Tag Archives: Gregg Popovich

The NBA and the Perennial Gale of Creative Destruction

Hey! You! Yeah, you. Come join me up here in this tree. Just come out here and sit on this limb with me. Did you bring sweatpants? Something comfortable? Good. Because you see the end of this limb? That’s where we’re going. And there’s basketball at the end.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction” in his 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Building off of Karl Marx’s idea of capitalist economies as essentially evolutionary, Schumpeter described how a capitalist economy—which is ever-reliant upon innovation and the development of new consumer goods and new methods of production—seeks not stability and maximally efficient production, but rather constant change and turmoil. Fundamentally, the natural state of such an economy is turbulent, and any attempt to develop stability is inevitably undercut by new developments.

This is not difficult to see, especially today when changing technologies are churning markets more than ever. Consider this: Right now, I’m writing this on a laptop in a coffee shop. As recently as ten years ago, a coffee shop that wanted to provide Internet access to customers would have to have Ethernet cables running all over the place. There were cafes set up with the specific purpose of providing desktop computers that people would pay for by the minute or hour to use. This meant these cafes needed to buy and install lots of wires, plus buy and maintain a half dozen or more desktop computers.

Now, people bring their laptops, ask for a WiFi password and they’re off. If I ever went to a coffee shop and was told that I had to pay for Internet access, I would leave. What was once commonplace has become almost unacceptable, and this happens all the time. The rise of digital photography means the decline of film processing. And improvements in the digital cameras in smartphones means a decline even in the importance of standalone digital cameras. I mean, do you remember how horribly awful cameras in phones were even five years ago? I’m now incredulous when I can’t instantly access nearly any album I want via Spotify or Rdio when only a few years ago I took great pride in how I had collected and organized my iTunes library.

This churn—what Schumpeter called “the perennial gale of creative destruction”—is at least as active in the NBA as in capitalist economies. Although the league has its share of socialist protections (revenue sharing, max contracts, the fact that teams more or less can’t go out of business), the fundamental work of building a successful team means buying low (either through getting great young players on rookie contracts or finding undervalued veterans who fit your team) and then selling high (moving big contracts for more young talent). If a team feels they’ve laid the groundwork correctly, they might make a large investment in a free agent or blockbuster trade in order to push themselves over the top and into contention for a championship.

Most fans can accept and understand this in the abstract, and yet teams are still constantly beset by demands for instant accountability, by demands to win now, by constant questioning about moment-to-moment decisions by coaches. It’s why I was really struck by this passage from Schumpeter’s book, which discusses the ramifications of understanding the role of creative destruction in economies.

[S]ince we are dealing with a process whose every element takes considerable time in revealing its true features and ultimate effects, there is no point in appraising the performance of that process ex visu of a given point of time; we must judge its performance over time, as it unfolds through decades or centuries. A system—any system, economic or other—that at every given point of time fully utilizes its possibilities to the best advantage may yet in the long run be inferior to a system that does so at no given point of time, because the latter’s failure to do so may be a condition for the level or speed of long-run performance.

This is, at its core, what many at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference were arguing for when they called for an emphasis on the process over the results. What truly resonates here is the idea that making the optimal decision at every point along the way in a very long process is not going to give you the best results over that entire process versus an approach that takes into account how very long that process is.

The San Antonio Spurs are a banner example of this. Take Popovich’s predilection for resting his starters at various times during the regular season—even when his team is in a marquee matchup against the Miami Heat, say. In the extremely short term, the choice makes no sense. It doesn’t maximize the Spurs’ resources for the greatest chance of success. Many find this unacceptable, but it seems that a majority can understand this in the longer term view of having his best players ready for the postseason.

But there are even deeper, more subterranean considerations at work here. Having the team’s bench step up and start from time-to-time makes them comfortable with playing different kinds of roles. Furthermore, it’s an understood part of how the team operates that the starters will rest from time to time. The very fact that the express reason for it is to prepare for the postseason becomes evidence of how good the team is. The being-asked-to-step-up becomes a badge of honor, a marker of the quality of the team’s vision.

So yes, the Spurs are playing the long game in terms of team health, but in many ways, the simple mechanical reason for this strategy is a red herring. It’s an integral part of a sly kind of rebuilding that is constantly happening in San Antonio. Even the relatively stable elements of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have at different points in their tenure with the team occupied subtly different roles. Over the last several seasons the Spurs have pivoted from defensive and meticulous to more open and opportunistic. But even within that, they’ve found ways to once again get better defensively. At Sloan, Spurs GM R.C. Buford said

This summer we went to our defensive efficiency, which for years was very high and last year had fallen to the ten to fifteen range [in terms of ranking in the NBA]. And I think we were valuing some things that weren’t nearly as important as what the data showed. Like what worked for the Celtics was not necessarily defensive rebounding. They were really high in defensive efficiency and they weren’t really high in defensive rebounding. That was a big part of where our emphasis was and that made us question where we should be paying attention. Those were discussions that were then brought to Pop from our coaches and from our analytics team and some great discussions came from it that ended up having us re-evaluate what was important.

That work with analytics doesn’t just help them make on the spot decisions, nor even to make season-long decisions. It helps them build a culture that’s adaptable, flexible, yet rigorous. As Buford explained, “I think Pop got interested when he saw areas that weren’t traditional for lots of people that were supported by the data. And he started asking different questions.”

Asking the right questions is a result of seeing the landscape differently, and it’s something that Schumpeter addressed as well. “Since we are dealing with an organic process,” he writes, “analysis of what happens in any particular part of it may indeed clarify details of mechanism but is inconclusive beyond that.  Every piece … acquires its true significance only against the background of that process and within the situation created by it.  It must be seen in its role in the perennial gale of creative destruction; it cannot be understood irrespective of it.”

It’s hard to do what’s demanded by this understanding. It’s hard enough to make the right decisions based only on what’s readily at hand, much less based on the entire background of an ever-evolving process and the environment it occurs in. Holding cognitive dissonances in balance is not something that comes naturally to most of us, but it’s often what’s required if we’re going to navigate more than just the next moment and the next.

It’s one of the ironies of this approach that it requires a kind of constant vigilance that’s based not on assessing all available information as completely as possible in that moment, but on crafting an overall flexibility that adheres to overarching principles. That ability was captured in no place better than The Hustler, the 1961 movie starring Paul Newman as pool shark Fast Eddie. As Eddie prepares to play Minnesota Fats, a contest in which he’ll not only have to read and react to an evolving situation but also put his faith in his own abilities and snap judgements, his partner Charlie Burns asks him, “How do you feel?”

