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

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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:

source:

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.)

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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.

Suns’ GM says there is “overwhelming likelihood” team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard told me he wants to stay with Spurs

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The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.

Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green

Get Up on ESPN:

Green:

I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.

I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.

Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.

And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.

Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.

If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.