The Inbounds: The First Treatise on ISOMelo

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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.

INTRODUCTION: I’m not a big believer in the Knicks’ offense. I tend to like things like ball movement. And efficiency. And, you know, not mid-range fall-away jumpshots. But the Knicks aren’t the Bulls. They haven’t just left the offense out there to figure itself out. They’re not the Nuggets, trusting in individual team concepts. The construction of their isolation-for-Melo heavy offense is a deliberate and carefully considered creation. So I wanted to think, if I were making a treatise on the explanation of why and how to enact this offense, how would I structure it in Aristotle’s time, or in the mold of Locke? This is what I came up with. So here’s the First Treatise on ISOMelo and the New York Knicks Offense in 2012-2013.

 

I.

Whereas, the Knicks have forged their present and married their future to the ideal of the ISOMelo, and Whereas, it become necessary to understand the mechanics and causation of that precise decision, we therefore reach the conclusion that a First Treatise on ISOMelo is required, and should in good faith be produced to understand the future of the 2012-2013 New York Knicks.

(Related materials: The 2012 Knicks Season Preview on PBT.)

Therefore we must begin with the central tenets of ISOMelo and what it entails. The foundation of our ideological framework stands in four tenets.

1. It is best, whenever possible, and with full respect and consideration to the flow of the game and in taking full advantage of mismatches, to in all other instances trust the most talented offensive player with acting as both the initiator and finisher of a standard offensive possession.

2. In pursuit of maximizing the effectiveness of the above tenet, a player’s input should not only be considered but made a priority with regard to comfort and decision-making. Therefore, if he feels most comfortable in the post, he should receive the ball there; if he feels his best work is done from the high pick and roll, the offense should be structured as such. A happy and comfortable player is a self-actualized player is a productive player.

3. Carmelo Anthony is the best and most effective offensive player on the New York Knicks, and is most comfortable in a one-on-one offensive set (referred to as “isolation,” “ISO” or “that thing Carmelo does where he catches the ball and holds it for like fifteen seconds”). He prefers to work out of the high-to-mid post with an emphasis on using the space on the “wing” from above the block to top of the arc, and expanding to the perimeter.

4. A winning and successful basketball offense can be produced incorporating the above tenets to produce an offense that relies heavily on the isolation abilities of Carmelo Anthony as the primary option in any given set.

The above follows a logical train of thought that is both simplistic and nuanced, taking into account the most central concept in regards to the goal of an offensive possession: CREATE A BASKETBALL SHOT THAT RESULTS IN A MADE FIELD GOAL. The policy is not enacted out of carelessness or disregard for the offense or its efficiency, nor is it done simply to appease the priorities and objectives of Anthony, or his representatives at the Creative Artists Agency (also known as “The Knicks”). It is done with full forethought to the best way to structure the offense, the reasons for which will be enumerated below.

1. Modern, high-pace, high-efficiency offenses featuring ball-movement and a shared responsibility have shown an inability to produce in the postseason (referred to as “when it matters”). The mid-00’s Phoenix Suns, the current-era Denver Nuggets, the current-era San Antonio Spurs, the early-00’s Dallas Mavericks, and many others  have fallen short of their collective goal of an NBA championship due to the stylistic difference in the National Basketball Association’s postseason from the National Basketball Association regular season. In consideration of this, a slower-pace, “grind-it-out” offense relying on superstar capability such as that held by Carmelo Anthony has a more productive history in postseason play.

2. Postseason play is a reductionist pursuit. With the intensity and physicality provided by playoff defense, the ability of an offensive set to reduce any given set to a matter of one player with superior shot-making ability vs. any given opponent regardless of defensive capability provides an advantage that while not efficient, may prove more reliable in the long run.

3. If we are to assume the other ideas traditionally regarded as essential for team success (sacrifice, shared responsibility, the propensity to make the entire team better) are both true and worth in pursuit,  it is not essentially true that ISOMelo stands in opposition  to these fundamental philosophies. In truth, should the shooters, scorers, rebounders, dunkers, shot-makers, put-backers, pick-and-rollers all make that same sacrifice in pursuit of the ISOMelo, it can produce more efficient and higher percentage opportunities for their skills.

4. ISOMelo rejects the notion that all players’ sacrifice are both created and expressed equally. ISOMelo holds that Melo bears the weight of the offense, and therefore the weight of any such failures unnecessarily high, providing for no excuse for his play. Supporting players, regardless of their talent, are then held to the only standard of contributing to the team concept, which is ISOMelo.