“Fast and loose, man,” he replies.

“In the gut, I mean.”

“I feel tight, but good.”

Games Beyond The Game

Photo by kdee64 on Flickr

There are no shortage of aphorisms that have to do with living in the present, with taking care of what’s in front of you and letting the rest come in time. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Even “Rise and grind”—the motto of basketball Twitter favorite Tony Allen—speaks to the work-don’t-worry mindset that says do the next thing you can and then the next and the next.

But what about when the next step isn’t the first one, but the five hundredth one? What happens when you get to the bridge and it’s out? When simple things—things like playing a game of basketball—get big, these things get knotty, complicated. We like to think there’s a beating, inviolate heart at the center of basketball, but then something like the recent dustup over Gregg Popovich’s decision to sit four of his five starters for a high-profile, nationally-televised game against the Miami Heat comes along and reminds us just how complicated this all can get. (If you want a good multi-hued take on that in straight basketball terms, go here.)

Because here’s what often happens in relationships that are founded on mutual interest: Initial agreement gives way to the slow realization that from the outset there have been deep fundamental differences that not only didn’t seem like a big deal but in fact didn’t enter into it until further down the line. Consider for a moment, not Popovich and Stern, but Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell.

At the beginning of The Wire, they were on top of the world, or at least the world as defined by West Baltimore, as drawn by the boundaries of the towers and the pit. The process that got them there was straightforward: get the product, take the corners, make the money. It was so much a game that they even called it The Game, with capital letters.

But then it got thick. In the second season, with Barksdale out of pocket, Bell took charge and had to make some decisions that didn’t conform to the rules of The Game as understood by Barskdale. They made sense to Bell, though, because they were just good business. As the unraveling of their partnership accelerated in the third season over Barksdale’s decision to go to war with up-and-coming kingpin Marlo Stansfield, Bell confronts Barksdale.

“You done taken Marlo down a notch or two, man,” he says, conceding that a certain amount of blood had to be spilled to send a message, but urging restraint. “Why not quit while we’s ahead?”

“Just let me get this thing right, man, then we get back to business as usual,” Barksdale replies. But the war is threatening their position in the collective of dealers that has been getting them high quality product and a bigger return on investment.

“Even if we win,” Bell explains, “we lose because we ain’t gonna have no product to put on them corners. Look at you: Shooting dope without a needle. Getting high on a power trip, playing soldier. You gotta sit back, think about our business.” For him, it’s always been a business. He saw the blood, the violence, as the cost of it. And he tries to convince Barskdale to see it his way: “You know, Avon: You gotta think about what we got in this game for, man. Was it the rep? Was it so our names could ring out on some ghetto street corners man? Nah, man, there’s games beyond The Game.”

And that’s what I kept thinking about as this whole Popovich-Stern thing unfolded. I’m not so interested in who was right and who was wrong as how it revealed how cracked and flawed the fabric of a professional sport can be when you look closely enough, when the structure is stressed enough.

Here is Popovich, one of the best coaches in the league, a coach who has consistently worked wonders with castoffs and aging players, a coach who has consistently shown little regard for unwritten rules or codes as anything other than obstacles to be circumvented on the path to another playoff appearance and a couple championships. In many ways, his focus is simply The Game: the basic, repetitive thing his teams have to go out and do night after night. Sitting Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green in this light is a relatively simple calculus: play your older starters even a couple fewer games—especially if it means curtailing long road trips—and you get more mileage out of them in the long run.

But then there’s Stern, telling Popovich that there are games beyond The Game. It’s not that he doesn’t care about basketball as the fundamental act of competing on the hardwood, but he also sees it as a means to an end, as a business that makes money for everyone involved from himself to the GMs to the coaches to the players to the locker room attendants. A big hunk of that money comes from broadcasting national games on channels like TNT and TNT has some kind of reasonable expectation that the league will deliver marquee matchups with big names in those slots so they can maximize their own ad dollars. Popovich isn’t wrong to rest his players, exactly, but Stern sees Popovich’s long-term goals for the season as mid-term goals that sacrifice his own even longer term goals.

But equally interesting is that you can see these roles reversed. It’s possible to see Stern as the one with the short term goals of keeping the broadcasters and in turn the advertisers happy no matter the consequences. Popovich could just as easily say Stern is sacrificing the long-term careers of the league’s biggest stars by wearing them down. Popovich could make the same appeal as Bell, especially to the fans: Did we get into this for the money, for the glamour? No: there’s something purer at stake, something more than the game of maximizing profits. There’s a Game beyond that game.

It’s a testament to The Wire that as this conflict between Barksdale and Bell reaches a boiling point we can find ourselves agreeing with one or the other while still seeing the other side of it. It’s truer to life, closer to the way this Popovich-Stern thing feels. It would be easier if it were black and white, and maybe even easier if it were a shade of gray. Instead, it’s like there are two sets of black and white here, contradicting each other, but each with their own sense of the world that could be argued for.

The game’s primary demand is that every team compete for the championship, and Popovich has learned that this doesn’t mean throwing everything you have at every team every night. He’s delivered championships—or at the very least, deep playoff runs—through marshaling his resources. It’s not like he rested his starters because he’s a nice old guy; he did it because he has an overall strategy for managing the season that should give the audience and the league what it wants: the best players playing their best when it matters most.

But the existence of the league as we know it is predicated on the revenue from TV deals and ticket sales. Popovich’s salary, the salaries of all the players he rested, the livelihood of thousands of people who work in and around the NBA is founded on the sport’s popularity, and that popularity is built on marquee matchups. You need look no further than how struggling teams market their games against the league’s best players to see this.

We could run this in circles again and again. The problem with taking that single step, with the work-don’t-worry ethic, is that we take these journeys in the company of others. While we might agree on the destination at the outset, down the line we can find ourselves at cross-purposes, not seeing that we’re trying to reach different destinations even as we travel the same road.

RTOE: HP Mailbag Roundtable!

Welcome to the Hardwood Paroxysm Mail Bag Round Table Capitalized Compound Word Bonanza!

Thing are happening in the NBA, and there are no better people to answer questions about these things than the HP crew. And there are no better people to ask the questions about these things than you, the fans and readers. Although, sometimes we’re good at making up questions, too. But other times, fans and readers are great. Oh, and reporters. They’re good at asking questions. But DEFINITELY fans and readers (love you guys <3).

Seriously, thanks to everyone who took the time to hit us up on Twitter and Facebook and send in questions.

