Kyle Korver

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Mark Cuban on load management: ‘The dumb thing would be to ignore the science’

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The idea of load management in the NBA was not the brainchild of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Rather, he was the first to see the science, recognize the value of keeping players rested and healthy (particularly as Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker got older), and implement a plan to have guys at their best entering the playoffs rather than being worn down. Popovich has the rings to back up his thinking.

The science is unambiguous. It screams that rest — or, more accurately, giving players time to recover properly — matters most when keeping players both healthy over a long season and extending their careers. The most obvious example was last season in Toronto, when Kawhi Leonard played just 60 games to make sure his quad tendon (and opposite knee) were healthy when the playoffs started. The result was Leonard being the best player on the planet in the playoffs and the Raptors throwing a championship parade.

In the wake of the frivolous “debate” around Leonard missing games for the Clippers already this season to avoid injuries — which is what happened, no matter what the league office is selling — Mark Cuban came down on the side of the science. And resting players. Here are Cuban’s words, via ESPN:

“The problem isn’t load management, per se,” Cuban told reporters in Boston on Monday. “I think teams have to be smarter about when to load manage. I’m all for load management. Worse than missing a player in a [regular-season] game is missing him in the playoffs….

“It’s all data-driven,” Cuban said. “We’re not going, ‘OK, let’s just mess with the league and our meal ticket to fans to do something just because it might be interesting. We spend so much money, not just on analytics for predictive reasons, but also for biometrics so we know how smart we can be.

“The dumb thing would be to ignore the science.”

In his latest newsletter (something you should absolutely sign up for, it’s brilliant), Henry Abbott talks about the science of player rest (and has a great story on how it extended the career of Kyle Korver, something you can only read in that newsletter).

NBA fans generally hate load management. It reminds me very much of the early days of talking about climate change. Most people would rather the science just go away…

Years ago, a study showed that players in top European soccer leagues have six times the injury rate if they play two games instead of one per week. The study might not be the most relevant to the NBA—it’s a different sport—but it’s a home run that the schedule itself causes injuries. Tired bodies don’t have the same strength, and they are more likely to move inefficiently.”

I don’t know anything about the insides of Kawhi’s knee, but I know that there are times nowadays, when “just go out there and play” is a ridiculous approach. Enough NBA players are injured already. Kawhi uses more useful language: he should play when his body is “ready.” As in ready to take on big forces without big risks. It’s a much healthier way to discuss it (except that if a coach does it, the NBA might want $50k).

In the case of Leonard missing time, the NBA scheduled the Clippers on a back-to-back with both games on national television. Everyone knew he would miss a game, including the suits at the league office and at ESPN. The backlash came because he sat out an ESPN game (rather than the TNT one, so ESPN personalities spoke up), and it was against the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo, a matchup everyone wanted to see. However, from the Clippers’ perspective, it was the right move: The second game — vs. the Trail Blazers — was against a conference foe that would have a bigger impact both on seedings and potential tiebreakers down the line. That was the game the Clippers had to win, so they made sure their best player was ready for that game.

Want less load management? Reducing the number of NBA games is a start, but the problem is bigger and more holistic than just that. As Baxter Holmes wrote about in detail at ESPN last summer — and LeBron James complained about recently — the number of games at the AAU level, often in tightly compacted time frames at tournaments, is leading to problems long before guys get to the NBA. Young players are learning bad habits, not getting enough time to rest their bodies, and problems develop before guys even hit the NBA. That leaves teams at the highest level trying to clean up the mess and get the most out of their top players.

There are no easy answers. But the answer is not “you’re paid to play 82 games, so get out there.”

Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton to miss 3-4 weeks with thigh contusion

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Khris Middleton, coming off a summer with Team USA, has quietly continued his All-Star level play this season — an efficient 18.5 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from three but also finishing well at the rim, and the Bucks offense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

However, he’s not going to be on the court for a few weeks due to a deep thigh bruise, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In the third quarter of the Bucks win over the Thunder Sunday, Middleton suffered the thigh bruise, which sent him to the locker room. While he returned to the bench, he did not return to the game. Afterward, in the locker room, Middleton didn’t seem to think it was that serious.

It turned out to be a little more than that, it has to be a deep bruise to have him out for up to a month.

Kyle Korver would be next in line to get those minutes, but he sat out Sunday with a “head contusion.” Behind him look for smaller lineups with Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, and Wesley Matthews to get more minutes, plus maybe a little Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

Enriched and entrusted, Malcolm Brogdon proving his worth with Pacers

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DETROIT – Pistons guard Tim Frazier is older than Malcolm Brogdon. Frazier has more years of NBA experience than Brogdon. Frazier has played more NBA games than Brogdon.

Yet, Frazier – Brogdon’s teammate on the Bucks last season – still speaks of Brogdon with an incredible reverence.

“He’s just somebody that I even kind of look up to,” Frazier said, “to try to follow his footsteps.”

