Dan Feldman

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 12: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs talks with head coach Gregg Popovich at AT&T Center on March 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Is NBA All-Star voting plagued by voter fraud? (Probably not, but bots are trying)

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Kawhi Leonard was credited with 1,058,399 fan votes in All-Star voting. That, along with strong showing in the coach and media votes, has the Spurs forward starting Sunday’s game.

But did all those votes really come from human beings?

Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

Graphika sifted through more than 5 million tweets on behalf of ESPN and found all sorts of interesting things about NBA All-Star voting, including 10 hyperactive bot accounts voting for Leonard about 1,000 times per day, a figure that Kelly called “outrageously high.”

And of all the ways you could vote, Twitter, in particular, seemed to be hot for Leonard. For players such as Pachulia, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, a typical account that voted for them on Twitter did so about three times. For Leonard, the number was, per Graphika, 6.46, the highest in the league. More starkly, about 39 percent of the tweets attempting to cast for Leonard came from accounts created since Dec 1, 2016.

And those votes were coming from new accounts with names like @kawhibot.

“If your central question is, ‘Do these accounts look fishy?’ — the answer is unequivocally yes,” said Ron J. Williams, founder and managing partner of proofLabs, a Brooklyn-based strategy and product development studio. “It may be some combination of bots and human-controlled accounts, but it certainly looks like a coordinated effort to game Twitter’s trending algorithm.”

There is no sure way to know whether those efforts were successful in registering actual votes. The NBA screens out suspicious-looking votes, but won’t say exactly how.

NBA spokesperson Mike Bass would say only: “We examine for voting irregularities on a consistent basis and monitor for bots and other manipulations. We have measures to detect improper voting, and any votes that do not comply with our rules are voided.”

What’s certain is that someone was trying to get Leonard in the game. When we began to ask experts whom it might be, many suggested asking [Brad] Parscale. A former Spurs season-ticket holder, Parscale directed Trump’s digital efforts during the presidential campaign from a low-slung building along the 410 freeway in northern San Antonio. A Bloomberg report detailed his mastery of the emerging art of exercising digital influence. The technique focused on using more than 100 people to solidify the positions of likely Trump supporters — and sow doubt wherever influential groups of Clinton supporters gathered online.

When asked in January if he was behind the bots voting for Leonard, Parscale wrote in an email, “No, I didn’t even know Kawhi was up for the award. I have been very busy with getting Trump elected.”

Leonard became an All-Star starter by a 691,200-fan-vote margin. It seems practically impossible these bots got him in.

However, maybe the system is vulnerable in ways that could be exploited in future seasons?

I highly recommend reading Holmes’ full article for a sensationally deep dive into the issue.

 

Report: Scan shows Ben Simmons’ foot not fully healed

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The will he/won’t he of Ben Simmons playing this season has taken its wildest turn yet.

The 76ers’ No. 1 pick broke his foot in September and was expected to miss three months. He participated in on-court drills in January, and a follow-up scan later that month came up clean.

But maybe he came back too soon.

 

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The first overall pick in last summer’s draft is scheduled to visit the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York as early as Monday to determine if his right foot is fully healed, according to multiple sources.

Sources said that a foot scan on Jan. 23 showed that his foot was not fully healed.

A source reiterated that Simmons’ foot not being fully healed isn’t a result of the on-court drills in which he participates.

 

How does that even happen?

Bradley Beal on Carmelo Anthony making All-Star game: ‘The process of it does not make sense’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks guards Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards in the first half of their game at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2014 in New York City.  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 Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Anecdotally, the most popular choice to replace an injured Kevin Love in the All-Star game: Bradley Beal.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s actual choice: Carmelo Anthony.

Beal, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“I’ll never say a player doesn’t deserve to be on the all-star team. For one, Carmelo is a great player. Hell, he’s been one of the best offensive threats in the league for years now, and I’m taking absolutely nothing away from him. But the process of it does not make sense. If they reward winning, then I don’t understand how the decision was made,” Beal said Thursday morning. “It was kind of weird to me.”

For previous injury replacements, Silver has said he deferred to next player in the coaches’ reserve voting — though I wonder whether Silver has sometimes just used that point to justify a selection he made for other reasons. Anthony is the biggest name available, which will raise questions, fair or not.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if Anthony was eighth in the coaches’ vote, one spot behind initial reserve selection. He’s an established veteran, and coaches tend to reward those.