Roll call: Sean, Eric, Ananth, Jared, Noam, and ParoxyIntern. Trust these men to bring you the answers you not only want, but need.

1) Chris (Facebook): Do you trust this recent trend of NBA teams using the D-League or is it a fad that will go away?

Sean: I think the fact that teams such as the Blazers and Sixers are purchasing D-League teams is going to keep it in the conversation. The real test will come during the next CBA negotiations, when we see if the league and players’ union can come up with a system like baseball’s that allows teams to call up and send down players more freely.

Eric: This is totally dependent on the success of guys that went to the D-League, honed their skills, and came back to the NBA. If teams like the Thunder are going to send Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb to the D-League, and they come back and start killing it on the NBA level, then teams may look to emulate the OKC Model in the way front offices of rebuilding teams seek to emulate the Thunder’s approach to building a contender. On the flip side, Luke Harangody threw up a double-double in the D-League playoffs last year, but mostly just made fans want to throw up when they saw him play in the NBA level. No surprise the Cavs finally cut ties with him yesterday. The trend of using the D-League will continue if teams see a benefit; it won’t if they don’t.

Ananth: Thanks for the question Chris! Trust is crucial to any strong relationship but unfortunately not that many NBA teams have developed a strong relationship with their D-League affiliate. I don’t think it is a fad though, it seems like organizations are slowly coming around to building a proper minor league relationship with their D-League team. Boston does a good job with their affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, so does the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Philadelphia 76ers are rumored to being the old Utah Flash D-League team and moving the team to Pennsylvania. Hopefully more teams will join their ranks.

I once sat court side at a D-League game and watched a very raw Byron Mullens, who was playing for the Tulsa 66ers. These kids who were sitting next to me kept heckling him and at one point he took the ball out near us and said something to them which shut them right up. No real point to that story but it always makes me smile.

Jared: I want to trust it, but I don’t. Teams have never really used the D-League correctly before, so I don’t see why it would just start being the case now. Until they make it a full-fledged minor league system and stop docking teams an active roster spot when they send a player down, I don’t think teams will consistently use it the way it should be used.

Noam: I definitely don’t think it’s going away. There’s just been too much success with it – the Warriors having multiple callups make major contributions to the team (and eventually sign elsewhere – Dubs be Dubsin’), and Houston sending virtually every draft pick for seasoning and getting clear cut NBA players in return are two strong examples. It may spread slowly, but it will continue to spread.

ParoxyIntern: It is a fad that will go away. Chris, when was the last time, excluding the one and only Gerald Green, have you witnessed a NBA player make an impact after spending time in the D-League? NBA teams are trying to model the D-League after the Minor Leagues, but there is simply more talented baseball players then basketball players in the world.

2) David (Facebook): Have you seen a major impact from the new flopping rules?

Sean: Sure, there’s been an increase in “_________ is getting fined for that one” tweets in my timeline.

Eric: I don’t know if I would go as far as to say major yet, but it certainly hasn’t hurt matters. It’s hard to say whether flopping is truly down this year compared to previous seasons because no one really tracks that, but I will say it does not appear to be an epidemic like it was five years ago or so. Get back to me at the end of the season.

Ananth: Great question David! I personally have not seen a major impact from the new flopping rules but the fact that it is being discussed among players and coaches is significant. It will take some time to actually make an impact but it is a step in the right direction.

Jared: No.

Noam: Not really, and frankly, I doubt we will. Headline-grabbing rule changes tend to disapate once talking heads turn elsewhere (remember the harsher tech rules, or the new synthetic basketball?).

ParoxyIntern: Not really. That is because players will still yell and flop trying to sell the call. That is how they grow up playing. I am 16 and I have played some AAU myself so I know firsthand this flopping technique of selling a call was not learned in the NBA for these players, it was how they were taught. With that being said I do not see much of an impact from the rules.

3) Dan (Facebook) Size up the Bynum acquisition vs. the Bogut acquisition.

Sean: Bogut hasn’t provided close to the comedic value of Bynum’s hair and the bowling thing. Advantage: Philly.

Eric: Awful for both sides, but clearly worse for the Sixers. Bogut is at least under contract for another year so Golden State should, theoretically, be able to salvage something out of the trade. Bynum is a free agent next summer and it is extremely likely that he will never suit up for a single game with the Sixers. Just a dumpster fire of a situation all around.

Ananth: Danny boy, this is a really good question. Both players are 7’0″ feet but Andrew Bynum weighs 285 while Andrew Bogut only weighs 260 pounds.

Bynum has a 7’3″ wingspan but Bogut has him beat as he has a 7’6″ wingspan. So size wise they are pretty similar, but I will give the edge to Bynum and the 76ers because of his afro and Andrew Bogut looks too much like Ashley Simpson.

Jared: I keep going back and forth on this in my head, but I think I like the Bogut acquisition better. When healthy, he’s a top 5 defensive player in the league, and I don’t think you can say the same about Bynum on offense. The Bynum acquisition really changed the entire complexion of the Sixers. They went from being a defense-first share-the-ball team to one that would probably be offense-first and mostly based around getting the ball to one player, and that player hasn’t gotten on the court yet. It’s tough. The Bogut acquisition was really just filling in the last piece of the puzzle. He makes the Warriors roster make sense. He lets Lee do his thing on offense from the high post because Bogut is on the block. He can cover up for the defensive deficiencies of both Lee and Curry, and the stable of shooters Golden State can station around the perimeter is a good fit with his excellent low post passing.

Noam: Oft-injured, offensive cornerstone joins team going nowhere with major offensive issues vs. oft-injured, defensive cornerstone joins team going nowhere with major defensive issues. Pretty darn similar. The difference is, sadly, how oft-injured oft-injured can be. It’s been almost 3 years since Bogut was last an effective offensive player, while Bynum has at least shown short stretches of durability. This topic depresses me. Jrue Holiday! Steph Curry!

ParoxyIntern: They are very similar. Both huge risks. Both out indefinitely. Not a good acquisition for either team NOW, but at the time both looked like great deals for the Sixers and the Warriors. Honestly, I would be more worried to be a Sixers fan at this moment, because Bynum has a longer history of knee injuries then Bogut.

4) David (Facebook) Why is Pablo Prigioni the best? There is no wrong answer here.

Sean: Because he has the same first name as Bob Dylan’s teenage rapping grandson.

Eric: He’s 35 years old so he appeals to the older crowd. He’s a rookie so he appeals to the younger crowd. He runs the pick and roll well in an offense that is shifting away from more than just ISO-Melo. And he’s got a tremendous name.

