What if the NBA Shortened the Playoffs? (A Look Back)

Everyone loves March Madness. As we enter the NBA's least favorite time of the year, fans of the oft-maligned professional league are constantly reminded about how well the NCAA accomplishes something that the NBA's never quite been able to muster. That is, the twitchy oversimulated madness of the NCAA tournament's one-and-done stylings. The tournament, at its best, is a several week supercharge of the NBA's "league pass alert" nights with 1 or 2 crazy games on at once.

In Zach Lowe's column on tanking yesterday, he offhandedly noted that one way to increase the underdog benefits of being a lower-seeded team in the NBA playoffs would be to decrease the number of games in a series. He has a point. In almost any situation, the easiest way to inflate your variance is to lower your sample size. Many of the smartest NCAA bracket predictors bake in adjustments to account for the fact that teams like Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers play at a deathly slow pace, slow enough to increase the inherent variance in their performance. This can lead to obscene pace-adjusted blowouts that break projection models (see: their numerous 30-40 point wins in 2012 that legitimately broke Ken Pomeroy's ranking system), but it also can lead to a game where the Badgers simply don't have enough possessions to prove they're the better team (see: their near-upset to Vanderbilt one game before nearly beating a fantastic Syracuse team in the 2012 tournament).

The NBA, though? It's one thing to say "hey, let's decrease the number of games in a series." It's quite another to actually figure out how that would impact things. Thing is, this isn't actually all that hard to check. So long as you have the right data. Luckily, I have exactly that. I've got a lot of data lying around that I can manipulate like this, and the question bugged me. This post endeavors to answer that very question -- if the NBA playoffs were a single elimination tournament, how would the course of NBA history change? I went back a decade, but given the size of the images, I'm probably going to post the specific brackets for five years and share the other five (and further) in a later bracket-dump post of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. For now, let's go back and look at the last five years. The results are, if nothing else, hilarious.

As for the methodology here, it was surprisingly simple. Playoff seedings remained the same, but each existing series was decided by the first game in the series. For instance, the Spurs and the Heat still made the finals in 2013 under a first-game-wins scenario -- as such, the Finals were determined by San Antonio's 92-88 win in Game #1. When the series DIDN'T exist in reality, the series was decided by the first regular season game that was played with the home court configuration that would've been at play. For instance, in 2012, Chicago's new second round series against Atlanta was decided by a January 3rd win where the Bulls defeated the Hawks at home. That's about all you need to know. Let's get to it.

• • •

nba playoffs 2013

For the first single elimination tournament, we actually see three fewer upsets than we saw in the actual playoffs. Oklahoma City beats Memphis, as they won the first game of the series behind Durant's heroics. Golden State similarly falls to the Andre Miller-led Nuggets. And Chicago falls to Brooklyn. Of course, that doesn't mean much for Denver, as their first regular season meeting with San Antonio was an embarrassing 26 point blowout in San Antonio. And it doesn't mean much for Brooklyn, as they lost their first matchup with the Heat by 30 points. The Spurs beat the Thunder in the WCF due to their win in the first game of the season. Out of the decade I've looked at so far, this is the only year where the Finals matchup actually stayed in tact. Were the Finals to end after a single game, Duncan would've probably won the Finals MVP with a 20-14-4 performance. That said, a single elimination style bracket doesn't seem to do a whole lot to 2013. What about 2012?

• • •

nba playoffs 2012

This one was actually pretty interesting. Due to the way I was assessing winners (that is, with regular season matchups), the Bulls technically had Rose for this entire playoff bracket. There were a two big upsets here that didn't happen in real life: Orlando over Miami and Atlanta over Boston. (NOTE: There's a typo on the MIA/ORL series -- MIA wins it 90-78, not ORL.) In the west, things actually go almost exactly the same as they went in reality -- the only thing out of wack was the WCF, where the Spurs won due to winning Game #1 of the actual series. In the East, Chicago romps the competition and makes it to a finals matchup with San Antonio. The Bulls win in what essentially amounted to a bracket made of chalk. Rose wins a tepid Finals MVP over Noah for his 29-1-4 game.

• • •

nba playoffs 2011

Here's the first one where upsets completely change the complexion of the bracket. The East stays untouched through the 2nd round, but Atlanta upsets Chicago in the Elite Eight and ruins the brackets of statheads everywhere. Meanwhile, in the West, Dallas is the only top-3 seed remaining after round one after the Hornets upset the Lakers and the Grizzlies upset the Spurs. The Grizzlies (America's team!) keep it going by upsetting the Thunder and the Mavericks in quick succession, becoming the first eight seed to make the finals in quite some time. (Not since Houston -- I don't think Houston makes the Finals in this scenario, but I haven't gone back to check yet.) Regardless. Miami makes it to the Finals and roundly obliterates Memphis for LeBron's first title in Miami. In a funny reflection of real life, Wade wins Finals MVP after LeBron's disappointing game.

• • •

nba playoffs 2010

Look, it's our first overtime finals!

This one ended up being quite a bit different than the way things actually played out -- other than ATL/ORL and BOS/CLE, none of the other series actually ended up mirroring real life. The Blazers upset the Suns in the first round, then keep it going by rallying in their Elite Eight matchup in Dallas. (No, really. They were down 4 entering the fourth -- they took a lead with 6 minutes left in the game and held on in a wild one to pull it out.) Meanwhile, the Lakers suffer a disappointing end to the Denver Nuggets, who stomp into Staples and end their one-seed dreams. Denver makes use of their surprise four-seed home court advantage in the Western Conference Finals by dispatching Portland in short order, getting the LeBron/Melo matchup we all wanted to see. Melo gets the better of LeBron this time, leading his Nuggets to a 118-116 overtime win in the Championship game. Melo scored 40.

• • •

nba playoffs 2009

The story is essentially same as the one we saw in 2010, just with a different ending. This time we see a lot more upsets -- the Sixers upset the Magic and the Bulls upset the Celtics (and then the 41-41 Bulls upset the Sixers!), while the Rockets upset the Blazers and the Lakers in quick succession. The Nuggets, meanwhile, make it all the way to the finals against LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers. (Yes, that means a single elimination tournament would've produced two consecutive Denver/Cleveland finals.) This time, LeBron's Cavs roundly upend Melo's Nuggets, with LeBron getting his first ring and his perfunctory Finals MVP for a workmanlike 22-8-11 game. Mo Williams scored 24, Ben Wallace shot 100%, and Billups scored 26. Fun times.

• • •

Tomorrow, I'll share five more years of brackets (including... a Detroit threepeat?!) and some collected statistics for the "single elimination" playoffs as compared to the NBA's more traditional seven game version. Stay frosty.

The Outlet 4.01: Scouting Freakazoid and Durant's New Wrinkle

outlet logo

Remember how we had that one series, a long time ago, where we'd entreat our writers to scribe short vignettes on the previous night's games? This is that series, only it appears once in a blue moon and often has little to do with the games of the previous night. As always, the vignettes may not always be tactful, tacit, or terse -- they'll always be under a thousand words, though, and generally attempt to work through a question, an observation, or a feeling. Today's short pieces are as follows.

  • CHI at CLE: Gothic Ginobili goes Wojnarowski, Part I (by Aaron McGuire)
  • OKC at SAS: Gothic Ginobili goes Wojnarowski, Part II (by Aaron McGuire)
  • POR at OKC: Durant's New Wrinkle (by Jacob Harmon)

Read on after the jump. Continue reading

NBA Chessboxing Power Rankings: Who's Toad-Style?

da mystery of brad millerboxing

A game of chess is like a sword fight. You must think first before you move.

Chessboxing is one of the most well-known sports of our time. I don't think there are more than two or three people who don't know what chessboxing is. With that in mind, I don't intend to actually define chessboxing at any point in this post. I only seek to answer a simple question: which teams would do best in a chess boxing match? We explore, you decide.

 THE SQUIRREL-STYLE ROADKILL: 30 to 18

30. Bucks - Tremendous upside, as Alph-bent-etokounmpo could surely play chess and box and have a puncher's chance against just about any other team's lineup. Everything else about this franchise? Incredibly depressing. No clue why chess boxing would be an exception.

29. Knicks - I'm not necessarily saying they're unintelligent, or bad, or that they'd have some kind of trouble executing the most basic things and having their best ideals and decisions stymied by an owner that alternates between laughably ignorant and seemingly malicious. [EDITOR'S NOTE: You won't fool me, Dewyn Davis. That's exactly what you're saying!] All I'm saying is that the Knicks playing chess is just about the funniest thing you can possibly imagine. Try to think of the worst possible move to make on a chess-board. Got it? Good. There's probably a way worse move that someone from New York's organization intentionally made happen to the Knicks.

28. Sixers - They're fine right here, thank you very much. Check back in a few.

T - 25. Bobcats, Cavs, Raptors - What do you want me to say? You're not very good at chess, and you're not very good at boxing. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I dunno, man. Anderson Varejao is a wild man and you never count Kyle Lowry out in a fight. And Luol Deng would be a chessboxing superstar. I don't like what you're doing here. I don't feel like I have a lot of outs.]

24. Pistons - I keep trying to put them somewhere but they keep going down and down and down the list. I think they'd lose the chess match in the first round, is the bottom line. What are Drummond's free throw struggles but a gigantic strategic target on their backs? You just have to dare Josh Smith to throw a right or hypnotize Drummond to think he's at the free throw line. And what's Greg Monroe doing? How does he fit in, to either chess or boxing? Brandon Jennings is fine, and probably an asset to boxing, but he's not an elite chess player. They could win if they have a good match-up that gets Smith in the thick of boxing. Or whatever the heck actually works for and/or motivates this team. They have yet to discover this on the court, so I don't know how they'd adapt to a new situation like chessboxing.

23. Orlando Magic - In Wu-Tang's "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'," it sort of sounds like they say Jacque Vaughn at one point. They aren't, but let's pretend.

22. Thunder - Westbrook is injured, and I have a feeling that Brooks would feel obligated to start the first round of chess with Fisher and the first round of boxing with Perkins to "get them involved." Also, because Kevin Durant is too lean to be an elite boxer. [EDITOR'S NOTE: While Fisher is an obvious downgrade from Westbrook, we should at least accept that chessboxing is easily the most perfect sport in the world for him. Have you SEEN how bulked he is? Guy's a bulldog, he'd destroy the point guards of the vast majority of other teams boxing! And he's extremely intelligent (head of the NBPA!) and cockroach-style adaptive (somehow still getting NBA minutes!) -- both things that help on a chessboard. Also, Perkins is huge. Who boxes against him and beats him?]

What's more, Durant's particular blend of creativity and athleticism doesn't seem to be the same sort of creativity that would help him excel at chess, in a hard-to-explain way. So let me try: Part of KD's particular charm is the virtually limitless continuum of possibilities he embodies at any given moment on the court. Durant's special creativity is built in part on the dramatic foundation that at any moment, he can go to a until-that-moment-impossible place on the court and react naturally. Every trip down the court feels like the first time someone with his particulars has handled the situation before him. This is maybe tautological -- technically, the present moment is completely new to everyone reading this and presents an endless series of... et cetera, you know where I'm going. And we're all unique snowflakes (no, really). It's just that KD is so obviously and visibly different from all of his peers (and seemingly his historical peers as well), and watching him is (and not "is like", but the flat "is") watching the first player like him to handle a specific situation. It's watching the logic of basketball applied to a thitherto-impossible-even-as-a-metaphor situation, which is perhaps right there (old rules, new context) the heart of all creative thought.

