Does being in foul trouble really merit a substitution?

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Among the most sacred truisms in basketball is the concept of “foul trouble”; head coaches yank players out of the game without compromise and regardless of import due to the number of fouls the player has acquired relative to how much time is left in the game. Two fouls in the first quarter? Benched. Three in the first half? Benched. The very notion that a pivotal player could receive four fouls in a half of basketball is apparently so threatening to head coaches, that they simply refuse to even allow it as a possibility.

If only that strategy made the slightest bit of sense. Dr. Jonathan Weinstein of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, writing at The Leisure of the Theory Class, explains (via Jason Kottke):

Conventional wisdom seems to regard foul management as a risk vs. safety
decision.  You will constantly hear something like, “a big decision
here, whether to risk putting Duncan back in with 4 fouls.”  This is
completely the wrong lens for the problem, since the “risky”* strategy
is, with the caveats mentioned, all upside!  Coaches dramatically
underrate the “risk” of falling behind, or losing a lead, by sitting a
star for too long.  To make it as stark as possible, observe that the
coach is voluntarily imposing the penalty that he is trying to avoid,
namely his player being taken out of the game!

The most egregious
cases are when a player sits even though his team is significantly
behind.  I almost feel as though the coach prefers the certainty of
losing to the “risk” of the player fouling out.  There may be a
“control fallacy” here: it just feels worse for the coach to have a
player disqualified than to voluntarily bench him, even if the result
is the same.  Also, there is a bit of an agency/perception problem: the
coach is trying to maximize keeping his job as well as winning, which
makes him lean towards orthodoxy.

To put it a different way, the worst thing that could possibly happen by keeping a player in “foul trouble” in the game is that they could get their sixth foul, which would limit the amount of time they can spend on the floor. So in order to avoid that outcome, coaches…limit the amount of time the player can spend on the floor. It’s safe to say that in-game context can make things slightly more complicated, but on a basic level, it makes little sense to sit a player for any reason other than ineffectiveness or rest.

At the heart of this discussion is essentially a debate over whether or not fourth quarter minutes matter more than minutes played during the rest of the game. After all, that’s essentially what coaches fear in such a scenario: if a player picks up his sixth foul too early, he may miss playing time in the fourth quarter.

From where I’m sitting, the points all count the same. A first quarter run can demoralize an opponent, a second quarter run can protect a lead when it’s in danger, and a third quarter run can put the game out of reach for an opponent (see Celtics vs. Cavs, Game 5). The only thing the fourth quarter really has going for it is its finality, as teams can put up points without the clock allowing time for the opponent to bounce back.

Does that really make fourth quarter production that much more valuable? Hardly. It’s just different. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to have a very efficient fourth quarter scorer. It’s just not all that much cooler than having a very efficient first or second quarter scorer. The biggest factor seems to be the reputation that comes with fourth quarter scoring.

The significance of clutch scoring is rather obvious, but the affinity for player success in the entire fourth quarter likely has more to do with the common casual sports fan assertion that NBA games “aren’t interesting until the fourth quarter,” or that players “don’t really try until the fourth quarter” more than anything else. Considering how ridiculous both of those claims are, what criteria exist that could possibly elevate the importance of fourth quarter minutes? 

Report: Jimmy Butler planned to hold out from Timberwolves unless traded, informing team during Friday’s game

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According to one narrative, the Timberwolves decided after Friday’s loss to the Kings to trade Jimmy Butler.

But he might have forced their hand, resulting in his trade to the 76ers.

Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Butler decided he would play on Friday night, but he viewed it as the fork in the road. If the Timberwolves didn’t find a deal to fulfill his long-simmering trade request after that, he would begin to sit indefinitely, league sources told The Athletic.

The Kings defeated Minnesota 121-110 to push the Timberwolves to 4-9 and a winless road trip; Butler had 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 41 minutes. He had played almost 124 minutes in the last three games, all losses, and at halftime of the final one, the Wolves were informed that this was it for Butler, sources said.

Butler reportedly held out for a game a couple weeks ago, though he and Minnesota both denied it. It’s quite believable he would’ve held out again if not traded. Still, informing the team during a game he’s playing would have been quite bold.

