The first thing you should know about the +/- stat is that is says as much about the person who replaces a player as it does the player himself.
Which makes sense when you look at a fantastic bit of work by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, a list of the NBA’s biggest difference makers — a statistical list of players whose teams have the most offensive drop off when they leave the court. It’s not just that these players are having good years, it’s that the guy replacing them is a huge step down. Like Kobe Bryant to Jodie Meeks down (hence Kobe makes Schuhmann’s list).
But the biggest drop off is in Portland — the Blazers offense is 13.3 points per 100 possessions better when Damian Lillard is on the floor, the highest number in the league. Fourth highest is LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers are 12.4 points per 100 better when he is on the floor. Schuhmann explains:
Breaking news: The Portland Trail Blazers have an awful, awful bench. Their starting lineup is good offensively, but not great, scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions. They have lineups with three or four starters on the floor that are better. But they have no suitable back-ups for either Lillard or Aldridge. When both have been off the floor (just 127 minutes), Portland has scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions.
What they needed were guys like Jamal Crawford, except he’s with the Clippers and playing well after a terrible season last year in Portland. Same with Raymond Felton. It is maddening to Blazers fans to watch them succeed elsewhere this season.
Portland is building a team, right now they are a fringe playoff team (at 16-15 they are the eight seed as you reed this) but they are a long way from where they want to be. They have good players like Nicolas Batum and the energized J.J. Hickson, but they are a long way from competing with the best in the West. It’s a process. One that includes building a bench (if you don’t think the bench matters watch a Clippers game).
But with Lillard and Aldridge the Blazers have cornerstone guys to build around. They just have a lot of building to do, and the numbers show it.
LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.
Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”
Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.
Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.
On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.
LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.
While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.
Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.
The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.
The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.
But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.
In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.
The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.
Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.
Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.
And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.