The only problem with Durant as chessmaster is thus that you're taking away a whole lot of the "new context" part of the formula right from the get-go, because chess is a discrete, well-understood sport. Durant is probably not different enough in his mentality from his peers in the same way he's different physically from his peers. Plenty of prodigies modern and historical, plenty of room for creativity, but all of it is bounded by mutually-understood rules and exhaustively-understood context, and I just think KD would find such a vast degree of context and creative history overly-imposing. And for us as viewers of the chess boxing, we'd find that KD's creative output would seem far more pedestrian when stripped of his instantaneous ability to create a new context simply by existing, as he can on the basketball court. Chess itself just feels like something KD would not want or be able to excel at, and any time he would spend dwelling on chess would constitute a tragic stunting of his inevitable phoenix-like basketball ascendancy that spans the universe entire. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Eh...]

(Okay, time to come clean. They're an easy top-10 team, but I'd forgotten about them until the end and didn't want to re-number everything from 10 to 22. Sorry.) [EDITOR'S NOTE: That's better. I accept your apology.]

21. Jazz - Look, I could point to the structural flaws and successes with chess boxing here: Like that Richard Jefferson's just not a good boxer (SOURCE: intuition, watching him on the Spurs). Gordon Hayward would rather play Starcraft than play chess (even if he and RJ likely have some chess game between them).

But the bottom line is that -- for whatever else I could say -- both chess and boxing are sort of violent. Yes, obviously boxing is filled with physical violence. But beyond that, both sports have a dramatic spike in activity centered around a decisive end-move. The knock-out. The check-mate. The end-game. There's a sort of Rube-Goldberg-machine series of alternating game-theoretic levers in an exchange of chess or boxing whose end goal is (eventually) the strategic obliteration of a contestant or an army. Yes, there is a detached, intellectual pleasure to the science of chess (and, to many generations of sportswriters past, to the sweet science of boxing). But ultimately I'm thinking jugular as soon as my pawn crosses the halfway point.

Chess and boxing - unlike the long, obviously-accumulative grind of basketball - are not about having a steady, patient hand through 48 minutes to help your team preserve, endure, and eke its way into a hard-fought 5-point victory (as the Jazz are eminently capable of with the development of Trey Burke). No, these sports - and therefore chess boxing - are about having a steady, patient hand only for the purposes of pulling a world-ending trigger. And - as great as Hayward has looked in stretches - the Jazz are not a team that pulls the trigger. Nor Burke, nor Favors. And especially not Richard Jefferson, despite his pleasant career renaissance on the Jazz.

Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert (eligible) are going to be crucial. After all, it's possible to force check-mate with just two rooks.

20. Wolves - In theory, a great chess boxing team. Plenty of great athletes (and a world-beater in Love), a total savant in Rubio that can probably visualize chess openings in his head given a brief description, and a good system that they're able to adhere to. The only problem is that the Wolves suck in close games, and boxing and chess are always incredibly close games. You're hardly two feet from your opponent!

19. Bulls - Top-five boxing, bottom-five chess. Kirk Hinrich plays an important role in both, which makes people that watch kinda sad.

18. Lakers - Top-five chess, bottom-five boxing. Nick Young plays an important role in both, which makes people that watch irrepressibly mirthful.

 THE GIRAFFE-STYLE PRETENDERS: 16 to 8

T - 16. Pelicans and Kings - The Pelicans are only here because Pierre isn't technically eligible. I have no doubt Pierre would consume the opposition, the only unknown is whether that's a literal statement or not. The Kings are here because they average out to a very average chessboxing team. Some mechanical issues aside, Isaiah Thomas and DMC would be excellent at chess and boxing respectively (even if I have my doubts about DMC's patience in a game of physical momentum). The only problem is that no one else on the Kings would be remotely passable. Except for Rudy Gay, and I don't know that I'd want him playing chess or boxing if I were coaching. Also, "Kings"? Talk about having a target on your back, as far as chess goes. Yeesh.

15. Hawks - "Never Trust The Hawks" is a bit like "Nothing Was The Same" in that they're both common four-letter short-hands you'll see in the intersection of basketball and hip-hop culture. Unfortunately, they're mutually contradictory. You have to choose one. If "Nothing Was The Same," then you could wake up tomorrow and trust the Hawks. If you can never trust the Hawks, then something is the same. QED. As for me, I'm going NTTH. Sorry, Drake. Here is a vocoder; why don't you sing how you feel?

14. Nuggets - Altitude gives them a cheap advantage or they'd be 20th. Oddly, despite the NBA influence being more athletic-based, the Nuggets benefit more in chess than in boxing. Impulsive moves from queens and rooks are generally easier to avoid when you don't have to go to bed in Miami and wake up in an ice fortress in the sky.

13. Mavericks - They'd be good, it's just that I'm pretty sure DeJuan Blair is something like 1-13 against Tim Duncan all-time in the Spurs' surely-extant offseason boxing work-outs. They're fine, but I don't trust that frontcourt to box and also play chess. I bet Monta is sneaky-good at chess but plays too impulsively to bank on.

12. Clippers - With Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Stephen Jackson [EDITOR'S NOTE: Stephen Jackson was cut.], and J.J. Redick, the Clippers would certainly have the advantage during the chess rounds over most teams. Chris Paul is probably the smartest single player in the league, or, at the very least, he's the most visibly and tangibly cerebral player in the league. He probably knows those tricky openings that can kill beginning chess players before they get a chance to fight back. And Stephen Jackson probably has a gigantic chess set in his backyard. I don't know why. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Stephen Jackson was cut.] Their weakness comes in the boxing category. Immense athleticism, and not taking anything away from their toughness, perceived or otherwise, but physically I don't think it works. After all, this isn't chess kickboxing. T-Rex arms by Blake and late (but improving!) off-hand defense by DeAndre Jordan will neutralize their athleticism and guarantee that they'll be above-average but mediocre at chess boxing. Sorry. And S-Jax would be - and likely is - a great boxer, but he's aging badly. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Stephen Jackson was cut.]

11. Rockets - Morey would teach them the high-leverage points in both sports, and how to take advantage of the single moment of opportunity that will raise Houston's chess and boxing games above an average nerd's into some super-human realm of self-actualization that is still really hard to watch with all the free throws (... technically they're called en passant and holds, but still). [EDITOR'S NOTE: Stephen Jackson was cu--wait, you didn't mention him, my B.]

10. Suns - Scrappy, will beat the Vegas odds every time. The Morris twins will run interference for each other and end up upsetting better chess players using their brotherly wiles. Miles Plumlee went to Duke, which -- for once in his life as an NBA player -- might actually be valuable.

9. Nets - Yes, they're a little long in the tooth. But they're also long in the arms and the legs and the career histories. As for chess? I wouldn't necessarily want any of them to play chess except for Deron Williams and maybe KG. Actually, I haven't decided if KG would be an incredible chess player, or just someone that constantly tried to use the king to shove pawns off the board when it wasn't anyone's turn and the opponent wasn't watching, thinking that he was winning the "psychology game". Or maybe that's what an incredible chess player actually does. I don't know.

8. Heat - They're great on paper, but it's a gimmicky tournament and Wade is going to be in full branding mode. He'll demand the Heat only move bishops and bishop's pawns ("Three" moves). He'll endorse a new product (Connect Three), be featured in a commercial and say "I got you. Diagonal-three." on your TV screen ad infinitum on what is basically tic-tac-toe (like the ticky-tack fouls he draws!). [EDITOR'S NOTE: ...What?] Spolestra will have crow's feet and circles under his eyes as he gets no sleep for a month trying to compensate for Wade's demands, and in the end Spo'll do a pretty good job putting together a chess boxing squad, helped by the fact that LeBron turns out to be possibly the best boxer on the planet and a passable chess player.

 THE TOAD-STYLE CONTENDERS: 6 to 1

T-6. Wizards and Celtics - I think John Wall could handle this all himself. Cerebral and athletic. He's a player that can credibly contest Greg Monroe at the rim in a game. Twice. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on the length. As for the Celtics, Rondo and Brad Stevens both advanced past chess when they were five (were given cap and gown to signify their graduations in brief, private ceremonies) and moved on to the real hard stuff: Connect Four. They are both aficionados of the sport, which is probably the closest single-game encapsulation of chess boxing. Will we ever understand da mystery of chessboxing? No, but Rondo and Stevens probably already have. They got you, diagonally.

5. Grizzlies - we in the mud.

4. Wa--... [EDITOR'S NOTE: Four words for my Grizzlies, Alex? THAT'S ALL YOU WROTE?!?! FOUR WORDS???]

5. Grizzlies - Apparently Aaron is literally refusing to let me continue this post until I expand on his favorite chessboxing team. I'm willing to bet money that Tony Allen is actually a grandmaster under multiple aliases he maintains as he red-eyes between dozens of seedy Russian airports and hotels. I'm willing to bet he's also pretty good at boxing. This is one of those matchups that's straight-up unfair for most other teams, given that the Grizzlies have 5-6 legitimate large-dude big men on the roster that include 3-4 of the most unguardable boxing talents in the league. And that's BEFORE you get into scrappy technical never-say-die fighters like Conley and the wildcards like Allen. Mike Miller strikes me as a decent chess player, too. Really strong team.

4. Warriors - Start with Bogut and Green for boxing, Curry and Barnes for chess. Iguodala for both. They could be a contender, although I have issues with their depth and don't really know where David Lee fits, which sounds not-dissimilar to my preseason thoughts about their basketball roster. Still, a virtuoso like Curry and bruisers like Bogut and Green are going to put you high on any chessboxing rankings. Just a fact.

3. Blazers - They have the presence to get offensive boards, they have somewhat-unguardable length, and their general level of production is pretty much sustainable. They don't have any obvious weaknesses, except for defense, and they have enough energy to weather a storm. They don't lack confidence, poise, or mechanics. Their collective footwork and handwork -- Lopez aside -- is pretty darn good. That will pay off in the sweet science. Lillard and Stotts can handle the chess, making moves that are unorthodox and risky but that pay off precisely because no opponent is on Lillard's wavelength enough to bring about the down-side. They're exciting, they're dynamic, they're elite. But I'm putting them here largely by default, because of health, random chance, and the lack of better alternatives. The Spurs of Chess Boxing Power Rankings.

da mystery of chessboxin

T-1. Pacers and Spurs - These teams have to be at the top for several reasons.

  1. The Spurs are the most likely team to have several chess players, followed closely by the Lakers, Heat, and Pacers, in that order.
  2. As you can see above, both team spend time in the off-season boxing, and the Spurs have for several seasons. We know this practice dates at least back to Fabricio Oberto.
  3. Roy Hibbert boxes through his connection to Tim Duncan. George Hill was on the Spurs for a few wonderful years and likely boxed several times. And David West obviously boxes every day of his life and knows every boxer in the world personally from having boxed said boxer. Paul George is a ridiculously lengthy athlete entering his prime who relishes defensive assignments.
  4. The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard.
  5. Aaron and I are contractually obliged to post this image whenever we possibly can.

Physically I'll give the slight advantage to the Pacers. They have tremendous length and know how to use it. Hibbert with his rather slow frame might be susceptible to toppling, but that's assuming you're able to reach him to put your full weight at Hibbert, a gambit that, if it misses, is immediately disastrous. And there's a good chance Hibbert's just too large for that to even become a consideration, even against NBA athletes. You might be able to tire him out, but then the Pacers can just go to West or George to spell him. The Spurs are - at least in terms of starters - plenty old and on a bad night could end up getting destroyed like the sad later career of Ali, before they even get to play a round of chess. Duncan would get toppled at it would be so sad. But on a good night, they're not only formidable but elite. Also, Boris Diaw is impossible to move intentionally and would likely be deceptively elite at dodging and using your momentum against you.

