders on the same page, but not a lot of it.

3) Is Toronto’s bench going to matter as much in the playoffs? Toronto’s bench unit has been key to their success all season — the Raptors took a double-digit lead in the second quarter thanks to their bench (who has done that to teams all season long). The Raptors lineup of Jakab Poeltl, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright was +6 in 10 minutes Wednesday. The Lowry plus bench unit has killed teams all season long.

Will it matter in the playoffs?

Right now coaches are going nine or 10 deep in their rotations, and the Raptors depth matters in that situation — their bench can beat your bench. It happened against the Cavaliers. However, come the playoffs the minutes that went to guys nine and 10 in the rotation go to guys one and two — the bench tightens way up and the best players get more minutes. A deep bench doesn’t have the same impact.

What that bench will provide Casey in the playoffs is options — if Anunoby is struggling against LeBron bring in Siakam — but it’s not the same as the regular season. I love that in big games recently against the Thunder and Cavaliers Casey is still playing around with his lineups for stretches — now is the time to experiment. Now is the time to get guys used to playing with each other. That way, come the playoffs, Casey can throw the combination out there that he thinks works and there will be familiarity.

But the Raptors will need more from their starters in the playoffs, because the bench will not have the same impact.

Dwight Howard posts just second 30-30 game in last 36 years

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Dwight Howard never played for the Nets. He almost got traded to Brooklyn by the Magic, but the deal never happened.

Which puts a dent in Dennis Schroder‘s theory Howard gets up for games against only his former teams.

Howard dominated Brooklyn for 32 points and 30 rebounds in the Hornets’ 111-105 win tonight. That’s just the second 30-30 game in the last 36 years, Kevin Love notching the other in 2010.

All 30-30 games since Wilt Chamberlain, who had a ton:

  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets, 3/21/2018): 32 points, 30 rebounds
  • Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, 11/12/2010): 31 points, 31 rebounds
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 2/11/1982): 38 points, 32 rebounds
  • Swen Nater (Milwaukee Bucks, 12/19/1976): 30 points, 33 rebounds
  • Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 11/17/1973): 43 points, 32 rebounds

Howard helped Charlotte erase a 23-point second-half deficit and a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. The Hornets are playing out a lost season, and Brooklyn has looked overmatched most of the year, particularly at center. But no matter the situation, Howard says he still feels super-sized expectations.

Tonight, he exceeded them by leaps and bounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Bucks’ loss to Clippers with ankle injury (video)

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The Bucks lost, 127-120, to the Clippers tonight.

More importantly, Milwaukee lost Antetokounmpo to an ankle injury.

He limped off in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Bucks called it a sprain.

Any more time Antetokounmpo misses would be a huge loss. Hopefully, he recovers quickly.

No matter how many other good players – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee has put on the floor, the team has struggled without its star. Antetokounmpo is a commanding force offensively who just does so much, and his defense impresses.

The Bucks (37-34) are eighth in the East. They’re safely in playoff position, five games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons. But this hurts Milwaukee’s chances of avoiding a first-round matchup with the excellent Raptors – though the way Toronto has regressed in the playoffs in previous years, that might not be so bad. Still, the Bucks should probably chase the seventh-place Heat, who are up 1.5 games on Milwaukee, and a likely first-round matchup with the injury-ravaged Celtics.

Obviously, a healthy Antetokounmpo would be central to that pursuit.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win


The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.