Still, Beal is playing better than Anthony, especially lately. Since All-Star reserves were announced, Beal has averaged 24 points per game, shooting 55% from the field and 45% on 3-pointers, and the Wizards have gone 8-1.

Silver should have considered that, even though coaches didn’t have the opportunity.

Then again, maybe he did and still picked Anthony. Maybe Silver just followed the coaches. Maybe he judged based on name recognition. The commissioner can pick All-Star injury replacements however he pleases.

In the absence of a transparent process, whether there’s a private process or not, we’ll get confusion like Beal’s.

Glen Davis: Doc Rivers ‘lucky as hell’ to win 2008 championship with Celtics

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06:  Glen Davis #11 and head coach Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics celebrate near the side line against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 6, 2010 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 Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Glen Davis — who played for Doc Rivers on the Celtics and Clippers — apparently isn’t on the best terms with his former coach.

Davis hasn’t played in the NBA since 2015, in part due to an ankle injury he suffered with the Clippers. And that has him bringing up thoughts on Rivers predating Boston’s 2008 championship.

Davis on In the Zone with Chris Broussardas transcribed by Jay King of MassLive:

“I don’t like what he’s doing right now,” Davis said. “I don’t like his organization, what he’s doing, his teams. We had something in ’08 and that was it. You know what I mean? That’s what that is. So far, like, I didn’t like how the way he handled me on my exit. Yeah, hold yourself accountable, but at the same time I had a broken ankle. I won a championship with you and you don’t even really call me. I’ve got to beg you to call me. My agent has to beg you to call me. My ankle’s broke. And you just told me — they pulled me to the side when I played against Houston and told me, ‘You’re not playing the way you need to play. You’re not doing this.’ My ankle was broke. My ankle was broke. And they’re shooting me up, shooting me up, shooting me up every day to play. My ankle was broke.”

“They just did an X-ray (for the ankle),” added Davis. “They didn’t do an MRI. And it was just like, ‘Oh, can you run? Can you play?’ The next day they had me working out after I broke my ankle. They had me trying to play Game 7. It was crazy and I’m just not feeling that. When you win a championship with somebody, you don’t treat nobody like that. No matter if it’s a business or not, because it’s bigger than basketball between us, Doc. I have never left you at the altar. I’ve never left you at the altar. You know what I mean? I’ve never left. You go get Spencer Hawes, he does nothing. You’ve got to trade him. You’ve still got me on the bench knowing that I can play, but you still go play Spencer Hawes knowing that you’re just trying to cover your own butt because Spencer’s not panning out the way you wanted him to pan out. And I just don’t like that. I’m not feeling that.”

“Because what Doc had in ’08 was special,” Davis said on the podcast. “And he was lucky as hell. Lucky as hell. The year before that they were wearing trash bags (in the crowd). … But then the next year they win it, now he’s one of the best coaches ever? I’m just not feeling that, you know what I mean? You give credit to KG. You give credit to Paul Pierce. You give credit to Ray Allen. Those are the guys that made sure whatever Doc needed to be done got done. And so now it’s easy for Doc to do his job.

Davis is correct: Rivers was on the hot seat before the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and won the championship.

But maybe that improved talent just gave Rivers an opportunity to show how great of a coach he was all along.

Whatever fits your narrative.

Anthony Davis balancing two sides of New Orleans: All-Star fantasy and Pelicans’ reality

General manager of the New Orleans Pelicans Dell Demps, second from left, presents the All Star Game jersey to forward Anthony Davis, right, before an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. Jazz won 127-94. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
AP Photo/Max Becherer
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Anthony Davis refused a question about playing with other All-Stars in the NBA’s annual mid-winter classic.

“I’m not going to talk about All-Star right now,” Davis said after his Pelicans lost to the Pistons earlier this month.

Instead, he wanted to talk only about the Pelicans’ task at hand. And in that respect, playing with other stars would have veered greatly from his desired conversation.

Basketball’s biggest names are descending upon New Orleans this weekend, creating a fantasy world for everyone, but especially Davis. He’ll take his home court with four All-Star teammates, and they’ll be thrilled to play with him. But then they’ll leave, some of them departing together back to the same team. And reality will once again set in for Davis.

By both traditional (27.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per game) and advanced (7.6 win shares, 27.3 PER, +4.25 real plus-minus) metrics, Davis is having another excellent year.

But his team is again not.

The Pelicans are 23-34, headed toward their fourth losing season in his five years. They have one playoff appearance and no playoff wins with Davis.