As for chess: With Pop on the sidelines, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan, Manu, Danny Green, and Patty Mills? I'm sorry, this is a lopsided match-up for just about anyone. Maybe Chris Paul takes control of the Clippers/Spurs chess match. I doubt it.

Putting on a Fertility Clinic: CLE/CHI Trade Thoughts

"Fertility Clinic photograhs on MY Gothic Ginobili? It's more likely than you think."

"Fertility Clinic photographs on MY Gothic Ginobili? It's more likely than you think."

If I had to venture a guess, I'd assume that most of our readers aren't married with children. It's okay, friends. I'm not either. But if there's one piece of advice I would -- and have! -- given to virtually all of my friends who eventually want to be mothers and fathers, it's to eschew sweating the small stuff and make absolutely positive they cut into the context of any childbirth statistics ever given in an effort to push them into a certain course of action. This is important in all walks of life, obviously, but it's never more important than it is when you're dealing with something as important as a child. Whether the data is inspiring them to get a child or entreating refrain, it's a decision that's way too important to let apocryphal data and societal mores dictate the way you and your partner proceed. There's an exceedingly excellent case study to this effect centered around a truism presented as statistical fact by a vast majority of the doctors advising on childbirth in the 21st century.

"One out of three women over the age of 35 will not have conceived after a year of trying."

Simple, short, sweet. If you want kids, everyone had better start before 35, or you're in for years and years of sitcom-quality disappointment! Built in laugh tracks and sad trombones will follow you around as the process goes awry again and again. If you're looking for a fulfilling child-filled life, better jump in the sack early and conceive as soon as possible. Get on it! There's just one small nit to pick with this conclusion, and it has to do with the data the statistic is based on. It's not that it's without data. In fact, it's got some very strong data behind it, at least compared to a lot of the bunk medical statistics that inundate junk science and crazy recommendations. It's from a dataset of 3,508 families from church records spanning over 150 years. It included rural areas and areas of significantly higher socioeconomic status. It was performed in France, a decent reflection of the world at the time.

The problem: this 150 year study spanned 1630 to 1780. That's right -- the statistic doctors and armchair experts love to cite when convincing women to bear children early is based on a study that's well over 200 years old. Things were a little bit different back then. For one thing, lower life expectancy meant that at birth, the average person would be dead by 39. (Modern medicine has pushed the expected-age-at-death upon birth all the way up to 70 this past year.) Women who were between 20 and 24 years old at marriage bore 7 children on average, with only 3.7% of them remaining childless. (That's 2.6 children per women today, at least in the United States.) The most important part? There was absolutely no fertility treatment in that day and age, no contraceptives, and no widely available healthcare at all. There were midwives to help the birth along but little guidance on moving the process along, something we have in spades today.

Although women do clearly lose fertility at a certain age, there's scant little present-day evidence supporting the idea that modern infertility dawns before 40. In fact, there are a number of important studies to the contrary. A 2004 study found that 82% of 35-39 year old women conceived within a year (as compared to 86% of 27-34-year-olds, hardly a vast gap). A 2013 study found that 78% of 35-40-year-olds conceived within a year. Some smart takes have suggested the gap is rooted less in an inherent tendency of older women with children being slightly less fertile to begin with, noting that the most fertile ladies have a higher probability of "accidentally" filling out their family earlier and that women who are fastidious about birth control usage have roughly the same chance of a mid-20s woman of bearing children easily.

My point, in short: even strong data with a huge sample size and a large tail is eventually made obsolete.  The study that doctors are referring to with the scare statistic on women in their 30s is very real, and it's one of the best pieces of data we have from back in the 1700s. It's immensely valuable to historians and it's immensely interesting to analyze. But that's about as far as we can take it. The surrounding facts are simply too different to easily generalize the findings of generations past in a modern context, and citing it when discussing modern decisions is about as irresponsible as advice wrought from citing no data at all.

 • • •

On Monday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers swapped Andrew Bynum's non-guaranteed $12 million dollar salary for half a year of Luol Deng. As sweeteners, the Cavaliers threw in two second round draft picks, a protected-to-the-moon Sacramento draft pick, and the lottery-protected right to swap picks in the 2015 draft. For the Bulls, this was considered a decent haul for a player they weren't intending on paying going forward. Expiring contracts don't mean much in the modern NBA, and as Bill Simmons might say: any time you can pick up three draft picks and save money, "you have to do it."

A lot of the analysis of the trade was focused on Cleveland's future. Most of this analysis ended up rather negative. After all, the future plan here isn't exactly golden. What's Cleveland really doing? At 11-23, the Cavaliers entered the trade at 3 games out of the Eastern Conference playoffs with three teams separating them and the eight seed. Deng should improve them, but they can reasonably expect New York and Brooklyn to be improved in the season's second half as well. Not to mention the obvious fact that they looked like a solid lottery team in the much-ballyhooed "best draft in the history of the human race." (OK, nobody's said that. They've just heavily implied it and been hilariously overenthusiastic about it.) Why give that up -- and draft picks! -- on a lark?

All that said? I think both these conclusions are a bit hasty. The way I look at the trade is thus: Cleveland just acquired an immensely solid player that fits perfectly with their long-contract coach's style and playbook. The player in question is currently having the best season of his career on a cap-friendly expiring deal that neither imperils their summer cap space nor takes minutes from any in-position rookie. Acquiring a player like that is rare. Very rare, actually. Anthony Bennett might lose a few of his struggling out-of-position minutes, but that's probably for the best when it comes to his future development. It's very easy to mention the assets Cleveland liquidated in scare quotes and laugh lines. "The Cavs just gave up three draft picks on a rental! What's wrong with them? WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?" It's true -- their future is confounding, and their goals are a bit unclear. But what assets did they really give up? To wit:

  • 2015 Portland Trail Blazers second round pick: Unless the Blazers implode in a flaming rush of flighty glory, chances are pretty high that Portland's 2015 season looks a lot like Portland's 2014 season. At least in broad strokes. I'd say 50 wins or so is the most likely scenario, barring a crazy injury, and that should be enough to push this pick into the second round's bottom ten. Let's say 50.
  • 2016 Portland Trail Blazers second round pick: Handicapping a team two years in the future is difficult. But Aldridge and Lillard should still be in their primes, and the team as a whole is quite young. So I don't see any particular reason why we shouldn't expect another win total in the 50s in 2016, either.
  • The Most Protected First Round Pick Ever: Okay, that's really quite unfair. But it was essentially the point when Sacramento traded the pick in the first place, and it remains the point today. If the Kings finish with a top-12 pick in 2014, they will not convey the pick this year. As they currently stand at 11-22 (on pace for the fourth overall pick), that seems exceedingly unlikely. In 2015 and 2016, the pick is protected such that if they finish with a top-10 pick, it doesn't convey. I did some simple math to calculate the average win-range of the 11th worst record in the league. The range spanned 35-40 wins. It's not unattainable for Sacramento, but it's going to be rather difficult -- DeMarcus Cousins is having an all-star caliber offensive season this year and Isaiah Thomas is at the peak of his potential. They're still one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and in a conference like the modern West, it's hard to see them winning 35-40 games unless they manage to adapt defensively in such a way that lets them stop a team or two. Will the rookies of the next few years improve the Kings defensively enough so that 40 wins is realistic? Color me unsure. Best case scenario would be the 11th pick in either draft. Worst case? If the pick doesn't convey in 2015 or 2016, it becomes Sacramento's 2017 second round pick, which is problematic given that 2017 is far enough away that it's easier to imagine a better-constructed roster having taken hold at that point.
  • Lottery-protected swap rights in 2015: This is an asset for Chicago, as it represents a potential maximum pick gain of (if they have the best record and the Cavaliers are the worst playoff team) around 15 spots, and gives their own pick more upside in trade talks if they decide to flip some of their now-owned picks for veterans that can bolster Rose after his return next season. This is also quite possibly one of the easiest things Cleveland has ever given up. Look at it this way: if the Cavs fail to improve enough to make the playoffs this season or next, they'll keep their lottery pick and give up nothing. If they improve enough to make the playoffs this season, the general youth of their team would have them internally thinking they'll have the potential to make the leap to a 4/5 seed team next season and lose -- at worst -- 4-5 spots in the draft to Chicago. And this whole strategy is a very high-upside/low-downside one for Chicago -- if Chicago flames out and ends up a marginal playoff team next year, the swap could be as little as one or two picks or -- if they miss the playoffs (a situation more possible than most care to admit) -- completely impossible.

When you take the picks out of the amorphous and scary "three draft picks" verbiage, it becomes a lot less enticing. And Chicago's haul in the trade becomes a lot less fun for Bulls fans. At their very best, barring future moves, they'll have a pick at #11 overall (ideally in 2015, since they'll want their high pick to be contributing at a high level at some point before Noah's body gives out), two picks in the fifties, and... maybe they get to pick a few spots higher in the 2015 draft? The real benefit for them is the one that Cleveland didn't care much about at all -- Bynum's contract was only half-guaranteed, and to my knowledge, Cleveland's already paid almost all of that guaranteed money. Reinsdorf saved something in the neighborhood of $20 million dollars on the deal, which was the real reason the Bulls traded away the guy who was playing the best ball in Chicago for four shaky assets. Cleveland was going to waive Bynum regardless -- this trade allowed them to flip some of their shakiest, lowest-probability assets and a contract they didn't care about for a player that could -- quite possibly -- end up as a big part of their long term plan, a la David West in Indiana. As the Gilberts might say: "what's not to like?"

• • •

"No, Manu, get back to the end of the draft order. Future people need you for some specious arguments."

One last thing, and a tie-in to the earlier tangent regarding fertility rates. (No, that wasn't the start of an attempt to gradually turning Gothic Ginobili into a blog about historical fertility, tempting though that may be.) One of the oft-repeated truisms that's been shared ad nauseum in response to any ambivalence about these so-called "assets" is the idea that every draft pick is an asset. After all, you can find talent everywhere in the draft. Manu Ginobili was selected at 57. Isaiah Thomas was selected at 60. Tons of great undrafted players make the league every year. There's still talent down there, and we need to always state that and heavily price it in when assessing the value of late second round picks. Right?

You know what? No. Not right. It's a factor, and it's context that needs to be noted. But it's also incredibly misleading without the contrary context. When doctors and armchair fertility experts cite scare quotes about the women-over-35 statistic, they're being intellectually dishonest despite being factual and accurate. Lies by omission can be as insidious as simply making things up. When someone makes things up it's generally easy to track back their statement and discover they were lying to begin with. It's significantly harder to take a factually correct statement and discover what contextually made it inappropriate for your situation. And simply stating "Manu got picked there" as though it invalidates aspersions to the draft pick's value ignores a lot of the context around Manu getting picked there at all, not to mention the basic context about relative pick value in the first place.

In the 1990s, foreign scouting wasn't just a small-scale enterprise. It was virtually nonexistent. At the time Manu was drafted, he'd been leading professional basketball teams since the age of 17 and putting up high-quality numbers for four years. He was an athletic NBA-size player with a beautiful game and a ridiculous work ethic. In the modern world, a player like Manu Ginobili would be isolated much like Ricky Rubio -- he'd be on the radar of NBA teams from 14-15 years old, and competing internationally at a very young age. This is not to say that every single market inefficiency that keeps a player from being picked early is gone. There will always be new places to find value, and there will be ways to get decent value at that range of the draft. But it IS to say that as scouting has improved and international players have made their mark on the league, the exact market inefficiency that caused a Hall of Fame player like Manu Ginobili to go in the late 50s has closed. And it's difficult to imagine what future market inefficiency would cause something as unfathomably unlikely as that to ever happen again.