Ananth:

Jared: ¡Pablocura! He’s pesky.

Noam: HE’S JUST SO HAPPY ABOUT EVERYTHING! It’s almost impossible to find something he doesn’t like. Here, I’ll show you. Pablo, how do you feel about J.R. Smith taking step back 32 footers?

ParoxyIntern: Because he is a 35 year old rookie!

5) Joe (Facebook): OJ mayo coming on strong. Main reason for his resurgence?

Sean: Not having to pretend to be a backup point guard anymore.

Eric: Environmental change? Has there been a player thrown into more Trade Machine scenarios over the past few years other than Pau Gasol and Mayo? He could have been a Pacer two different times but it fell apart in both instances. Maybe all he needed was a change of pace. Whatever it is, it’s paid dividends for the Mavs. He’s finally developed an efficient shooting stroke that’s led to career highs in field goal and three point percentages and his second highest free throw percentage since coming to the NBA.

Ananth: He changed his whole diet in the off-season and it has worked wonders – orange juice and mayo smoothies. Actually, a lot of the credit has to go to Rick Carlise and his system which is allowing Mayo to flourish. Mayo was a stud in high school and had a lot of hype surrounding him when he entered college. He probably will never match that hype but he is a damn good player and it is great to see him develop into a very solid NBA player.

Jared: Unsustainably hot 3-point shooting?

Noam: He’s making 51.2% of his threes. I really want to give him credit for being more aggressive (career high free throw rate, though not by a blowout) and for looking better without Lionel Hollins shackles (isn’t it weird how hit-or-miss Hollins is as a coach? He gets either 300% or 20% from everybody with no in-between), but if he took the same shots and shot his normal 38%-ish fromt three he’s the same guy he’s always been with more opportunities and less depressed glances at his feet.

ParoxyIntern: In Dallas, the guard position is not close to as crowded as it was in Memphis. Memphis had many players who played similar positions to OJ and played similar styles( Rudy Gay, Xavier Henry, and Tony Allen). Currently in Dallas he has no other competition. The fact that Dirk has been out for the whole season so far also makes OJ the number one guy in Dallas which is something he never was in Memphis.

6) @TheDissNBA (Twitter): Is Hasheem Thabeet better than Kendrick Perkins?

Sean: Most people are better than Kendrick Perkins.

Eric: On November 30, 2012, yes. Thabeet has outperformed Perkins in just about every main category (per 36 minutes) like points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. Advanced stats are in favor of Thabeet too. Oh, and Thabeet is making $7 million less than Perk this year making him a better front office value as well.

Ananth: It’s funny but this is a valid question due to improvement in Thabeet’s play this season. Basically the only claim to fame Kendrick Perkins has is that the Boston Celtics never lost a playoff series with Perkins in the starting lineup. He is a solid low post defender though and am not sure if Thabeet can match up with some of better centers in the league. It is important to note that Thabeet comes off the bench so plays against second string centers and forwards.Perkins still has the edge over Hasheem “The Dream” but if Thabeet keeps it up he could eventually surpass Perkins, the potential is there.

Jared: Thabeet has all the better individual numbers: points and rebounds and free throws per-36 minutes, FG%, PER, TS%, TRB%, STL%, BLK%, O-Rtg, D-Rtg, WS/48, but he still fouls way too much, can’t stop turning it over (~30% of his possessions) and the team is better with Perkins on the floor than Thabeet (though that has a lot to do with Perk playing with the starters and Thabeet only playing with the bench guys). Basically, I don’t know, and I don’t know if that says more about Thabeet or Perkins.

Noam: ………yes? Oh god, Nenad Krstic was the best player in the Green-Perk trade, wasn’t he?

ParoxyIntern: No. His upside was and still is incredible which is why it is good to have a player like that on your team. But to answer your question, he is not better than Perkins. Perkins is much bigger and stronger which helps on the boards as well as defensively against opposing centers.

7) From my friend Mike via text message: Can you get the HP scientists on how Rashard Lewis shoots with a slomo rotation on every shot?

Sean: PEDs

Eric:

Ananth: No science involved. It’s an art.

Jared: It’s all in the hips.

Noam: Rashard actually shoots fastmo. It’s just that his time scale is different than ours because he’s a million years old.

ParoxyIntern: He was taught that way in his early childhood and I guess it has worked for him, so props to him.

8) BONUS (from me): What do you think of Pop benching his big dawgs?

Sean: #TeamPop all day.

Eric: Did it suck for the fans? Yeah. Did it suck for TNT and those who worked on it? Absolutely. But did he have every right to do it? Yes. Shockingly, last night turned into one of the more entertaining games of the season. I was pulling for the Spurs all night, if only to get a Pop post-game press conference where he remixed Shaq’s “Tell Me How My Ass Tastes” rap for David Stern.

Ananth: I love it. This was a controversial topic yesterday on Twitter and even David Stern weighed in on the issue. I believe in the Spurs and am all for them extending their season any way possible. In the long run this is just one game in the first month of the regular season.

Jared: I didn’t care at all until all the moralizing that came along with it. Now I care because everyone’s being so high-and-mighty about it and it’s really annoying.

Noam: I was initially mad at him for ruining my TNT Thursday. Then Nando De Yolo and Tiago Splitter played such a fun game that I didn’t care anymore. Pop is hilarious, scrubs playing basketball is fun, and any talk about Substantial Sanctions is ridiculous.

ParoxyIntern: I am confused. I think this is smart to let them rest, but this is not allowed. This is equivalent to tanking a season but in this case it is just a game. I respect Pop as a coach but I hope that David Stern does something about this because if not, it won’t be good for the NBA.

Flashing The Pan

Metamorphosis Bed - Wave

The first two weeks of the season is a time when all sorts of unexpected and playful statistical oddities poke their heads up. Some of those oddities grab a foothold, sticking around for the entire season. Others quickly return to their subterranean burrows, leaving only a tantalizing memory.

From the menagerie of peculiar we’ve seen so far this season, the strangest iteration may be the continuing metamorphosis of the Milwaukee Bucks. In 2009-2010, just three season ago, the Bucks had the second most efficient defense in the league, allowing just 103.1 points per 100 possessions. They also were in the bottom half of the league in pace, averaging just 91.7 possessions per game. Scott Skiles, along with grinders like Andrew Bogut and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, built a defensive powerhouse that spent  48 minutes draping themselves over the opposition with all the subtlety of a weighted blanket.