“He’s a great person. He does everything by the book, tries to do everything the right things, man. Cares for others. It’s huge.”

Brogdon – nicknamed “The President” – has earned a sterling reputation thanks to his stellar play, strong work ethic and powerful voice. Now with the Pacers, Brogdon is spreading his influence even further.

Last offseason, Brogdon was part of one of the league’s most controversial moves. Holding matching rights on Brogdon, Milwaukee signed-and-traded him to Indiana for a first-rounder and two-second rounders. The Bucks cleared playing time that might have appealed to newly signed Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver and, perhaps more importantly, stayed under the luxury-tax line. We’ll see how Milwaukee uses those picks, but that was quite the choice with Giannis Antetokounmpo headed toward his super-max decision.

Brogdon says he’s not dwelling on the Bucks’ decision. His four-year, $85 million contract certainly helps.

“It’s just surreal,” said Brogdon, the No. 36 pick in the 2016 draft. “To get paid that much, that’s what everybody dreams about.”

Most of his draft classmates must keep dreaming. The Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies four-year contracts for first-round picks. But second rounders can negotiate shorter deals. Brogdon signed a three-year contract with Milwaukee. Though he looked like a huge bargain while winning Rookie of the Year and starting deep in the playoffs, Brogdon hit free agency a year earlier than his peers.

Brogdon’s $20 million salary this season is the second-highest ever for someone in his first four seasons. Only Nikola Jokic, who earned a max salary last season, got more.

Here are the highest salaries by players in their first four seasons:

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“There’s pressure whenever somebody gets paid,” Brogdon said. “A team pays you, because they are giving you more responsibility. They’re showing you that they like you and that they think you should play at a certain level.”

Brogdon is answering that call.

Shifted to shooting guard in Milwaukee to accommodate Eric Bledsoe, Brogdon filled his role dutifully. But he wanted to be a point guard, and the Pacers have made him their starting point guard.

“It’s been amazing,” Brogdon said. “It’s definitely a lot of responsibility, but it’s something I’m ready for and something I welcome gladly.”

He’s averaging 20.8 points and 8.9 assists per game – third in the NBA, behind LeBron James (11.0 assists per game) and Luka Doncic (9.1 assists per game).

Brogdon was once viewed as having a limited ceiling. He entered the NBA after four years at Virginia, had long-term health concerns and played a complementary style. He focused on defending, spotting up for 3-pointers and attacking closeouts

Now, Brogdon drives Indiana’s above-average offense. The ball runs through him, and he creates for himself and teammates. His increased role shows throughout his numbers (last season → this season):

  • Usage percentage: 20.7 → 27.1
  • Assist percentage: 16.2 → 39.7
  • Free-throw rate: .203 → .294
  • Plays per game finished as pick-and-roll ball-handler: 2.7 → 8.9
  • 3-pointers per game off multiple dribbles: 0.8 →2.6

Even while doing so much more, Brogdon has kept his turnovers low (though up slightly from his Milwaukee days). His true shooting percentage also remains above league average, because he’s showing nice burst to the basket and drawing fouls. An all-time great from the line, Brogdon has made 46-of-47 free throws this season (98%).

Brogdon must eventually adjust once Victor Oladipo returns. Though he’ll remain starting point guard, Brogdon will share ball-handling duties with the talented Oladipo.

That’s an issue for another day. For now, Brogdon just seems happy.

“Having the opportunity to have the ball in my hands, to make decisions, to lead a team,” Brogdon said, “this is what I wanted.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tip-in forces overtime, where Bam Adebayo block keys Heat win

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Milwaukee was in complete charge in their home opener against Miami, leading by double digits most of the second and third quarters and by as much as 21. The game seemed all but over.

Then the fourth quarter came — and Miami was not ready to go home.

The Bucks seemed to take their foot off the gas and went cold, missing nine straight threes while the Heat went on a 20-5 run, putting up 39 points in the fourth and knocking down six threes. Eventually, Miami took the lead and control down the stretch, Milwaukee was stunned and the Heat just had to hit their free throws to secure the win…

Except they didn’t. Bam Adebayo missed one, then Justise Winslow missed two gift ones (after a rebounding foul by Robin Lopez where he just turned and pushed Winslow rather than box out) and it left the Heat a chance, down 121-119 with three seconds left. The ball goes to All-Star Khris Middleton, who goes up for a contested three to win it, and in flies Giannis Antetokounmpo to save the day.

Most players spectate on those shots. Antetokounmpo didn’t. Kelly Olynyk did rather than put a body on Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Once in overtime things seemed to keep going the Heat’s way, where four Adebayo free throws had the Heat ahead, and then Antetokounmpo fouled out. That’s two straight games the Greek Freak has fouled out, but this time his teammates did not bail him out. He finished with 29 points, 17 rebounds, and nine assists.