And none of this even gets into the biggest issue in treating all draft picks as amorphous "assets" -- draft picks are all assets, but the NBA's extremely late draft picks are akin to playing scratch cards for $50 winnings. To try and support the case of "value in the late draft", a good friend and quality analyst in Kevin Draper sent the following 17 player list of good players that were picked in the late 50s or undrafted: Manu Ginobili, Kyle Korver, Marcin Gortat, Amir Johnson, Ramon Sessions, Patty Mills, Isaiah Thomas, E'Twaun Moore, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem, Jeremy Lin, Jose Calderon, Wesley Matthews, Anthony Morrow, Reggie Evans, J.J. Barea, Chuck Hayes. It's a great list, and it does much to support the idea that smart teams can find some value in the late reaches of the draft.

But, again, consider context -- that list of 16 players arrived over fourteen years of draft picks.

Assuming that every season there are 11 picks from 50-60 and about 10 guys who went undrafted that'll make the league (a fairway assumption, I admit, but a lowball one), that's still something in the neighborhood of sixteen NBA-quality rotation players out of a group of THREE HUNDRED OR MORE POSSIBLE PLAYERS. Sixteen in three hundred! That's around a 5% chance of the pick panning out, if you're counting. That means a draft pick in the 50s is an asset where 95% of the time you're looking at a wasted roster spot or a waived player with no recognizable value to the team. Five percent of the time, if you're lucky, you might get a guy like Patty Mills or Reggie Evans, a 9th or 10th man that you could've gotten for a few million on the open market. And then, if your team is really really lucky, and your scouting department is years ahead of the game on a glaring market inefficiency that nobody else has keyed into yet, you might get the next Manu Ginobili. Oy gevalt.

Draft picks are valuable. Unbelievably so. But a draft pick cannot only be valued by its very highest upside potentiality -- it must be valued rationally as a function of the upside, the downside, and the overall likelihood of both. For low draft picks, they're genuinely low-upside value plays with extraordinarily low probabilities on the upside scenario. The Cavaliers are flush with draft picks in a general sense -- even after trading away three draft picks, they still have four first round draft picks in the next two years and four second round draft picks as well. (Yes, that's right -- pre-trade, the Cavs had eleven draft picks in the next two years. Gilbert had officially become the exact opposite of Ted Stepien.) They flipped the uncertainty inherent in their two least valuable second round picks, a contract they were going to waive anyway, and their amorphous protected first round pick for an expiring deal on a player they've coveted for a while.

What's more, that player fits. Very well. He plays their by-far worst position and doesn't crowd out the minutes of any of their younger players. He fits well with their long-contract coach. If Cleveland didn't hit a slam dunk on this trade (and indeed got as "embarrassed" as some very smart analysts have said), is it even possible for a non-title-contending team to "win" a trade in media discourse if they give up a single draft pick? Does giving up draft picks -- no matter how low-upside those draft picks may be -- foment an instant loss in every trade for a team that isn't playing for June? Perhaps, but I don't think so. Question Cleveland's future plan all you want -- it's about as questionable a future plan as they come. But they weren't being irrational, and they definitely weren't getting bilked.

Special thanks to the December 2013 issue of Significance magazine for alerting me to the fertility story. I enjoyed it.

The Final Timeout: New York's Final Moments in Knicks/Wizards

mike woodson

The following is a transcript taken from Alex Dewey's SportFU system. SportFU is based around a series of cameras Dewey placed in NBA arenas under the floorboards. After placing them, our intrepid young reporter realized that his cameras captured absolutely none of the visuals of an NBA game, on account of being underground. So he probably could've saved several million dollars by switching to audio recorders. But we won't get into that. At least they captured enough audio to be able to bring you this post, right?

 • • •

Mike Woodson is leading the huddle. His Knicks are clinging to a 1-point lead against the Wizards with 24 seconds left.

Coach Woodson: Alright, y'all. Stick with me here. It's been a rough season, but we've had a great 2nd half today! So let's make something happen! You just gotta trust and believe in your defense, man. One thing I learned in Atlanta is: gotta trust your people, number one. Y'all gotta BELIEVE you can get that stop if ya need it, y'know?

Carmelo Anthony: I believe, Coach. We can get that stop if we need it. Look, you guys, I know we've had troubles before but we can NOT lose this game.  We have to trust each other. As long as we have Tyson in the middle, we're fine.

Woodson: Actually, we don't have Tyson.

Melo: Well, where is Tyson? He's not back yet? Dang!

Woodson: Tyson's got, like, an eternal contusion fracture of the spotless mind or something. Somewhere below his knee. Day-to-day.  Look, he's still in his suit, right over there.

Tyson Chandler: Hey! What's up, guys? I'm right here. Glad you're looking at me, but maybe you want to focus on that timeout instead of me! I can't play, you know!

Melo: Hey, Tyson! Nice to see you.

Woodson: Bottom line? TC's not going to be available. Andrea, it's gonna be you in the middle. Y'all help him out. Support him!

Melo: Oh sh-... I mean, uh... Yeah, you can do it, Andrea. Just man the middle. Just like we've been practicing.

Andrea Bargnani: [consumes pasta]

Woodson: Right, so we HAVE to guard the middle. Y'all know what I mean? GOT to have a presence. We're down by 1 so I'd rather force them to 3 it, feel me? Even a long J would be fine. But no layups. I'd rather they get an semi-open 3 than an easy-ass five footer. Got me?

Melo: [nods] We got it, Coach.

Woodson: J.R., I know you care about your rep. I get that, young man.

J.R. Smith:  [looking up at the ceiling] Right, Coach.

Woodson: But this is our whole team's rep, now. I know you don't want someone to hit a jumper in your-- J.R., ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION?

Smith: [thousand-yard stare] Do what now?

Woodson: Damn, J.R. Look... I know you care about your rep, but focus on the basket, please. Just 24 seconds. Focus on helping at the rim. Don't look at your guy at the 3-point line. Protect the rim first and foremost. Help your people under the rim if someone gets beat. They got a rep, too. Y'know?

Smith: [looking at the opposite basket] Right... shoot it at the rim...

Woodson: Look, just... pay attention on defense. That's all I'm asking.

Smith: [looking at Tyson Chandler] Right, Coach. Seriously, protect the rim, help, I'll do whatever I have to do to make sure they don't score.

Woodson: [a bit touched] Thanks.

Melo: [supportively] J.R. the lockdown man! Keep it going for 24 more, J.R.! You can do it!

Woodson: And Pablo and Ray are out, of course.

Melo: Right.

Beno Udrih: So it's up to me, then.

Woodson: Right, Beno. Good chance you end up on Wall or Beal. Now, you've played under some great coaches in your time, right? You played under Pop, of course.

Beno: Right.

Woodson: So you know two things about the next possession. Simple as anything in the world.

Beno: Right... Why don't you just tell me so there isn't any confusion?

Woodson: Well, for one, they want to put up a shot so they don't leave any time on the clock, and two, they're going to go to Beal on a switch against you, probably on a dribble-hand-off.

Melo: Wait, what?

Beno: How do you know that?

Woodson: Simple. Beal's hot and he's their most explosive scorer, he's a capable ball-handler, and we'd have trouble trapping him. Plus, if he can get a switch to you (and they can easily draw that up), we have to honor it. He's too good a shooter to leave him WIDE open. You're gonna be at a slight size disadvantage, and so they'd be foolish not to try and take advantage.

Beno: Right.

Woodson: But y'all also have a trump card, right?

Beno: [looks around to team] ...Sure, Coach. Why don't you tell everyone so we can all know what you're talking about?

Woodson: The foul to give. We have a foul to give. I can't stress this enough. We have a foul to give.

Beno: Right.

Woodson: If the Wizards try anything before, say, 3 seconds are left (and make sure one of y'all call it out if Beno can't check the time), you should foul them. Make them draw up a whole new in-bounds. That should screw up whatever they want to get, enough to give us the best chance of winning.

Beno: Okay. You know what, I CAN do that, Coach!

Woodson: That's all. Just remember. Trust and believe. Believe and trust. Just do the simple shit that I'm asking of you and we'll win. And, if we don't win and y'all do all of that, y'all can blame me in the next huddle.

Melo: Coach, you're doing great. This is all great stuff.

Woodson: Thank you.

The Knicks gather their hands into the middle of the huddle. 

Team: One, two, three, BREAK!

Legitimate intensity, to a man. Even J.R. looks totally engaged, a terrifying, but beautiful, sight.

James Dolan: Hey, what's up, everyone?

Everyone groans.

Dolan: You can't spare a moment for the guy that signs your checks?

Melo: Come on, James, not now. We're right in the middle of a g--...

Dolan: Controversy, right? Felton for Lowry, who says no?

Woodson: Raymond is a fine young man, can we talk about this later?

Dolan: I just got off the phone with Phil Jackson. Do you want to know what we talked about?

Woodson: Not especia--...

Dolan: I told him I planned to hire Pat Riley and Ettore Messina to co-coach the Knicks next season. Laughs aplenty.

Melo: Look, Coach is who he is. This isn't helping anyone, James. I don't know what you think you're doing.

Dolan: Hello, Andrea.

Andrea: Hi, James.

Dolan: Some fascinating trade rumors are leaking out today. Most of them involving you. Can you think about that for a few moments and tell me what you think after the game?

Andrea: What... why?

Dolan: It's not that you're not working out. You are, but you know how life is. If you don't have your hand on the trigger at any moment, you're always one step away from missing the dream of a lifetime.

Woodson: Come on, James. What is this even about?

Melo: Yeah, Dolan. What's your problem? Let's just run the play. 1, 2, 3, BREAK!

Dolan: Wait! My favorite movie is "Heat". I listen to the Eagles. I'm a kind, compassionate individual. I've had trade offers just today to send J.R. to Moscow!

Smith:  [perking up, stares with attention at Coach Woodson] Moscow? What the hell?

Dolan: Nothing very serious, but you have to keep abreast of these things... "Heat"... "Princess Bride" was good, uh... "The Godfather" was a good movie. "Alien 4" was good.

Smith: [completely losing interest] Never mind, man. I'll score if I get the ball, Coach, if that's what I'm feeling.

Dolan: Beno Udrih for Mike Bibby, Mike Bibby for Orlando Johnson, Orlando Johnson and Bargs for Roy Hibbert, Ryan Anderson, and Omer Asik. Three trades. Who says no?

Woodson: YOU ARE KILLING THIS TEAM, JAMES.

Melo: [sobbing] I just... I played a great game and did everything you asked of me, Coach. Why now? Why this timeout? Why couldn't it have been just three minutes later, James?

Woodson: Nobody knows, Melo.

Dolan: We can compete in the East or West, in the North or South. I sometimes pretend I'm Billy Joel or Bob Seger or Pitbull. I have a band and I like playing in it. I will never trade you, Melo. I will pay you so many dollars, and you will be mine, forever.

Official: Come on, guys. We have a game to play. It's been more than a minute. Commercials are back. If you don't get on the court in 20 seconds, it's a tech.

Woodson: Just... I... yeah, just go, guys. 1, 2, 3, break.

 • • •

But now all the Knicks look worried or disinterested. They all heard the ref, but barely beat his 20-second deadline as they wade over to contest the inbound pass.

The Wizards run a dribble hand-off leaving Beno Udrih guarding Bradley Beal. Beno - with sudden thoughts of retirement (or worse, being traded for the retired Mike Bibby), is unfocused and doesn't foul when Beal makes his move with plenty of time. Beal easily slips past Beno, and the rest of the team is caught unawares, expecting him to foul.