Although Skiles has tried his damndest to maintain that mindset, the shape of the roster has been shifted out from under him. That intense defensive focus led to offensive challenges; problems the front office tried to address by adding limited, offense-only players like Corey Maggette, Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy and Stephen Jackson. Sending Bogut off for Monta Ellis signaled their full commitment to this solution. It’s true that additions, Samuel Dalembert and Ekpe Udoh are defensive-minded bigs, but the heart of this team no longer beats for the defensive side of the floor.

I would assume that the current state of the Bucks roster is meant to be an intermediate stage, a step on their way to something with more abject potential for domination. However, the early returns have been intriguing. The Bucks are off to a 2-1 start, with wins against the respectably talented Celtics and Cavaliers. The much-sought-after offensive elitism has not materialized – they’re scoring at a rate of just 99.4 points per 100 possessions, the 19th highest mark in the league. However they are continuing to chase that offensive ideal, pushing the tempo and averaging 98.0 possessions per game, the 4th highest mark in the league.

But that’s not the surprise. The Bucks have carved out a niche in our collection of early season peculiarities by replicating, and even improving on, the defensive efficiency of their days as rough-and-tumble grinders. Through three games they are holding opponents to an average of 101.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s just the 20th best mark in the league this season, but more than a full point better than their 2009-2010 performance, and significantly better than the league average mark of 106.1 over the last decade. That they’ve played solid defense with Brandon Jennings, Ellis and Dunleavy leading the team in minutes is impressive. That they’ve done it while playing at the league’s fourth fastest pace is even more impressive.

In theory, looking at offensive and defensive performance on a scale of per 100 possessions eliminates the inherent bias of pace. The idea is that pace is eliminated as a factor, and defensive performance can be evaluated on an even playing field. But while pace can be removed as a numeric factor, it can’t really be removed entirely. A faster pace suppresses defensive performance. An up-tempo game means defenses don’t have a chance to get set and get setting is what allows defensive schemes to function fully.

Looking at the past ten seasons reinforces even more strongly the outlier status of the Bucks’ early season performance. The graph below marks each team’s performance from the last ten NBA season by their pace and their Defensive Rating. The Bucks performance puts them in the top 15% of this group in Defensive Rating AND the top 2% in pace.

I should come clean and admit that the Bucks are not the only team that has displayed this unique trend to start the season. The Memphis Grizzlies (who made the Bucks pick a switch and then took them behind the woodshed last night) are averaging 98.3 possessions per game, the 2nd fastest pace in the league, to go along with the 9th stingiest defense, holding opponents to 96.6 points per 100 possessions. I chose to write 800 words about the Bucks and not the Grizzlies because of that issue of personnel. The Grizzlies have a roster designed for up-tempo defense. Tony Allen and Mike Conley pressure the ball, creating turnovers and fastbreaks in the process. The Grizzlies’ defense inflates their pace, and by design. The Bucks have no such advantage in the defensive acumen of their personnel. Their pace is inflated by offensive goals and their defense has worked in spite of it.

There will almost certainly be some regression to the mean. The Bucks and Grizzlies will both be near the top of the league in pace this season, their personnel demands it, although for different reasons. The Bucks however, have a much bigger challenge in continuing their defensive performance. But that’s the beauty of these first few weeks – much of the amazing we see won’t be repeated, but you never know when something new will decide it’s here to stay.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

Inside The Numbers: Where The Thunder And Spurs Make Their Hay

Most of the best coaches script a number of plays to start a game, half, or even a handful coming out of a timeout. Gregg Popovich is one of those coaches, so I wanted to look inside the numbers a little bit to see if that’s where San Antonio is making up the most ground.

The Spurs have great success when all of their pistons are firing, that vaunted “balance” of theirs — when the role players are hitting those perimeter shots and young-to-middling guns are contributing everywhere. Those are the plays that are easy. Pop has directed them in where they should be, what they should be doing, how they should be doing it.

It’s after that script runs dry that talent takes over, a facet Oklahoma City has in abundance to go along with youth, deep in a strained season. A season the Spurs are feeling at this point. Think 1999 lockout favorite the Utah Jazz who blitzed the regular season but ran out of gas late as grizzled veterans supplanted by an up-and-coming Spurs squad who would gain their first ultimate prize.

But as grizzled, talented vets themselves these days the Spurs also have enough left to at least momentarily take control of games still against a more energetic, youthful, and hungry Thunder team who have many more years yet in the tank than the combined minutes of Tim Duncan and international Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — Ginobili especially who played something along the lines of seven years pro prior to coming to the NBA.

So who’s making up ground and where, in the series?

True to form, the Spurs win the first quarter handily. But it gets better.

1Q Spurs 123-114

2Q OKC 138-106

• 3Q OKC 129-128

• 4Q Spurs 152-147

The Spurs have jumped out early in the series with a fair amount of regularity, but I hadn’t expected the Thunder to be winning the second quite so handily. I also epected to see the Thunder winning the fourth quarter. Been sayin’ it all year long: The Thunder win close games.

OKC has won a total of 11 quarters, with the Spurs winning eight and one all square at 26 apiece. Thanks to those monstrous 2Qs the Thunder have a combined 252-229 halftime break lead, but the disparity tightens by the end, by the final five minutes. The Spurs make runs, as we all expected them to do in the series, in three of the games mid-fourth, opting not to go quietly into the night, nor off into the sunset.

Coming into Game 5 the Thunder were a net +9 in the final five minutes, but after that Herculean effort put forward by the Spurs, that advantage shrinks to +1. Relish the series for what it is; a truly good one worthy of a great legacy faltering, and one hopefully rising to prominence. We can all wish for a Game 7. But I’ll be surprised if the up-and-comers don’t pull a ’99 Spurs on the ’12 Spurs.

Keep on flipping that script, Oklahoma. It’s glorious to behold.

No Championship for Old Men

Power — intoxicating and addictive — is never easily ceded. Not by nations and rarely by champions. It has to be taken. In sports, it’s often taken from the aging or the infirm. In the case of the Boston Celtics, it was both.

If you took one look at the Celtics sideline late on Wednesday night, you would have seen Rajon Rondo and Jermaine O’Neal lying on their aching backs, straining their necks to see the action on the floor. You would have seen Kevin Garnett expending the same amount of energy to do half the things he used to do. Shaquille O’Neal, the future Hall of Famer the Celtics signed to combat the Lakers in The Finals, spent what may be his final NBA game as the largest Big & Tall model in history. And as good as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are younger and have more talent.

The Celtics wanted to play, but their bodies betrayed them. Their time has ended. The Lakers too. Three days prior to LeBron and the Heat ending the Celtics’ successful four-year run in the East, the “new old” Mavs — an oxymoron — swept Phil Jackson and the two-time defending champion Lakers, playing like schoolyard chumps, into next season.