Milwaukee had a chance late. Down three 19.6 seconds left, Goran Dragic missed two free throws, Eric Bledsoe got the rebound on the second one, raced down the court, thought he had an uncontested dunk — and then Adebayo flew in.

That block essentially sealed the win, although Middleton got a look to send it to a second overtime and missed.

Dragic led the Heat with 25 points, Adebayo had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Middleton had 25 for the Bucks, and Kyle Korver had 14 off the bench.

That is a quality win for Miami, who was without Jimmy Butler (with his family for the birth of his child). It’s a punch to the gut loss for the Bucks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he’s going to be ‘more vocal’ this season

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MILWAUKEE (AP) Last season’s loss to Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals stung Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So much so that the NBA MVP admitted it took several days for him to be able to sleep at night after he and the Milwaukee Bucks blew a 2-0 lead against the eventual NBA champion Raptors.

Antetokounmpo said his priority during the offseason was to become a better leader, both on and off the court.

“Mostly, you just gotta be more vocal,” Antetokounmpo said. “You gotta lead by example. You gotta be able to accept criticism by your coach, by your teammates, and be OK with it. That’s what a leader does. I know that my team knows who I am. They trust me. They know I’m going to put my body and everything I have on the line for this team. By doing that, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Bucks won a league-best 60 games a season ago, and took home MVP, Coach of the Year (Mike Budenholzer) and Executive of the Year (general manager Jon Horst) honors. But their goal was to bring the city of Milwaukee its first NBA title since 1971. That didn’t happen.

Now, with both Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James out west, Kevin Durant on the shelf in Brooklyn and the core of Antetokounmpo, fellow All-Star Khris Middleton, first-team all-defensive guard Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez back together, anything less than another deep playoff run for the Bucks will be deemed a failure.

“The message to the team won’t be that different than what it was going into last season,” said Budenholzer, who is entering his second season in Milwaukee. “Really, our attack point is just what are we doing every day? How are we getting better every day? How are we competing every day? Are we playing unselfishly? Are we playing together? All those things that are just our core beliefs. If we’re doing those on a day-in and day-out basis, the chips will fall where they may.”

The Bucks open the season Oct. 24 in Houston.

Kyle Korver

Bucks guard Kyle Korver said his new team is like a “more organized version” of the Cleveland Cavaliers teams he played on with LeBron James.

“I think that there’s a ton of freedom here for players to do what they do,” he said. “There’s a lot of special talent – unique talent – on this team, and (Budenholzer) gives us a lot of freedom to kind of figure some things out, and we did that in Cleveland, too. Let the great players be great, and just kind of give them space, and we all find our spots to contribute and to be effective.”

Korver signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee in July. The 17-year veteran reunites with Budenholzer, who coached Korver in Atlanta in 2015, when Korver made his only NBA All-Star team and Budenholzer won his first NBA Coach of the Year award.

Korver ranks fourth in NBA history in 3-pointers made with 2,351.

BROGDON OUT, MATTHEWS IN

The Bucks lost former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to Indiana in free agency. Budenholzer said he thinks the additions of sharpshooter Korver and veteran two-way wing Wes Matthews will help fill the void. Matthews was the 2005 Wisconsin Mr. Basketball and played his college ball at nearby Marquette.

“Coming back home, it’s a sentimental feeling and one you can’t quite describe,” Matthews said. “To see the success, the growth of the city and the growth of the state, what this Bucks team and organization has done, I come back and I don’t even recognize some of this stuff around here. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

BAND OF BROTHERS

Milwaukee will start the season with two pairs of brothers, as Robin Lopez joins twin brother Brook, and Giannis will have his older brother, Thanasis, on the roster. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who last played in the NBA in 2016 for the Knicks, signed a two-year contract in July.

“What a great story for Giannis and Thanasis and Brook and Robin to play together,” Budenholzer said. “There’s probably a few little things that we’ve got to be conscientious of: Make sure that they’re not always together, so on so forth. And Robin and Brook, there’s been a lot of comments about how we’re going to manage them in the locker room.”

DONTE’S PEAK

Milwaukee’s 2018 first-round pick Donte DiVincenzo will look to re-establish himself after dealing with a heel injury last season. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 4.9 points on 40.3% shooting in 27 games a season ago.

“(I just want to) keep getting better,” DiVincenzo said. “Keep getting better every day, keep building my confidence, figure my spots because it’s a long year.”

LOOMING QUESTION

How much longer will Giannis Antetokounmpo be in Milwaukee?

Antetokounmpo can be an unrestricted free agent next summer. At that point, the Bucks can offer him a five-year supermax extension. Horst told a crowd at an offseason fan event that he intends to offer the extension to the three-time All-Star (and was fined for saying so by the NBA).

“I’m not going to talk about it a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think it’s disrespectful toward my teammates talking about my free agency and what I’m going to do. So when the time is right, we’re all going to talk about it.”

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