The Knicks aren't way out of position, at this point, but Bargs is angry at Dolan's sudden leak to the public about his lack of faith and refuses to man the middle. J.R. Smith, worried about going to Moscow (and a little intrigued, which occupies his attention even more), stays on his man in the corner even after Beal beats Beno. J.R. is not going to let someone shoot over him and give Dolan the ammo to send him to Moscow.

Beal gets an easy, uncontested lay-up on the Knicks' basket. The Knicks have three time-outs, but Mike Woodson has checked out of the game at this point. He refuses to call time-out, and Melo, the only one left to care, heaves a desperate shot.

NOTE: After the game, James Dolan trades his 2022 first-rounder to the ether for Ben Wallace.

Small Market Mondays #2.04: Pacers Gonna Pace

Remember our cracked-skull columnist, Alex Arnon? He hit his head, fainted, and woke up a delusional man with tidings of a world where small markets ruled all comers. Yeah, about that. Over the summer, Alex tripped while walking backwards, managing to completely reverse the head trauma that created this series. Poor guy's back to rooting for the Knicks and wishing he still had his former faith. Our editor, Aaron McGuire, has no such idle whims -- to perpetuate this baffling feature, he's developed a drug that mimics Arnon's former mental losses just long enough to go on the weekly vision quest required to write this. Welcome back, #SmallMarketMondays! This week's subjects: the Pace Index, a Plumdog Millionaire, and THUNDERSPURS!

Hello, friends! Last time we broke our small market griddle cakes together, I was proactively celebrating next year's Thanksgiving and your small-market Trailblazers were 14-3. In the intervening weeks, I declared a silent moratorium on thanking people (YOTO) and your small-market Trailblazers followed up that 14-3 streak with a 7-1 patch (thanks, TBJ Prod! ... wait, damnit). Overall, after starting the season 2-2, the Blazers have gone 19-2 in the following 20 games. After playing 7 games, they were 5-2, but now they here. Started from 0-0 now they're 21-4. If you arranged their games in one win streak and one losing streak, they would have a 21-0 win streak and a 0-4 losing streak. If you are a computer, the Blazers are 10101-100. If you are a cat, Nic Batum has a 2-0 "owning a cat" streak. If you are dead, you do not care about Portland's W/L record because you are no longer capable of physical thought and movement. If you are Alex Dewey, write a post. (All statistics in this paragraph copyright $TAT$ LLC, 2013-2015, all rights reserved.)

So much has happened to the Western Conference leaders that it's almost hard to keep up! Which is exactly why we're going to completely ignore the Trail Blazers for the rest of today's column. Because I, Aaron McGuire, totally hate the Blazers and would never pick a Blazer for anything meaningful ever. Instead, we're going to follow the lead of our sponsor corporation, ESPN, and create something that nobody asked for but everybody secretly wanted. That's right: welcome to the Pace Index, your one-stop-shop for Pacers news and reviews! Bask in the glory of your beloved Champacers underneath the not-particularly-bright musty neon lights of Jollywood, VA. Appreciate Paul George's regal last name and Roy Hibbert's funny Parks and Recreatweets. Jest with the best or get left with the rest. We're getting turnt up 24/6, because we take Sundays off because we live in Indiana. Get ready to rumble!

Upcoming Pace Index features include:

  • THE RACE FOR 48: A bi-weekly counter updated to track Indiana's progress towards 48 wins. Some people might say that 48 is arbitrary. Well, some people, #48 is Jimmie Johnson's NASCAR number. And given that this is a "race" to 48, folks, you simply can't get more racist than NASCAR. ... Just a second, folks, getting word that "racist" does not mean "pertaining to car races." My bad.
  • THE SCENE: Our boots-on-the-ground reporter will give us the skinny on what's going on in Indiana's all-too-active downtown scene while the Pacers are pacing their way to the league's best record. One problem with this that I can already see is that our boots-on-the-ground reporter is actually a pair of boots on the ground, and I don't think he can write things because he is not an animate object. Maybe I'll trade up for that one toaster kid.
  • PARKS AND RECREATWEETS: This is going to be a twitter list composed of nothing but actors who play major roles on Indiana's hit T.V. property, Parks and Recreation. I didn't come up with a joke here, I just wanted to put them all in one place. It's funny stuff, guys.

Warning: Pace Index feature will exist exactly as long as this joke remains funny.

Warning #2: Actually, it wasn't funny to begin with, so it never existed.

Warning #3: Given the previous two warnings, if I remember Back to the Future right, your computer might start fading into nonexistence right after you read this and it'll be totally our fault. Sorry about that.

• • •

rip miles

Phoenix Citizenship and Immigration Services presents the "Surprise! You're Arrested!" Miles Plumlee MVP Watch

Okay, okay. Phoenix isn't really a small market, at least for our purposes. It's a city of 1.4 million people that ranks as the sixth largest city in the nation. At 4.1 million people, the Phoenix metropolitan area is the 12th largest in the nation. It makes up almost 2/3 of Arizona's population by itself! So calling Phoenix a small market based on city characteristics falls flat. But I feel passably comfortable calling it a town with a small market mindset -- Robert Sarver's penny-pinching ways are the stuff of legend, and the way he let Steve Nash's supporting cast trickle away during the franchise mainstay's prime is one of the saddest low-key stories in sports. But, much like the Pacers, you'd be hard pressed to find any particular wealth of people who give a crap. Don't get me wrong -- you've got your respectable diehards, as you do in any market. But the franchise endures constant struggles at the bottom of the NBA's attendance ladder (and like with the Pacers, regardless of team quality -- even in the mid-aughts, they were a middling team attendance-wise who tended to draw much better on the road than at home) and the amount of hype Phoenix give its sports teams is seemingly inversely proportional to the city's size.

Best possible example of this: I gave out Halloween candy in Phoenix this year. I was wearing a Tim Duncan shirt. Given the Spurs/Suns rivalry, I figured I'd get a few callouts from trick-or-treaters. Nothing doing -- the only callout I got was from one kid dressed up as Kobe (specifically catcalling with "the Lakers are waaay better than the Spurs this year bro, we're gonna roll you in the playoffs") and one kid who was apparently the world's saddest Pistons fan (specifically despairing with "I miss the 2005 finals"). No, seriously, that's it! No Suns fan made fun of me for, needled me for, or otherwise gave a crap that I was handing out candy wearing the colors of their most bitter rival. Just confusing. This is all to say that I think we can establish Phoenix as a small-market in training, just waiting for a Detroit-esque mass exodus to scramble over the top. It'll probably happen when they run out of water.

Anyway, I really didn't think this particular Plumdog Millionaire would amount to much in the NBA. I figured there was a reasonable chance that Miles was as good as his brother Mason, primarily because Mason Plumlee has a strange dearth of knowledge when it comes to "playing the game of basketball" -- Miles was a more cerebral player at Duke, lacking the athleticism of Mason but making up for it by simply having a lot more smarts. Where Mason would jump wildly into the air for a rebound, Miles would set a clever box-out and tap it to make sure Duke got the rebound. He'd defend big guys adequately, relying on positioning and guile instead of skying for blocks. His offense was essentially nothing but tip-ins, but it's not like Mason was ever breaking out with Hakeem moves under Krzyzewski's watchful eye. Mason jumps and dunks. That's it. That's basically always been "it." So when Miles was awful and genuinely useless in the NBA last season, I figured it was more a sign that Mason would be pretty bad too than a sign that there were better things to come. Also: a general aspersion to the Plumlees as NBA quality players.

But that was not to be! By the third quarter of this season's second game, Miles Plumlee had already played more minutes in the 2014 season than he'd previously played in his entire NBA career. And he's doing stuff with those minutes, too. His defense has been textbook, showing a solid grasp of Indiana's scheme fundamentals and an NBA translation of his former focus on excellent box-outs and tip rebounds for Miles. (That wasn't supposed to be a pun, but now it is, and you're just going to have to live with it.) His offense is still quietly pretty abhorrent, but his defense has more than made up for it. And his rebounding has been an unexpected upgrade over Marcin Gortat's half-donkey'd efforts these last few years. He's added a David West-esque shot from the midrange that's been surprisingly useful for opening the floor for Bledsoe and Dragic, and his career trajectory has shot from "forgotten D-League backup" to "valuable starter that'll probably stick around on 5-6 million a year deals into the infinite" in no time flat. So he's this week's player-to-watch in our Small Market MVP segment. Who will take his place next week? I don't know! Probably me, I've got great fundamentals and as a resident of a city without an NBA team it's virtually impossible to be smaller market than I am. I bet Miles is quaking in his boots.

• • •

Small Market Mondays Game of the Night: DETROIT PISTONS at INDIANA PACERS

What better way to ring in the Pace Index than with another monstrous Pacers win? In 2011, the 62-win Chicago Bulls threatened for the first-ever perfect division record in the modern era, finishing tied with the NBA's 15-1 record (2005 MIA, 2009 BOS, 2013 MIA) with their only loss coming in an overtime 115-108 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately for Indiana, the best they can do is tie that 15-1 mark -- as you might remember, their undefeated season was snapped a la Batman's back in The Dark Knight Rises earlier this year in Chicago. They lost by 16 points and it was hardly that close. So their divisional record currently stands at 4-1, with comfortable wins against Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee bookending that grotesque loss to the Rose-bearing Bulls. With two of their games against Chicago already in the books and comfortable wins against every other team in the division, I feel safe to say that the Pacers have as good a shot as anyone of tying that 15-1 mark despite the early loss. And that will continue tonight, since they're getting to face (while rested) an inferior Pistons team that had their hearts torn out in OT the night before. Just a guess.

Other quick-hits for great small-market matchups in the coming week:

  • Sacramento at Charlotte (TUES, 12/17): If the commissioner had known that the Kings would acquire Rudy Gay: Franchise Player (imagine that each letter in the preceding four words was scribed in sparkling, animated gold print), this is the kind of star-struck night that would normally merit inclusion as a Christmas Day game. Gay, Jefferson, Cousins? Total treat to get this a little over a week in advance. Thanks, NBA!
  • Portland at Minnesota (WED 12/18): One of the stranger stories of the early season is how unlucky the Wolves have been. The team is 12-12 despite reasonably good health and a rock-solid MOV (+3.7, generally the type you'd see with a 15-9 team rather than a 12-12 team). Assuming health, they should make the playoffs regardless, but their preternaturally good health to date can elicit a little bit of worry -- these healthy moments are the ones where the Wolves should be banking wins, not breaking even. The Wolves have a generally decent defense/offense combination, so this has a nice potential for being a mutual offensive explosion type of night. Something like their game a few days ago where the Wolves put up a single-game ORTG of 112 only to fall to San Antonio's 119. Watch it!
  • Oklahoma City at San Antonio (SAT, 12/21): Okay, so, breaking character for a second, OKC/SAS is one of the best western rivalries going right now. The Spurs think they should've had 2012, the Thunder think they should've had 2013. The two teams are atop the west, both entering tonight with 19-4 records and hopes as high as the moon. If the West has a favorite right now, it's in-arguably one of these two teams. Both teams will have two-days rest, so we'll be seeing both teams at their best (barring injury in the intervening week). Even if this wasn't a dreamboat of a small market matchup, this is a game everyone should be watching. No jokes, no sly witticisms, no sarcasm. This one is what the NBA is all about. It's the closest you can come to early-season appointment viewing. 

See you next week, Small Marketeers! Stay frosty.