If the Celtics or Lakers had forced their series to seven games, we may be able to believe Doc Rivers’ claim that his Celtics team “isn’t done” or Kobe Bryant’s claim that the Lakers will be back as a legit championship force in 2011-12.

But the Heat and the Mavs channeled their inner Anton Chigurh and used their captive bolt pistols to blow a big hole through any notion that the Celtics and the Lakers can remain at a championship level beyond this season. It’s not necessarily age itself, but the changes that come with it. They are like Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff, who chases the light in his dreams but eventually wakes up before he can catch up to it. Those days are history. Things are different now.

If the Lakers couldn’t set aside their trust issues during the postseason, what makes anyone think that they’ll grow fonder of each other over an 82-game regular season? If the Lakers couldn’t get Phil his fourth three-peat, who thinks they’ll be able to band together for a new coach? Do you think the Celtics’ core will somehow grow any younger over the summer? As much as I like to believe Rivers, one of my favorite basketball people of all time, will return to Boston because he’s “a Celtic,” there have been rumblings for some time about him wanting to take a break. Changes should be coming to both teams.

But based on the history of those two franchises, you’d be inclined to believe they will bounce back. Between them they have 33 NBA championships and 52 combined Finals appearances. Based on what we saw of the two teams, it’s hard to believe that they will be able to dominate foes as they have the past four seasons. The NBA has too much talent on too many different teams. Not only that, that talent is in or close to reaching its prime.

For only the fifth time when both teams have made the postseason in the same year, neither the Lakers nor the Celtics made their respective conference finals series. By not having these specific Celtics or Lakers teams to cheer or jeer in a conference finals is slams shut the door on the post-Michael Jordan era of the NBA.

This will be the first Finals without Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan since 1998. It’s as clear a demarcation point in NBA history as the introduction of the shot clock in 1954 or Bill Russell retiring in 1969 or when Jordan and a hungry Bulls team destroyed an aging Lakers team in 1991.

Consider, too, the men who led them. It will be the first time since 1995 Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley won’t roam the sidelines during The Finals. Though, that stat deserves an asterisk considering Riley is the brains behind this current iteration of the Heat. He has the hardware to prove it.

Riley built the Heat in the Celtics’ image using the lure of a homegrown star to attract other stars. LeBron said as much before and after Game 5. Beating the Celtics was the reason he burned every bridge in Cleveland. For LBJ, getting past the Celtics was like MJ finally getting past the Pistons in ’91.

For LeBron, who at times has a loathsome lack of self-awareness, sounded contrite and humble after the Heat’s win. Whether his overall attitude has changed for the better remains to be seen. But one thing we know: the NBA will never be the same. It’s up to the new power generation to shape it to their liking.

The Rattle and Hum


“Just because we’ve got the best record doesn’t mean we have the best team,” Popovich said. “To be that, we definitely have to get better defensively.”

Each of the past four NBA champions has finished the season ranked in the top six in field-goal percentage defense. The Spurs are 12th, allowing 45.2 percent.

If the purpose of the rodeo trip is to forge a defensive identity that could carry the Spurs to a fifth title, they’ve received mixed marks so far.

In the two games that opened the eastern leg of this trip, the Spurs played two quarters of defense at Detroit and one at Toronto, which turned out to be enough.

“We can’t be satisfied,” point guard Tony Parker said. “You want to improve. That’s the goal every night. We don’t want to waste this record.”

Tonight, as the Spurs face a sub-.500 76ers team that always has been a bad athletic matchup for them and always has given them trouble in Philadelphia, defense again will be the focus.

“Usually, we’re moaning and groaning about offense,” Popovich said. “Now we’re moaning and groaning about defense. It’s been a schizophrenic season in that sense.”

via Spurs Nation » At 44-8, Spurs won’t settle for just winning.

Popovich knows. I’m not convinced the players do. I’m sure Duncan does. Ginobili and Parker may. But the rest of them are too young to really know. McDyess probably knows but he’s basically a Sphinx anyway. The defense isn’t there.

The question with San Antonio is if Pop will be able to replicate the offensive success from the regular season while somehow hitting the “switch” on defense. They can’t just be better. They have to become elite, instantly. With the style of play they’ve adopted, I have questions as to whether that’s possible. San Antonio is middle of the pack in pace, but they also do push the ball. They’re constantly pushing, but also aren’t forcing the issue. If they burst to halfcourt and you’re back, they won’t engage you on your terms, they’ll reset and engage you on theirs. Very Spurs like, only hyper-efficient.

But that kind of up-and-down game doesn’t create knock down drag-out basketball, the hallmark of “playoff basketball.” So the Spurs will have to go through a dramatic reimagining once the second season starts. How many times have you seen that be effective as a strategy for the post-season? You can be a different team in terms of effort. But you are who you are. The regular season doesn’t tell us how good you are, but it does tell your style. And the Spur’s style is offensively aggressive at the cost of its defense.

How many Gs can they pull on the turn once the playoffs begin towards a defensively stout team if they haven’t held that style the whole year? It’s not that they’re not a good defensive team. They’re seventh in the league. Thats’ a good team. But what makes them great is their offense. And as we’ve learned, that formula doesn’t work in the postseason, especially against teams with physical advantages, like lost of really tall people in the case of Los Angeles.

The point is not to say that San Antonio can’t adjust. They can. They have the personnel, and they have the coach. What’s interesting here instead is that Popovich has to be driven a bit mad by his own success. What kind of a point can he make to his team when they keep winning games? What kind of adjustments can he hope to impart when they’re on a historic pace? His own success is working against him, because he’s aware that something has to change over the second half of the season, but he’s got no way of forcing that message on a team that has to feel pretty good about itself. Reading the quotes, you get that sense. It’s not overconfident by any means, it’s simply content. They’re happy with how they’re playing. They’ll give the same quotes about improving, but there’s a difference between that and being driven to improve.

Maybe worst is the timing. This is the worst time to be at your best. It means that eventually you’ll regress a bit, which means you’ll have to hit an even higher gear once the playoffs start. The more you think about it, the phenomenal record, the record pace, the impressive dominance, it’s all a bit of a burden, and one that doesn’t even come with much of a reward.

**************************

For the first time after reading this, particularly this bit:

As this season has ventured into special territory — only six other NBA teams have gone at least 44-8 after 52 games, and all of them went on to win a championship — the Spurs have become less concerned with winning in and of itself, and more interested in how they arrive at the “W.”

via Spurs Nation » At 44-8, Spurs won’t settle for just winning.