5. The existence of help defenders in the modern NBA scheme should not be held as a reason to abandon or deny the effectiveness of ISOMelo and its value as the standard set of the New York Knicks. While efficiency does reduce in the presence of multiple defenders upon the act of a Melo field goal attempt, there are benefits in the drawing of a help defender, namely, the  production of an unguarded offensive player, and a subsequent easier shot. Even in the event of a field goal attempt over multiple defenders, Anthony’s shot-making ability is such to justify an attempt, with regards to maintaining Anthony’s comfort level. At all times, the belief that a happy Melo is a productive Anthony must be maintained, lest the entire ISOMelo tent collapse like a flan in a cupboard.

It is the belief in this system and these ideas that result in the essential ideology of the 2012-2013 New York Knicks, having made such moves as to maximize the effectiveness of this system, including but not limited to the hiring of Mike Woodson as head coach (a classic supporter of the system under another name: ISOJoe), and the addition of shooters to compliment and work alongside Anthony without challenging his authority, as some other point guards from Ivy League schools may have.

ISOMelo is not a default option, it is part of a greater tapestry that the Knicks believe will result in the achievement of the ultimate goal. It comes not from nefarious or flawed malapropisms, but instead from a deliberate pursuit of an effective, if not efficient, offense. Efficiency is neither the key to the gates of basketball heaven nor the end-all, be-all of basketball. The alternative path blazed by ISOMelo is one of physicality and the gradual destruction of a defense through superior talent and expression of the greatest singular shot-making ability on the team, in the simplest context. What it lacks in nuance, it makes up for in brute force. What it fails in efficiency, it excels in effectiveness. And in the most key moments of any basketball contest, the final seconds, it provides the most reliable of any basketball ever produced, even more so than the once-vaunted pick-and-roll, a high-percentage jump shooter shooting a jump shot with the clock ticking to zero.

It is in the ISOMelo we believe, once and forever, until a rebuilding period is needed. In CAA we place our faith, amen.

As Sunday winds down, Miami heats up talk of Jimmy Butler trade

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There has been much speculation over the past 48 hours about where disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler will end up once owner Glen Taylor finds a suitable trade partner for him. We have already discussed at length where Butler might fit best, and Sunday morning saw an influx of new teams ready to come to the Timberwolves with an offer now that it is known that Butler is on the table.

As Sunday came to a close, it became apparent that yet another team is trying to work their way into the Butler sweepstakes.

According to multiple reports, the Miami Heat have been active and are trying to get a deal done for Butler. Once thought of as a middle-of-the-pack suitor, the Heat have apparently been one of the more engaged teams as a deal for the Timberwolves guard is sought before the team opens training camp on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Miami joins the Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers in teams looking to exchange parts for the next season on Butler’s contract.

No doubt league GMs are trying to weigh the risk vs. reward when it comes to Butler. His contract has a player option for the 2019-20 NBA season, which he will almost certainly opt out of in order to become a free agent. That means that without a guarantee that Butler will re-sign, any team trading for him will need to be careful with what young assets they leverage for the present.

For example, one report out of Portland says that the Blazers are unwilling to give up who they see as their young main core for a one-year rental on Butler. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic are all off the table for the Blazers.

We still don’t know what the asking price for Butler will eventually be, or how the Timberwolves prioritize getting a solid return for him vs. shipping him outside of the Western Conference. For now, we have to wait and see what happens.

At least until Tuesday.

Elton Brand on 76ers contending for a championship: ‘I think we still need a piece’

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Elton Brand last played in the NBA in April of 2016. Now, in September of 2018 he is the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 17-year NBA veteran helms one of the best young teams in the NBA, and takes over a GM position that has previously been under turmoil. Brand has perhaps been blessed with the departure of LeBron James from the Eastern Conference, but so too will other teams try to take over that perennial top spot.

The Boston Celtics have similar assets to Philadelphia, with proven stars mixed with an excellent supporting cast and young players who could develop into stars themselves. The Toronto Raptors are a very good team who just added a Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard. The road ahead will be tough.

But the Sixers still have cap space and they are still looking for a third star to fill a necessary role on their team. Brand said as much during a recent appearance on ESPN, and from all indications it looks like he’s not going to be shy about pulling the trigger either in free agency or in the trade market if he feels he can solidify the Sixers’ position in the east.

Via ESPN:

Everyone talks about free agency, but we may have to pull the trigger on something else before free agency. If we feel we can’t get one of those stars that I can’t name. I still think we need a piece. We’re close. If you ask Joel [Embiid] we have enough and if you ask Ben [Simmons] we have enough, because that’s the chip they have on their shoulder … they don’t want to hear that, but I think we still need a piece.

Brand went on to say that he felt like development was also important in this process, and that it’s possible that Philadelphia has their additional star in Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, or both.

Philadelphia has reportedly been one of the teams that has jumped into initial conversations with the Minnesota Timberwolves about trading for Jimmy Butler. Whether or not Butler is the right move for the Sixers notwithstanding, that Brand appear is ready to wheel and deal certainly is interesting.