Small Market Mondays #2.03: Thanking Ain't Easy

Remember our cracked-skull columnist, Alex Arnon? He hit his head, fainted, and woke up a delusional man with tidings of a world where small markets ruled all comers. Yeah, about that. Over the summer, Alex tripped while walking backwards, managing to completely reverse the head trauma that created this series. Poor guy's back to rooting for the Knicks and wishing he still had his former faith. Our editor, Aaron McGuire, has no such idle whims -- to perpetuate this baffling feature, he's developed a drug that mimics Arnon's former mental losses just long enough to go on the weekly vision quest required to write this. Welcome back, #SmallMarketMondays! This week's subjects: giving thanks, Spencer Hawes, and the best faces the best!

Boy, sometimes the world really throws you for a loop! Just the other day I was sitting around feeling glum and gloomy, watching our beloved small-market Cavaliers stumble and bumble their way to a fifth straight loss in a seventeen-point pasting at the hands of the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are woeful this season, but not as woeful as our poor Cavaliers. Just about then, when I was down in the dumps and out on my tuckus, I was visited by a ghost of Christmas past. He told me that I had just three weeks to live and that the world was a cold unfeeling hellscape unfit for human consumption! Weird story, right? Anyway, that was totally unrelated, I just followed up the ghost's arrival by watching the small-market Thunder pull out a miracle overtime win over those Californicators down in Oakland! Cheered me right up. And that got me to thinking: sometimes, a poor down-on-his-luck fella might forget to give his thanks for the things in life that make it worth striving and grinding. Let's amend that, by starting this post out with a list of incredible thanks.

I am thankful for...

  • The Indiana Pacers! Boy oh boy, these guys don't quit. At 16-1,  these rascals are just the 13th team in NBA history to start a season with sixteen wins and just one loss. And that's a pretty select list! Five of those thirteen teams were NBA champions, and all but one of them made the playoffs. So I guess the Pacers are probably gonna make the playoffs. Actually, given the Eastern Conference, those 16 wins might be enough to clinch a playoff spot right now! That's right -- the 9th seed in the East could definitely have less than 16 wins! Holy Moses! Are Eastern Conference courts literally teeming with phantasms and wraiths? Probably. That's what you get for giving New York two teams, you fools.
  • The State of the Small Market Union! In fact, screw the usual second segment, I'm stating it up here. The state of the union is stronger than ever. There are currently five teams with three losses or fewer, and four of those five are a most beloved small market foursome of Portland, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Indiana. Isn't that just swell? Combine that with the fact that Detroit and Charlotte are bringing up the rear in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and New York's current 9 game losing streak, and you'll start to see a smile on even the most curmudgeonly small marketeer. What a world.
  • The joys of family! Alright, yeah, this one is pretty played out. But hear me out. Right now, we have a startling NINE brother/brother combos in the NBA, and that's just hilarious. Take anything you do with your family -- anything at all -- and try to imagine it being done in a family with two NBA players. It's fantastic! There's Justin and Jrue Holiday, chilling like only a Holiday can. Imagine Thanksgiving dinner with the Lopez brothers. Imagine youth soccer with the Plumlees. Tag in the park with Marcus and Markieff? How about High School senior photo day with the Zellers, then? Lord help you if you don't sneak candy bars into the movie theater with the Teagues, it's probably the best ever. Play frisbee golf a La Playa de Las Catedrales con los hermanos Gasol! Do it, jerk! Who DOESN'T play H.O.R.S.E. with the Curries... yeah, we all lose hilariously, but that's the point, right? One caution, though -- don't rob a bank with the Smiths. When the shootout starts, pretty sure J.R. would try to bank his shots off an errant backboard and end up shooting you in the chest.

Above all else, I'm thankful for my incredible go-getting timeliness. After all, this Thanksgiving post is almost 360 days early! Praise Smits!

• • •

The Philadelphia Torn-Sock Opera presents the "BOMBS OVER HALLELUJAH" Spencer Hawes MVP Watch

Figuring out who to feature for our MVP watch segment is actually one of the harder things to do around here. It has to be a player that threads the needle -- a guy who doesn't score too much (because that takes away from his teammates), doesn't get mainstream attention (because we support the little guys), doesn't play for a team that wins a lot (because he battles through adversity), and simply embodies a different class of grit and heart than most NBA guys. Not to say the NBA lacks grit -- true grit can be found anywhere, even in the most confusing places. But our small market MVP watch has to focus on the absolute creme de la creme. The grittiest, hardiest, never-say-die mother lovers in the league. You know the type. The men who could cut stone with their elbows and kick a peacock twenty miles all while blowing kisses to their adoring mother. The men for whom an eyebrow raise is a once-in-a-lifetime emotional extravagance but who will always have time to take a three hour phone call to listen to his mother spin yarns about yarn and clams. The men who eat only rocks when they aren't eating their mom's not-dissimilar-to-rocks home cookin'. These are the men we feature, here. Finding them is difficult.

... except for right now, because oh my God, Spencer Hawes is having a downright hilarious season. Dude is just going nuts. Although he's shooting the most he's ever shot in his career -- generally a disqualifier here -- he's shooting less than Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, and Michael Carter-Williams. And on a per-minute basis, he's shooting less than the newly nicknamed "Mike Dan" Tony Wroten AND Lorenzo Brown, so I'm OK with that amount of shots for the guy. By a hilariously large margin, Hawes is leading the Sixers in shooting efficiency (Hawes has an eFG% of 59% -- second place is James Anderson at 51%), rebound-gobbling (10.1 a night, making him three points off from the NBA's only 20-10 line), blockin' (2 blocks a night, with Daniel Orton posting a slightly higher rate in way fewer minutes), and bandz a make ya dance (I count at least 10 so far this season, making his BER -- Bandz Efficiency Rating -- a league-leading 0.625). All the while, he's sharing hot takes like these on Twitter:

  • Now that my secret karaoke sesh has leaked (#shouldabeenacowboy), the only question that remains is which record labels will come calling (x)

So hot! So feisty! So... amphibious! How could our MVP watch look at anyone else, I ask?

The answer: it can't. Not this week, at least.

 

• • •

Small Market Mondays Game of the Night: INDIANA PACERS at PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Not a whole lot of games tonight. Luckily, one of them is fantastic! Indiana's lugging their weighty 16-1 record into the den of the 14-3 west-leading Trailblazers. Fun fact -- both Indiana and Portland played in Los Angeles last night, Indiana against the Clippers and Portland against the Lakers. Both were tense, close contests decided on a few late game blunders, although the Portland game was about a billion times more hilarious than the Indiana game. If they were being efficient, they might've taken the same plane back. Or they could be even more efficient and just squat to play the game in Staples Center. I bet that would aggravate the sensibilities lifelong Laker Nick Young. Who knows? Anything's possible with these two teams who -- combined -- have three more wins than the entire Atlantic division combined. No, really. They're combined for a 30-4 record. The five-team Atlantic Division currently combines for 27-59. Spoiler alert! The Atlantic division is really unfathomably awful. Anyway. It's a big game. If Indiana manages to win, they'll have an opportunity to play two west-leading teams in a single week, as they'll face off with the Spurs in San Antonio on Friday. While that's obviously Friday's game of the night, we have a few other nice matchups this week. Let's look at them!

Other quick-hits for great small-market matchups in the coming week:

  • San Antonio at Minnesota (WED, 12/4): This one seems like a featured game even before you find out the best part. After all -- the Spurs are great, the Wolves are awesome, and both are fun small markets with excellent offensive attacks and... well, okay, a single great defense between the two of them, but still. They're good! But get this -- this game isn't being played in Minnesota. It's actually being played in Mexico City. Isn't that amazing? Noche Latina, taken to the furthest possible extent! Is there anything more small market than losing one of your home games in favor of a random regular season game in a random arena in a foreign nation? I don't think so, no!
  • Milwaukee at Washington (FRI 12/6): Milwaukee is reeling from injury and has lost 11 of their last 12 games, all of which in an utterly unwatchable manner. The Wizards have been bad, but in the east, differentiating "bad" from "raging grease fire" is the difference between a solid playoff team and a fringe playoff team. Okay, you know what? There's no sugar coating this one. This game is going to be completely unenjoyable. I have no idea why I made this a game of the week and I apologize for my sins.
  • Cleveland at Atlanta (FRI, 12/6): Although Atlanta isn't a small market, their so-called "highlight factory" arena and generally tepid fanbase make them an honorary member of our small market brotherhood. Cleveland needs no such honorarium, of course, and this game pits one of the East's most disappointing teams in the Cleveland Cavaliers against one of the East's most "Atlanta Hawks" teams in the Atlanta Hawks. I'm using Atlanta Hawks as an adjective in the previous sentence, because I don't think there's a single adjective that adequately describes how typical of the franchise this season's results-to-date are. The Hawks sit at 9-9, second in their division and entrenched in the third seed while a threat to no one in particular. They have a marginally negative differential but a 0.500 record because they've beaten eight teams with records below 0.500 and narrowly squeaked out a one point win over the Mavs after a complete fourth quarter meltdown from Dallas. They are mediocre but marginally overachieving simply because everyone around them is markedly worse than mediocre. In other words, the exact same thing that's been true about the Hawks since 2009. Ladies and gentlemen, your Atlanta Hawks! 

See you next week, Small Marketeers! Stay frosty.

Small Market Mondays #2.02: When Cavaliers Get Cavalier

Remember our cracked-skull columnist, Alex Arnon? He hit his head, fainted, and woke up a delusional man with tidings of a world where small markets ruled all comers. Yeah, about that. Over the summer, Alex tripped while walking backwards, managing to completely reverse the head trauma that created this series. Poor guy's back to rooting for the Knicks and wishing he still had his former faith. Our editor, Aaron McGuire, has no such idle whims -- to perpetuate this baffling feature, he's developed a drug that mimics Arnon's former mental losses just long enough to go on the weekly vision quest required to write this. Welcome back, #SmallMarketMondays! This week's subjects: trouble in paradise, Nate Wolters engulfed in metaphorical flames, and a game-of-the-week slate for the best of us.

I have some bad news, my beautiful small marketeers. Word out of one of our most beloved franchises says that some of our basketballing heroes have turned tail on the small market values and virtues that sustain and nourish all of us. To wit, check out this excerpt about locker room squabbles, quoted with the necessary mad-lib style redactions to keep you guessing at the team's identity. Blue represents a mad-lib replacement of the actual word from the excerpt:

"The Argonauts held a players-only meeting following Wednesday's 29-point loss to the Basilisks , multiple sources told ESPN.com. But the meeting got contentious, and players confronted each other, according to sources. In a loss at the Den of Unholy Sin on Monday, Argonauts coach Chief who Stomps Earthquakes and star guard Sparklelord Peat-Swiller got into a heated exchange on the bench after Earthquake Chief pulled Sparklelord from the game. "

You'd think that describes the big market Knicks, right? The Nets? The Lakers?

Nope. With shame and sadness, I relay honesty -- when you remove the redactions, this excerpt is about your very own Cleveland Cavaliers. I admit, in the preseason, perhaps we really should've seen this coming. After all, the Cavaliers are starting to put on some big market airs. They entered the season expecting to take part in this mystical circus known only as the "playoffs." The path to such a land can lead you astray. Worse yet, they added Andrew Bynum and Earl Clark, both of whom bring with them the big market baggage that Los Angeles deposits with all their players.