I started to consider “What if the Spurs actually won the whole damn thing?” It would simultaneously be the most stunning development in recent NBA history outside of “The Decision” and yet completely fitting. The Spurs ruin the party for the Big Bad Markets and win with terrifying consistency and team-centric play. Only one All-Star. No big flashy personalities. Just sharing the ball, getting buckets, and racking up wins. How perfect would that be for a Popovich close? It’s so perfect, I don’t even want him to wait to retire.

I would honestly want him to take the microphone on stage on ABC live around the world and say “I’M DONE NOW. GOODNIGHT,” drop the mic, and walk off. It would be the best ending to any story, ever. It would be the NBA equivalent to Wesley riding off on the gigantic horse in “The Princess Bride.”

So we’ve got two inescapable truths slamming towards one another. The Lakers or Celtics will win the NBA title and the Spurs are headed for one of those seasons in a walk-off. I’ve been beaten down by the past three years into believing Celtics-Lakers in unavoidable (28% FG%! Catch the Drama!), but there’s a part of me that wonders if the grizzled old son of a bitch has one more run in him, one more way to defy the narrative set forth by the league.

Then I remember Richard Jefferson starts for this team and is a major role player.

Then I throw up for a while.

SPURS: Burn Down the Forest, Not the Trees

There was a time where the most apt metaphor to describe the San Antonio Spurs was the three-legged stool. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker were completely symbiotic, facilitating each others’ games in a way that other teams of co-superstars could only dream. It was a team where the offense and defense were engineered perfectly to the talents of the personnel and the expected environment of the post-season, and I don’t know if you heard, but it kind of worked. They won a ton of games, a few championships, and are/were a damn dynasty if I have to go to my grave repeating it. That model marked San Antonio as one of the two most successful franchises this decade, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether they deserve to top that list or merely be second best.

Needless to say, that’s changed a bit. The Spurs are no longer a fixture at the top of the Western Conference standings, and “the Big Three” as we knew them are dead. Duncan aged and slowed, Ginobili had entered a new phase of his career, and Tony Parker looked to be taking on a bigger scoring role before regressing this season and succumbing to injury. Nothing anyone does or says will revive the model that was and worked, and it’s become very apparent that all of the Richard Jeffersons in the world won’t breathe new life into a system that is now defunct.

Now, the Spurs are not dead. But the three-star system that relied on Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan to bring out the brilliance in one another as equally important parts? Like a doornail. It’s rotting, maggoty (I don’t think I mean Maggette), and frankly starting to smell a bit ripe. The fact that Ginobili has absolutely taken over since Parker’s injury isn’t a mistake or a mirage. With Duncan and Parker’s respective declines, the first due to age and the latter to injury, Manu is simply being given the proper outlet to do what he’s always been capable of doing, even if the system never properly called for it. Ginobili has had his rough patches, sure, and there were times both this season and last where he didn’t exactly look himself. But this is the man who could have and should have been doing more for the San Antonio Spurs, and finally is. The answer wasn’t importing RJ, but figuring out what on Earth went wrong with how the Spurs were utilizing Manu Ginobili, what ailed him, and why the product wasn’t the same as it used to be. Even the great Gregg Popovich comes up short from time to time, and though some have chalked up the Spurs’ drop-off to the inevitabilities of age, I don’t think that tells the whole story.

Manu may not be the spitting image of the player he was five years ago, but to say that he isn’t talented enough to be a top player in this league or that he lacks the flair that once made him a must-watch is absurd. I think that’s been made pretty apparent by his decision to completely dominate the month of March. However, his recent tear has done two very interesting things:

  1. Manu’s ability to run the San Antonio offense without Parker is improving his value as a free agent.
  2. Manu’s ability to run the San Antonio offense without Parker is proving his value as a Spur.

Now we’re getting somewhere. The Spurs are in a tough spot because they need to move forward without moving backward. Trying to replicate the Parker-Ginobili-Duncan model by replacing Ginobili is just foolish; not only does SanAn’s cap situation not allow for it (unless they convinced some other team to a bizarre sign-and-trade swap that has way too many moving parts to even consider), but the combination that Pop and Buford struck gold with was equal parts basketball genius and luck. Who could have predicted the evolutionary paths of both Parker and Ginobili? Duncan’s been a can’t-miss player from the start, but I don’t think anyone within the Spurs organization could have properly appraised the other two pillars of Spurdom. After all, even great scouting teams have to happen upon some luck once in awhile rather than make their own. Yet the more important element of Pop and Buford’s design — or really, of the luck involved — is how well the pieces fit. The Big Three complemented each other in a way few cores really can, and the only reason the Spurs have been so successful for so long is because of the synergy that those stars forged together. It’s incredibly specific and won’t be re-created by plugging in another name where Ginobili’s once was.

As I said before, the Big Three design in San Antonio is deceased, and to drag it out any further would only halt the Spurs’ potential progress. Don’t misunderstand my meaning here, though; just because the model is dead does not mean that the players themselves are done as a viable core. Perhaps the balance of the offense simply needs to shift in a way that better accommodates the change in effectiveness of the Spurs in question; a healthy Parker is capable of carrying an offense, and has developed a diverse enough game to be the primary offensive option for a team. Manu would be a crucial part of that offensive framework, though, as a team relying on a scoring playmaker like Parker would be best served with a player alongside him who can do more of the same…even if he accomplishes that “same” in a completely different way. Consider this the Joe Johnson model, where a team can find offensive effectiveness by relying on two players in the backcourt who are “combo guards” in some respects. Manu may not be thought of as a point guard, but he’s shown during Parker’s injury that he’s capable of fulfilling that role within half-court sets. Parker may not be thought of as a shooting guard, but is the purest example of a championship-level point that relies mostly on his ability to score. Obviously Pop wouldn’t dive into Mike Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense which makes the Joe Johnson comparison almost invalid on principle, but from a more abstract perspective, it makes sense.

So by Manu proving that he is, more or less, still Manu, he’s shown just how essential he is to what the Spurs look to accomplish. I shouldn’t need to tell you that when Ginobili plays, he tends to do some pretty amazing things in terms of individual plays and on a game-wide scale. When he doesn’t play, the Spurs tend to do some pretty crazy things. Like lose to the Nets. Manu’s resurgence simultaneously tears him in two separate directions, both as a valuable commodity and upcoming free agent and an integral part of the Spurs’ present and near-future. Such a development may be pretty obvious if the aforementioned free agent was, say, a 24 year-old emerging star, but for a 32 year-old shooting guard thought to be stumbling toward mediocrity? It’s a bit more rare. That’s because Ginobili isn’t just proving that he’s still producing at a high level, but proving that he might be completely irreplaceable for a Spurs team not looking to waste what precious years Tim Duncan has left. San Antonio might not have the time to twiddle their thumbs until Richard Jefferson’s contract expires, but luckily for them, he’ll be renamed “Richard Jefferson’s expiring contract” next season.