I’m not sure who actually blinked first. This could be an I-quit, no-you’re-fired (or vice versa) scenario. Both Butler and Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau are stubborn.

But the most important thing is Butler is gone and both sides can move on – whatever ugliness preceded the trade.

Jimmy Butler on being a Sixer: ‘I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go’

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Jimmy Butler is officially a member of the 76ers.

His plane landed in Philly Monday and a camera crew from NBC Sports Philadelphia was there to get his first words on being a member of the Sixers. (You can see the video above.)

“I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go, we got some things to figure out. But all-in-all, I look forward to it,” Butler said out the window of the car that picked him up.

What should Sixers fans expect?

“Hard playing. A guy that wants to win. We got some things we want to get done here, we want to win a championship. I think the core group of guys we have, we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

After that he rolled up the window and drove off… and we assume cranked up the country music.

Karl-Anthony Towns takes high road, praises Jimmy Butler after trade

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Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler did not mesh. Off the court in particular, although this season on it the Timberwolves were -7.1 points per 100 possessions when they were paired (a sharp change from a year ago when the pair were +10.2). Butler wanted out and started trying to burn down the franchise and lob grenades at practice. It took Tom Thibodeau longer than anyone else to see this was never going to work, but once he did the move was made and Butler was traded to Philadelphia.

Towns, who some around the league felt was too timid through this drama and should have stood up to Butler, took the high road after the trade and had nothing but kind words about Butler. Andrew Wiggins took the same path. From Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“He’s one hell of a player,” Towns said Sunday. “I don’t know how many Jimmy Butlers there are in the world, so I think he’ll be missed.”

“I learned a lot of things from him,” Wiggins said of Butler. “We made the playoffs, something we haven’t done in a long, long time. So I think it was a positive either way you put it.”

Classy.

We’ll see how that plays out Jan. 15 when Butler and the Sixers host Towns and the Timberwolves.

Jimmy Butler officially joins Philadelphia 76ers

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We’ve known about it since Saturday but it didn’t become official until Monday (because the call to the NBA league office could not be completed until the office was open):

Minnesota has traded Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia, along with injured rookie Justin Patton, for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.

Butler and his agent had told Tom Thibodeau he wanted a trade at least three times over the summer, but there was no action, something reported in a must-read story at the Athletic by Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania. They get into how the owner, Glen Taylor, was involved but Tom Thibodeau held out hope for a long time that just getting the guys on the court together and winning would change Butler’s mind. It wasn’t going to, and the Timberwolves were losing. Eventually, Thibodeau came around, but by the time he did a very good Miami Heat offer — Josh Richardson and a 2019 first round pick — was off the table. From The Athletic.

After Butler plays 39 minutes in a loss to the Clippers that dropped the Wolves to 0-3 on the trip, the Wolves have conversations with the Heat about a possible trade. But the Heat inform the Wolves that Richardson is no longer on the table after his stellar start to the season, and the Wolves move on.

Minnesota begins to engage seriously with Philadelphia, New Orleans and Houston. New Orleans’ package is headlined by Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round draft pick and the Rockets’ proposal has Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks, sources said. The 76ers come with their proposal around Robert Covington and Dario Saric, leaving the Timberwolves to deliberate.

Eventually, the pick and other players were added, and the deal with Philly got done. Butler is expected to make his debut Wednesday against Orlando.

Butler is a free agent this summer and is expected to re-sign in Philadelphia. His max contract would be five-years, $190 million, and that’s what he is seeking.

Trading for Butler is the death of The Process in Philadelphia — this is a win-now team with Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. The Sixers have their big three but right now don’t have enough shooting and depth around them. Can Markelle Fultz be part of that? Already his name is coming up in trade rumors around the league as Philly looks for the pieces they need right now to go after Boston, Toronto, and maybe Milwaukee at the top of the East.

With Butler, the Sixers have a window of a few years — while Butler is just 29 he has heavy miles on his body thanks to Thibodeau and Butler’s all-out style of play. Plenty of GMs around the league have been hesitant (at best) to give Butler a five-year contract, expecting his body to break down. The Sixers went all-in, now they need to add the players that help them contend for a ring. It’s a new era in Philly.