Who can really know WHAT sorts of sins those two are sharing with the team? Bynum, in his wicked wisdom, might be teaching the Cavaliers about the existence of women. Fun fact: most small marketeers don't know about the existence of women until they're married, just like the lord intended. In fact, this whole observation probably was the first time any of you heard about them. Please wipe these revelations from your memory. Pro tip: watch some Jeff Foster archive footage and some Jimmer Fredette interviews, then return to this article. You'll forget everything. ... Thanks! As for Earl Clark, he's a known drama queen from his time with the Zhejiang Guangsha. Although the fightin' Zhejiangs [ED. NOTE: They are the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions. Saying "the fightin' Zhejiangs" is kind of like saying "the fightin' Chicagos."] gave him every opportunity he needed to succeed, the big market bully couldn't hack it in the small market Zhejiang province. [ED. NOTE: The Zhejiang province has a population of 54 million people.] Typical, huh?

I think we all know what needs to happen here. The Cavaliers need to trade Bynum and Clark, and they need to do it quickly. It needs to happen before the big market flu turns into a big market swine flu. [ED. NOTE: That is not how diseases work.] Might I suggest... Jimmer Fredette, the small market superduperstar that's woefully underutilized in Sacramento? Dare I dream it, dear readers? I do dare. Darkly Daring Dex-McGuire, the drama of wholesome deeds and delights a-plenty. Thanks, Cleveland, for bringing back my dreams. Maybe this rough patch will lead to a recovery that'll save our season. We can only hope.

• • •

The State of The Small Market Union (Sponsored by The Memphis School of Modern Dance)

All is well in the small market union. Although our perfect Pacers lost, the Spurs and Pacers are still "pacing" the league with 18 wins in 20 tries. Portland's small-market beacons are currently outplaying the large market bullies in Los Angeles and Oakland, keeping a firm grasp on the #2 seed. And our small-market heroes in Minnesota look like a contender, sporting the third highest point differential in the league and a surprisingly stingy defense. The only small market sadness right now is in the Eastern Conference, where only two of the eight playoff teams really qualify as members of our "small market" cabal -- Indiana and Charlotte. Luckily for us, only four teams in the east are over 0.500, so it shouldn't be too hard for our small market sleepers in Cleveland, Washington, Detroit, and Milwaukee to rise up and claim their rightful throne-spots. Actually, Milwaukee is 2-7 and look like absolute rubbish. So it may be sort of hard for them to rise up. Oh well. Can't have everything, I suppose.

• • •

nate wolters

The Milwaukee Towne Crier presents the "I'M ON FIRE SOMEONE HELP ME" Nate Wolters MVP Watch

Man, Nate Wolters! In our season-opening Small Market Mondays joint, Wolters was KILLING it. And last week's borderline all-time great performances did nothing to dissuade me of including Nate the Great in our MVP watch segment for a second week in a row. Check out these world-beating lines over the last week of basketball from "The Colt with the Wolt":

  • 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 STEALS!!! on 50-0-50 shooting in a 23 point loss to the Miami Heat.
  • 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal on 37-0-75 shooting in a 3 POINT!!! loss to the Orlando Magic. (In just 40 minutes!)
  • 8 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 BLOCKS!!! on 36-0-0 shooting in a 27 point loss to the Indiana Pacers.
  • 7 points, 6 REBOUNDS!!!, 4 assists on 30-0-100 shooting in a 13 point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

... yeah, world-beating, right? [sweats profusely] Pay no attention to the non-exclamatory stats, or the fact that Wolters went a baffling 0-for-7 from the three point line this week. After all, that 0-for-7 is a GOOD thing. It actually means that Nate the Great shot 14-for-30 from two point range, which is almost 50, which is more points than anyone has scored this season to date. And after all -- his shooting percentage is rough, but I'm sure most of the NBA is shooting under 40% from the floor with a sub-20% performance from three. I mean, look at this rogue's gallery of league-leading lights. Derek Fisher's a champion! Ben Gordon is making a billion dollars! Matthew Dellavedova has a fantastic name! EVERYTHING'S GOOD, NATE, YOU BEAUTIFUL MAN.

[sobs]

We will have a new small market MVP next week.

• • •

Small Market Mondays Game of the Night: DENVER NUGGETS at OKLAHOMA CITY

Honestly, this is one of the least small-market friendly "game of the night" features we've ever had to highlight. Denver is a small market in theory, I suppose, but it's one of the largest cities in the southwest outside of Phoenix and it's one of those small-market-in-name-only cities. Luckily, the actual game is occurring at Oklahoma City, which means that Denver's not-quite-small-market status won't come into play at the contest. We'll get to enjoy all the mini-market joys of Oklahoma City's only sporting franchise. I refer of course to their pre-game prayers, the hilarious face painting for regular season matchups, and the borderline embarrassing focus on throwing t-shirts into a crowd of presumably grown adults to hype them up. ... Wait, they do that last one in every arena? God help us.

Other quick-hits for great small-market matchups in the coming week:

  • Minnesota at Washington (TUE, 11/19): This should be a good one. We've got two playoff contenders -- one surprising, one unfathomably disappointing in one of the worst Eastern Conference gauntlets we've seen in ages --  and both are duking it out for our small market love. Also: duking it out in a constant attempt to figure out who won the "Mike Miller and Randy Foye for the pick that would become Ricky Rubio" trade. Seems like a pretty fair trade to me!
  • San Antonio at Memphis (FRI, 11/22): Although the Grizzlies aren't off to a particularly many-splendored start, these two teams sort of despise each other. Well, they used to. Now it's a little one-sided, as I'm pretty sure that sweeping a team in a deep playoff run actually erases most of the animosity once held for the team, so the Spurs are probably mostly over the first round upset Memphis dealt them years ago. But these are still delightful grit-and-grind outfits, made even more gritty and grindy with San Antonio's new defensive focus and Memphis' not-at-all-new "what is offense at all, even?" focus. Taste the fever!
  • Philadelphia at Indiana (SAT, 11/23): The Sixers have been one of the most shocking teams in the league, and although they're under 0.500, they're currently firmly ensconced in the playoff picture because they lead a division that's collectively gone 19-32. That actually understates how unfathomably awful that division has been -- collectively, the average result for a game played by an Atlantic division team this season has been a little over a four point loss. Their AVERAGE result. For context, only 5 teams lost by more than four points a game over the course of the 2013 season: the Cavaliers (-4.7), the Magic (-7.0), the Bobcats (-9.2), the Kings (-4.9), and the Suns (-6.5). Seriously, it is entirely possible that every single team in the Atlantic ends the season well under 0.500. It's a hilarious but altogether real possibility. ... I'm sure the Sixers will turn it around against one of the best defenses in the last decade, though. Seems legit. Go team!

See you next week, Small Marketeers! Stay frosty.

When expertise doesn't inform: Tanking & Krzyzewski

coach k teaches typing

“If [tanking] is happening, shame on whoever is doing it. … As an American I wouldn't like to think that an American team would [ever] want to lose or create situations where you would want to lose,” he said. “I can't even fathom -- I can't go there. I can't believe that that would happen. Maybe I'm naïve and going to read a fairytale after this.”

-- Mike Krzyzewski, post game after a 94-83 loss to Kansas

How do you really feel, Coach? Say this for Coach K -- he doesn't mince words. Many of those who detract tanking couch their detractions in caveats. Bill Self expressed light disapproval before saying that he didn't believe it ever happened. NBA commentators often express distaste at the idea of "losing to win" a la tanking, and morality plays are common. But few people bring a jingoistic nationality play into it, and few people outright shame any team involved. He has a strong opinion. And I understand why seemingly every news organization has posted some sort of analysis or report of the quote. It all makes sense.

Here's the thing: I'm really not sure Coach K can properly contextualize NBA decision-making.

• • •

I'm fully aware of the humor in that line. Coach Krzyzewski is one of the finest basketball minds in the world. In terms of knowledge about the game itself and the shape of college's competitive sphere, he's nearly unparalleled. The man has won almost 1000 basketball games at the NCAA level. He's orchestrated two gold medals and a revitalization of America's Olympic basketball program. He's won four NCAA championships. He's won the greatest hair plugs known to man. (... Alright, maybe not that last one.) Still: Coach K is one of the greatest basketball minds ever, and it's a tall order to say that his opinion isn't particularly well informed on ANYTHING related to the game. But I'm game, so let's attempt it.

The main issue, in my mind, lies in the quite different motivations Krzyzewski optimizes for when he's solving the competitive calculus of the college game. Team building in the NCAA isn't just a tiny bit different than the NBA, it's essentially a completely different game. And the penalties for failure, insofar as a franchise or school are concerned, are unquestionably lower. The best way to think about this is to consider how long a failed move impacts your team. Let's compare two big ones -- on the college level, we'll actually use one of Coach K's failures -- his inability to entice John Wall to attend Duke University. At the NBA level, we'll look at Toronto's failed first-overall-pick of Andrea Bargnani back in 2006. Let's examine what both franchises lost as a result:

  • DUKE MISSES OUT ON JOHN WALL, 2010: John Wall played extremely well as a college basketball player, producing first-team All-American performance for Calipari at Kentucky and leading them to an elite eight loss to a very good West Virginia team. He then opted to jump to the NBA. Coach K's failure to recruit Wall resulted in missing out on one year of production from a very good player. Funny enough, Duke won the title that year. They weren't missing Wall all that much, despite Wall's excellent college production. And even if Duke had bottomed out, they would've only missed a year. See: Kentucky's 2013 college basketball season. Length of impact: One year.
  • TORONTO PICKS ANDREA BARGNANI OVER LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, 2006: This is essentially the exact inverse of the above miss. Bargnani ended up being a pox on the organization for seven years. While Aldridge was blossoming as a valuable piece in Portland, the Raptors continually doubled down on the failed Bargnani pick, trying to push him into more minutes and different roles. All told, over Bargnani's tenure, the Raptors fired two coaches and let a general manager go. They never quite got over blowing the 2006 draft, and have effectively spent eight years rebuilding the roster in an effort to create a contending team. One wonders what the Raptors would've looked like with a Bosh/Aldridge core instead of a Bosh/Bargnani core. All we do know? Bargnani was a horrible waste, and the 2014 season is the first one where his husk isn't looming over the franchise as a whole. Length of impact: Seven years.

The key here isn't that Coach K's mistake didn't matter. It did, and anyone who tells you the 2010 Duke team wouldn't have been better if John Wall had been running point (or even playing shooting guard alongside Jon Scheyer) is nuts. And the point isn't that Toronto is a terrible franchise, or that their pick was even particularly bad. Bargnani seemed like a good pick at the time, and although he didn't pan out, these things happen. The point is more a reflection of the overall calculus behind decisions in the NBA. That is to say: virtually any personnel decision you make in the NBA is going to impact your roster for 3-4 years at a bare minimum. Sign a player? You're dealing with that contract over the duration of its lifespan, and that's (on average) 3-4 years. Draft a player? You probably just made a seven year investment, better hope it was a good one. Hire a coach? Unless you're the Lakers, you've probably tied yourself to at least a few years of leeway for the new guy.

In college, any mistake you make -- whether in recruiting, player development, or implementing a bad system -- is reasonably fungible. No player is going to be on your team for more than five years, and generally speaking, few game-changing players are going to be on your team for more than two. The impact of a bad decision is thus quite a bit lower. Missed out on John Wall? Who cares, it was just a year. Completely misused Andre Drummond for reasons passing understanding? Who cares, you get a clean slate the next year. Tried to implement a terrible offensive system that didn't fit your players? In two years, 75% of your team will have churned away, and with it all the habits and tics you mistakenly gave them will wash away as well. Mistakes simply don't matter as much to the decisionmakers in the college game, for better or for worse.