Moving Jefferson is going to be the key. The drop-off in the Spurs’ core may not be enough to justify blowing it all up, but it certainly doesn’t mean that they can be surrounded by a batch of random role players anymore. The fourth best player can’t be a DeJuan Blair, an Antonio McDyess, or this year’s Richard Jefferson. They need something better, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For all of the talk about two stars or three stars winning championships, a group of productive role players can be just as important. The Celtics wouldn’t have gone all the way without Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, and the dynasty Lakers would have had trouble without guys like Derek Fisher or Robert Horry. I’m not saying these players were absolutely essential to the degree of a Duncan or a Garnett or an O’Neal, but they’re an important part of the championship puzzle and without them the picture is incomplete. That’s where the Spurs of the future need to depart from the mold of the past. It’s what they’ve tried to do but couldn’t with RJ, and it’s the path they need to keep pursuing if they’re going to stay competitive.

Believe it or not, Jefferson could actually be worth something on the open market next year…or not. It all depends on how the ongoing labor negotiations proceed or more importantly, how they’re perceived. If owners and managers around the league anticipate a lengthy lockout (lasting more than one season), RJ’s deal will be worth less than those that expire in 2012. In that case, teams will be trading for a year of production and then will be off the hook for at least a fraction of the following season (if not more). If, however, the negotiations progress to the point where managers don’t anticipate 2011-2012 to be lost entirely, contracts like Jefferson’s would be quite valuable. Especially so for any franchise looking to take advantage of the new, likely more favorable contract terms of the upcoming CBA. That could put a lot of small market clubs in the bidding for Jefferson’s expiring deal, particularly those looking for a reboot.

But before San Antonio can look to move Jefferson, they have to retain Manu Ginobili. Otherwise they call it a day, surrender their ability to compete for a playoff spot next season, and have a go of it post-lockout. You could hardly blame the Spurs if they did, but what message does that send to Parker, who is sure to attract interest as a free agent in 2011? I know there’s a lot of trust between the Spurs’ management and their principals, but that has always come with a well-constructed plan and a commitment to winning. You have to believe the plan will still be there as long as Popovich and Buford are, but what of the commitment to winning when wins aren’t so easy to come by? When the Spurs are looking at a team next year that features Duncan, Parker, Jefferson, McDyess, Blair, and who? Will George Hill’s natural progress be enough to fill the void at shooting guard? Not bloody likely. Internal improvements aren’t going to save the day if Ginobili isn’t around, and losing him turns Parker into a bit of a wild card.

While San Antonio’s salary situation is actually quite flexible on paper (the only committed salary in 2012-2013 goes to Blair and likely Hill, and the only additional players on contract through 2011-2012 are Duncan, McDyess, and possibly Malik Hairston), their reality is a bit more complex. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that Duncan doesn’t want to play for a losing club. Even if he’s the farthest thing from a troublemaker, that could be a problem. I don’t see him rousing rabble, but the only way the Spurs can approach their plans for the future with any certainty as to whether Duncan is a part of that future is to hold on to Parker and Ginobili. It all starts this summer, and though clinging to the past hardly seems like the best way to usher in a new era, the safest bet for San Antonio might be to proceed with a similar roster but a renovated approach.

The San Antonio Crisis Of Faith

Above is the play-by-play for the final ten seconds of last night’s game against the Indiana Pacers. Hidden inside this very standard and typically unhelpful form of score-keeping is a wealth of information about what has been going right and wrong for the Spurs this season.

The hero of this ten second stretch is Tim Duncan, who manages to haul down two defensive boards and slam home the game winner during this short period. His trustworthy but unacknowledged accomplice is the young George Hill, whose defensive pressure is partly responsible for T.J. Ford’s missed 14 and 16-footers. But what’s most interesting about these ten seconds are the substitutions made by Gregg Popovich during the two timeouts.

via Read Between the Lines | 48 Minutes of Hell.

Graydon with an excellent feature on the closing minutes of the Spurs’ win over the Pacers. He dives in and discusses how Pop never put the big 3 on the floor at the same time down the stretch, which is really concerning for Spurs fans. Either Pop’s right and the Big 3 aren’t as reliable as they used to be, or Pop’s wrong and playing the wrong combos down the stretch and getting away from who brung him, so to speak.

More than likely it’s just a branch-out he’s experimenting with early in the season. In March, you’ll see Duncan-Ginobili-Parker. And they’ll succeed.

True Story, Red Dawn Starts Just Like This

During the tenured coach’s pregame session with the media, he was made aware of this tweet from Nash. And in classic Popovich style, he sarcastically answered the question, but not before making his feelings about Twitter crystal clear.

“Does Steve tweet? I’ve lost all respect,” Popovich joked. “Steve Nash should not be a tweeter. He’s a competitor, not a tweeter.”

As for Nash’s assertion that the coach’s time in the military helped him become a basketball mastermind, Popovich wholeheartedly agreed.

“He’s absolutely correct,” Popovich deadpanned. “I spent all my military time in Russian basketball courts in different cities collecting as many out of bounds plays as I possibly could. And now, I’ve had a chance to employ them.”

via Gregg Popovich, Not a Fan of Twitter — NBA FanHouse.

Popovich will never write a book, and if one is written about him, it will be deeply unsatisfying. He’s got too much lockdown on his life, his thoughts, his history. And it’s too bad, because over the last year I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is he the best coach in the NBA, he may be the best of all time, and he’s probably the most interesting, too. There’s no ego to him. None. The man’s a whisper of smoke in reasonably nice attire. He doesn’t lash out, freak out, or mouth off. He doesn’t sink to “psychological warfare” or any of the other crap certain other coaches sink to. He just does his job, treats his guys like men, wins games, and then deflects all of it to his players. And in the meantime, we miss out on the fact that Nash is kidding, but also really kind of right. The guy majored in Soviet studies during the cold war. There are bodies hidden somewhere, man. All of a sudden the lifeless, cold aspect of the Spurs seems much more fitting.

Also, did you know he wrote a chapter about Robinson for a Chicken Soup for the Soul book? What the hell?