Anthony Davis picks new agent, signs with LeBron James’ rep Rich Paul

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The NBA offseason isn’t over just quite yet, so people are naturally ready to jump at any rumor they can get their hands on. On Sunday, it was announced that New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis had signed with Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports Group, and the Twittersphere exploded.

Davis, 25, has two seasons left on his current contract until he can use a player option to end his deal early and choose another location if he pleases.

Of course, the rampant speculation here — which is baseless, I might add — is that Davis could be looking to jump ship from the Pelicans, with Paul helping to create pressure for such a deal.

Via Twitter:

There is some speculation that Davis could become trade bait as soon as next summer if the Pelicans fail to meet the expectations foist upon them after their first round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers during last season’s playoffs. New Orleans no longer has the talents of DeMarcus Cousins, although they played spectacularly without him following his Achilles injury going into the end of the year. The West got tougher, and the Pelicans will also have to play without Rajon Rondo, currently of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The coming season will be Davis’ seventh in Louisiana, and it has long been rumored that he could be a trade prospect or might want to sign in a different market. Signing with Klutch Sports Group puts Davis at the center of speculation that he could join LeBron James on the Lakers, as James is a good friend of Paul and a fellow Klutch client.

Players exchange agents all the time, and just because an agent has a specific track record doesn’t mean that anything is set in stone. The NBA is weird like that. However, It’s not completely unreasonable to raise an eyebrow at Davis joining up with Paul after leaving longtime agent Thad Foucher earlier in September. What Paul does have a rep for is getting his players paid handsomely, which is probably the main thing Davis will be looking for.

New Orleans can offer Davis the vaunted super max contract once he is up for an extension.

New lottery rules change tanking incentives, starting this season

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To paraphrase Jerry Tarkanian, the NBA is so mad at the 76ers, it’ll keep the Hawks losing another couple years.

The NBA finally enacted lottery reform that will take effect this season. The measures appeared designed to curb Sam Hinkie’s ambitious multi-year tank, but Philadelphia has already reaped the rewards of The Process. The 76ers, led by former high draft picks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are one of the league’s top teams and extremely unlikely to land in the lottery. It’s the next generation of losing teams, like Atlanta, that will feel the brunt of these changes.

Generally, the new rules reduce incentives to chase the league’s worst record. The very-bottom teams face greater variance and worse expected outcomes than previously. The top six seeds in the lottery became less valuable than before, the 7-14 seeds more valuable than before.

In the previous system, the three worst teams had 250, 199 and 156 of 1,000 lottery combinations. The top-three picks were drawn then the next 11 picks were slotted in reverse order of record.

Now, the three worst teams each have 140 of 1,000 lottery combinations. The top-four picks are drawn then the next 10 picks are slotted in reverse order of record.

There’s several ways to measure the changes, but here a a few based on lottery seed in the old system (orange) and new system (blue):

Odds of No. 1 pick:

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Odds of top-four pick:

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Expected pick:

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The “big” change is the bottom three teams all have the same odds of getting drawn, creating an illusion there’s no difference between finishing last or third-to-last. But the last-place team still gets slotted ahead of the second-worst and third-worst (and second-worst ahead of third-worst) if none get drawn in the lottery.

Simply, teams are still incentivized to chase the league’s very worst record. The incentives aren’t as strong as they once were, but they still exist.

And the upside remains just as high. Top draft picks are so valuable – a chance to add elite young talent on a relatively cheap contract that comes with five years of team control that, practically, extends much longer.

So, how will teams handle this changing structure?

Decisions will be fascinating among more than just the lowest of cellar-dwellers. Several teams have traded first-round picks this season that contain protections within the lottery. The Mavericks owe the Hawks a top-five protected first-rounder. The Cavaliers owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder. The Grizzlies owe the Celtics a top-eight-protected first-rounder. The Nuggets owe the Nets a top-12-protected first-rounder. Those owing teams all face a new batch of decisions of when to give up on trying to make the playoffs and aim to keep that pick.

I mostly share the view that lottery reform won’t change much, particularly on a year-to-year basis. But the cumulative effect could be larger on some teams.

Hinkie’s 76ers were an anomaly. Few teams set out to tank for that long. Many more tanked for a season, knowing that would result in a high draft pick. With a new touted prospect in hand, those teams usually attempted to ascend.

But now, far less is guaranteed. Before, the second-worst team was likely to land a top-three pick and was guaranteed a top-five pick. Now, the second-worst team is likely to pick between No. 4 and No. 6. In that lower range, the team might get stuck with a lesser prospect who leaves it stuck losing again the following year.

At minimum, lottery reform adds uncertainty to a league that had grown familiar with the previous system and how teams proceeded within it. We can all guess how teams will act in the new system, but this season will provide much more tangible clarity.