This works both ways, also -- if you're a smart franchise with good management and good coaching, the length of impact of a good decision can span just as long or longer. Just look at the Lakers and Spurs. One made a great move for Kobe, the other had a great tank for Duncan. Both of those moves have had sixteen years of profoundly positive impact for both franchises. Conversely, we'll go back to Coach K's 2010 season -- the player development and long process of molding Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek into lights-out NCAA players was a fantastic piece of work from Coach K and his staff. But they only really got to experience the tidings of their good work for a single season -- Scheyer was OK in the seasons leading up to 2010, but he only really came into his own in that final season. And Zoubek was little more than a running joke for his first three years. The year ended, Duke won the title, and Scheyer and Zoubek moved on. Scheyer tried and failed to make the NBA, settling down in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Zoubek started a cream puff dessert shop that recently closed.

But nothing more for Coach K, and that's kind of the point.

• • •

Tanking -- to me -- represents an NBA franchise that is actively sitting players and liquidating veterans for draft assets in an effort to accelerate a natural rebuilding process. That's my definition. I don't think it happens obscenely often -- perhaps one or two teams per season, on a large scale. I think it may be a larger problem this season than most, given the generally agreed upon glut of talent in the 2014 draft. But I'm of the view that most awful teams are simply bad because they're bad. It's not rocket science. There was no greater power that was holding Bismack Biyombo back and preventing him from being a great basketball player -- he simply isn't very good, and he still represented Charlotte's best option for a year or two. A team where that's the case is going to be pretty vile, and there are few avenues the front office really had to make the team better. But the teams that do actively tank draft position are -- in a general sense -- trying to avoid the depressingly long downside that a bad decision has in the NBA.

Understanding the longstanding impact of a bad decision is essential to anyone trying to get to the bottom of the NBA's tanking problem. An NBA team that makes a mistake on who they draft feels the repercussions for a long time. That period often spans an entire management staff's tenure. If one were to be hired as a new GM of an NBA team and one were to immediately make a poor decision with a high draft pick or a bad free agent acquisition, chances are reasonably high that the poor decision would outlast you in the organization. As it was with Bargnani -- he outlasted two coaches and a GM that (hilariously) won executive of the year twice. The NBA draft is one of the best pick-to-talent drafts in professional sports. The marginal value of a higher pick in the NBA is much larger than the marginal value of a higher pick in the NFL or the MLB. In basketball, the good players simply matter more -- they have more on-court impact and can make-or-break a franchise in the long term in a way that's more rare in the other professional sports.

And, of course, the rub: the way that a top prospect can makes-or-break a franchise for a decade or more is completely nonexistent in the NCAA. It's a ridiculous, absurd stretch from anything a college coach has to contend with. Period. I reiterate: Coach Krzyzewski is one of the greatest coaches ever, and disdain for his views on tanking has nothing to do with how good he is at his job. But I can't help thinking that Coach K's tanking views are less a reflection of a top basketball mind placing his attention on a grand problem and more a reflection of how vast the gulf is between franchise building in the NBA and program building in the NCAA. The motivations are as different as the game of chess and the game of darts. Does Garry Kasparov do color commentary for the World Series of Poker? Does Usain Bolt critique Michael Phelps from the booth? Did Rambo analyze Rocky's left jab?

Of course not. While all of those would be varying levels of awesome, they're all patently ridiculous. And maybe -- just maybe -- going to college coaches for thoughts on NBA team-building strategies is a tiny bit ridiculous too.

Small Market Mondays #2.01: The Return of Milk Toast

Remember our cracked-skull columnist, Alex Arnon? He hit his head a while back, fainted, and woke up a delusional man with tidings of a world where small markets ruled all comers. Yeah, so. About that. Over the summer, Alex tripped while walking backwards, managing to completely reverse the head trauma that created this series. Poor guy's back to rooting for the Knicks and wishing he still had his former faith. Our editor, Aaron McGuire, has no such idle wishes -- to perpetuate this baffling feature, he's developed a drug that mimics Arnon's former mental losses just long enough to go on the weekly vision quest required to write this. Welcome back, #SmallMarketMondays! We love you like our collective infant daughter!

"Another day, another dollar." That's what my small market uncle used to say. My family generally didn't like to see me hanging out with him, as one dollar a day is not a wage that a child should generally look up to. Even in the smallest of markets. But they weren't in my head, folks. I didn't look up to his laughable salary. I looked up to his grit and his will to win. I looked up to the aura of competence he had around him. I looked up to the way he talked to dogs and earnestly believed they'd talk back. And, above all, I looked up to the small market spirit he had floating in the air around him. The spirit to never give up even when his salary was comparable to the coins in a normal working class Joe's couch cushions. Today, as we embark on a bold new season of small marketeering in a world of dread piracy, I aim to appreciate some of the many small market heroes that embody my uncle's up-and-at-em spirit.

  • Patrick Beverley, HOU ($788,872) -- Deron Williams, the starter for this feature's arch nemesis, makes $18,466,130. He makes 23 times the salary of Houston Rockets starter Patrick Beverley. Despite being injured and having an artificially deflated PER due to this, Beverley's PER is less than one point lower than Deron's (13.6 vs 14.4). Take that, money. You aren't the boss of us! Here's to Beverley, our old friend.
  • Jeremy Tyler, ATL ($100,000) -- LeBron James probably could find a hundred thousand dollars in his couch cushions, and Jeremy's making less money than literally everyone in the NBA right now, so I think we can overlook Atlanta's actually-large-market city size and appreciate him. (Related note: someone should tell LeBron to stop using hundred dollar bills as cushion stuffing, it's really uncomfortable.) He hasn't actually played this season, so here's hoping he... wait, he got waived? I'm featuring someone who is completely without employment in this highlight? Dangit. Sorry Jeremy.
  • Orlando Johnson, IND ($788,872) -- The best thing about Orlando Johnson is that he's three small markets in one. First he's in Indiana, a favorite of this feature. Then his first name is Orlando, which evokes another small market to admire and contemplate. Then, to top it all off, his last name is Johnson. That's the most small market last name a person can have! It's not quite as popular as "Smith", but being second is something Small Market Mondays can appreciate. And to top it all off, he doesn't make a ton of money and isn't actually great at basketball. There is literally no downside to Orlando Johnson. He is my hero, and he is a hero to us all. Thanks, America.

You know, come to think of it, I have no idea what my uncle's job was. And I never saw him with his own home or apartment. And he had a hat that he'd just put on the ground next to him while sitting at highly trafficked areas, which was when we tended to hang out. And he thought he'd been abducted by aliens on a weekly basis. And he ran every time he saw a cop, and the reason I haven't seen him for a while is that he got arrested for murder or something.

Starting to understand why my parents didn't want me to hang out with him.

Editor, scratch this column. Wait, I am the editor. I don't remember how to scratch columns. These meds are rough, guys.

• • •

The State of The Small Market Union (Sponsored by The Memphis School of Modern Dance)

You know how the small market union was strong last season? It's basically made of diamond now, baby. (And when I say diamond, I mean the "diamond special" at your local IHOP, because diamonds are much too expensive for us true small marketeers.) Seriously, though, the standings right now are basically a beautiful paragon of small market appreciation and excellence. The following facts are true about the beautiful season we've been watching to date:

  • The Spurs, Pacers, and Thunder are a combined 18-2, with the top three records in the league.
  • The Knicks, Nets, Lakers, and Bulls are a combined 9-16, and none of them are in their conference's playoff picture.
  • The upstart Minnesota Timberpuppies are at 5-2, and just eviscerated the Lakers by 23 points at the Staples center. What!
  • The Bobcats and Hawks are at the 4/5 seeds in the Eastern Conference at 3-3 apiece, which is adorable.
  • Those big market bullies in Utah are 0-7, which finally gets some comeupp-- wait, UTAH?!?

Okay, scratch that last one. Wait, I forgot again. I'm the editor. Damnit. Where's my backspace key? How do I delete things?

• • •

nate wolters

The Milwaukee Yoga Farm presents the "Namaste Cow Moos Twice" Nate Wolters MVP Watch

Handsome. Trustworthy. Brunette. These are all words that have never in our natural lives been used to describe Nate Wolters, the small marketeer point guard filling in for Milwaukee's Knight of the Brandon table. These are all words that I will be avoiding in my short description of Nate's amazing play for the Milwaukee Buckaroonies. The Bucks are hardly a great team -- they're currently 2-3, and they were lucky to get an upset win over the Cleveland Cavaliers to pad that 2-3 record. But if it wasn't for the up-and-at-em play of this "young Buck" (yes, I will be arrested for crimes against words someday), they wouldn't even be 2-3.

Wolters is currently averaging 9-6-4 for the Bucks, and we have some new stats that give us context for Nate's splendor. According to NBA.com's "SportsVU" statistics, Wolters is currently throwing 56.3 passes per game. That's 19th overall in the league, despite the fact that he's 21st overall in assists per game! That means his passes aren't leading to quite as many assists as the rest of his peers, which is another sign of Nate's never-say-die attitude. Why generate a ton of flashy assists when you can demonstrate to your fans the true meaning of existential worthlessness by completing beautiful pinpoint passes to players that can't finish? Nothing is beautiful and everything hurts. Great performance, Nate. You're our first "Small Market Mondays" MVP candidate. Keep it up, handsome!

... wait, I said I wasn't gonna use that word. Seriously, how do I delete things?!?

• • •

Small Market Mondays Game of the Night: MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES AT INDIANA PACERS

The Grizzlies haven't gotten off to quite the season start they were hoping for -- they're currently 3-3 with a strange mix of blowouts, bad losses, and good wins. As I mentioned earlier (and will probably get more into next week), the Indiana Pacers have gotten off to their best start in decades. They're undefeated! Tonight's game, defensive slog though it may be, is really going to be a no-lose scenario for small marketeers like us. If the Grizzlies win, they're the small market David that's slain yet another Goliath, and they'll return to the Western playoff picture -- where they should be. If the Pacers win, they stretch their 7-0 start to an 8-0 start and further chisel their ridiculously strong start into the annals of league history. It's great! Here's hoping the game is even remotely watchable!

Other quick-hits for great small-market matchups in the coming week:

  • Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies (WED, 11/13): Although Toronto isn't technically a small market, their history of futility and general status as the only NBA team in Canada evokes the same sort of "only game in town" feeling you get from a small market team. So we'll count them for now. Should be a barnburner, if you're one of those weirdos that burns down barns every time they watch Rudy Gay and Demar DeRozan chuck indiscriminately against an excellent defense. If so, please turn yourself in to the authorities. Thanks in advance.
  • Milwaukee Bucks at Indiana Pacers (FRI, 11/15): This is one of  those rare early season treasures that most people inexplicably never watch. Don't make that mistake. Nate Wolters is our current Small Market Mondays MVP choice, and Paul George is a reasonable "actual MVP" choice. The Pacers are probably gonna roll over the Bucks, but it's hard to sleep on that Wolters/Pachulia/Neal core. ... Okay, I retract that, it's pretty easy to sleep on them. But don't! Please?
  • Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers (SUN, 11/17): This is your obligatory "small market mainstay" versus "big market monster" of the coming week. The difference? The Pistons are probably going to be favored! It isn't just possible that they win, it's actually likely! Should be fun to watch the Pau Gasol revenge game to try and get the Pistons back for the 2004 Finals. Pau has a lot of saved up fury over that series, probably. Expect a 60-40-20 game from Pau "Laker for Life" Gasol, staved off only by a vintage 30 point 30 assist Chauncey Billups performance. (I live in a fantasyland made of snow cones.)

See you next week, Small Marketeers! Stay frosty.