“He has a dedication to the city, and he wants to be in New Orleans, and he wants to win there, and he wants to be the reason that we win there,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “So, he’s not discouraged in that, if you ask him, does he want out? or any thing like that, no. I don’t think that’s the case.

“Management, they’ve got to do everything they can to try to get the right players around him. And we’ve got to put him in a situation as a coaching staff that they can be successful.”

Since entering the league in 2012, Davis, using win shares and New Orleans’ actual win totals, has individually accounted for 28.5% of the Pelicans’ victories. No player has produced a higher share of his team’s wins in that span. That’s especially remarkable considering Davis has missed 72 games due to injury. The leaderboard:

 

Since that game at Detroit, Davis has opened up about bigger-picture issues — his desire to stay in New Orleans, using All-Star Weekend to recruit. He’s beyond due for more help.

Davis has made four All-Star games without an All-Star teammate in his first five seasons. The only other players to do that were Michael Jordan and David Robinson.

Jordan made the All-Star game without another Bulls player in each of his first five seasons, but Chicago had already acquired Scottie Pippen, who became an All-Star in Jordan’s sixth season and developed into an All-Star mainstay. The Bulls eventually added Dennis Rodman, whose antics – not production – kept him from selection.

Robinson also made the All-Star game each of his first five seasons, though Sean Elliott accompanied him in his fourth (and later, seventh) season. Then, of course, the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan, who was briefly a great sidekick to Robinson and became a superstar as Robinson slid into a supporting role.

Where is Davis’ All-Star teammate coming from?

It’s doubtful that teammate is already on the roster.

The Pelicans’ second-best player is Jrue Holiday, who made an All-Star game with the 76ers. But that was four years ago, and Holiday hasn’t been healthy or productive enough since. Tyreke Evans falls even further short, and the rest of the previous core — Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson — plays for the Rockets.

New Orleans is also short on young talent after trading its first-round pick in the three years following drafting Davis. They dealt what became the No. 6 pick in 2013 and No. 10 pick in 2014 for Holiday and the No. 18 pick in 2015 for Omer Asik.

After bombing to 30-52 last season, New Orleans got a surprising extra crack at a high draft pick, No. 6. The Pelicans picked Buddy Hield, who’s having an up-and-down rookie year. But Hield is already 23 — older than every other 2016 first-round pick save Denzel Valentine and older than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has already signed his rookie-scale contract extension. Hield’s window to show All-Star potential is shorter than his draft-class peers, and he has yet to do so.

New Orleans is on track to have max-level cap space next summer, though re-signing Holiday would exhaust it. The Pelicans are tied to Asik (three more years, $33,859,548) and Alexis Ajinca (two more years, $10,247,192), plodding centers who don’t fit Gentry’s system.

Last summer’s key signings — Solomon Hill (four years, $48 million), E’Twaun Moore (four years, $34 million) and Langston Galloway (two years, $10,634,000) — have collectively underwhelmed. Their long-term salaries make it difficult for general manager Dell Demps to pivot into another plan.

The Pelicans have their own first-round pick and the NBA’s eighth-worst record. It’d be disappointing to wind up back in the lottery for a second consecutive year after what appeared to be a breakthrough run to the 2015 playoffs. But that might be the best path forward.

Davis just hasn’t lifted his team like he did then.

New Orleans has played between a 22- and 33-win pace with him off the court each season of his career. But their win pace with him on the court has ranged from just 29 to 38 — with the exception of 2014-15, when they played like a 55-win team with on the floor.

“These guys follow my lead, and I know that,” Davis said. “I try to get these guys ready to play every night.”

New Orleans’ struggles and Davis’ injuries led to him not being voted an All-Star starter or to an All-NBA team last season — costing him $19,683,908 over four years ($25,434,263 if you count the fifth season of the contract, which follows a player option he’s likely to decline) he would’ve received through the Derrick Rose rule.

He’ll have a chance to earn another major pay bump by making an All-NBA team or two in coming seasons. The numbers are always murky that far out, but if Davis qualifies as a veteran designated player, a new contract beginning in 2020 projects to be worth about $231 million over five years

Not bad for someone who keeps saying he wants to stay with the Pelicans anyway.

Maybe this weekend will help convince another star to join him. In the meantime, once the 23 others All-Stars fly out and leave him in New Orleans, Davis will return to the Pelicans’ reality.

“I’m going to keep fighting,” Davis said.