2015 Preseason Keys: Part 2

Although the NBA preseason games are officially meaningless, they contain indicators that may reveal what the regular season will be like. With the Knicks’ first game coming soon (October 8th), the good folks here at KnickerBlogger have put together a guide for the keys to watch for.

Lately I’ve been watching Meerkat Manor with the family. It’s a documentish show about rodent-like mongooses (mongeese?) that live out in the wild. For the most part, you’re presented with the point of view from one clan (“The Whiskers”), but you also get to see some neighboring groups as well. For each “family” there are two leaders, a dominant female & male. These animals have a authoritarian class structure, where everyone is subordinate to the whims of their two rulers.

Often you feel bad for the younger members of the group, as the dominant herpestidae can be ruthless. For instance bourgeois females that become pregnant may be excommunicated from the group or have their babies killed so that the dominant female can continue her line. Sometimes situations arise where members of the group can become temporary commanders, form splinter families, or become the dominant ruler in another clan. When commoners become leaders things get quite interesting. These animals, who you felt pity for as trampled upon citizens, don’t usually succeed when put in charge. And failing to lead a group can mean disaster for its members.

Hence it takes a certain je ne sais quoi to succeed at the next level. A regular meerkat might be useful digging out the burrow or watching out for predators when it has two dominants doing all the hard work. But Joe or Jane meerkat may be out of their league when they have to assume those responsibilities and keep law & order among the entire group. For beings that live 7-ish years in the wild, the turnover from one generation to the next happens quickly.

This whole biology lesson is not just to make KnickerBlogger more like Posting & Toasting, but rather this hastened circle of life is similar to careers in the NBA. And watching this show had me thinking about the career arc of two young Knicks: Iman Shumpert & Tim Hardaway Jr.

Shumpert, the elder by two years, has a game that harkens back to the glorious 1990s Knicks. An active defender, Iman has averaged 1.8 steals per 36 minutes. Due to his style of play, for many Knick fans, Shumpert is the bees knees.

However Shumpert also brings another aspect of those 1990 teams: poor shooting. His true shooting percentage started off at 48.4% and improved to 51.6% his second season. But last year he fell back to 48.0%, below his initial mark. Given Shumpert’s defensive attributes, some deficiency in his shooting is allowable, but to be a productive NBA player being under 50% isn’t going to cut it. All of Shumpert’s offensive numbers plummeted last year, including his 3p% (40.2% to 33.3%), ft% (76.6% to 74.6%), fta/36 (1.7 to 1.3), pts/36 (11.0 to 9.1). At the end of his second season, it appeared that the Gotham Fade™ was on the rise to becoming a solid NBA starter. But last year’s regression put a serious question mark on the matter.

On the other hand, Tim Hardaway Jr. seems like he’s got an NBA-ready offensive game in year 1. During his initial offering, his TS% of 55.4% already put him above average. He had a healthy average of 15.8 pts/36 and his turnover percentage is a miniscule 5.9%, which should indicate there’s room for growth as he matures. Junior’s problem is everything else. His Allan Houston-esque peripherals are a bit alarming, and the two players are quite similar at the same age.

And while both players seem just dandy as secondary tiers to this current Knick team, the team needs to know if either can take the next step forward. While Shumpert is technically the starter, J.R. Smith is actually the dominant off-guard for the Knicks. Worm the II was second on the team in total minutes and minutes per game. Ideally, and eventually, the Knicks would like to rely less on Smith and more on Shumpert and/or Hardaway.

That said, for the next few weeks eyeballing the two guards is imperative for the Knicks’ future plans. Shumpert obviously didn’t care much for his role in Woodson’s offense which had him “standing in the corner.” And while it might be presumptive to take Shumpert’s shooting percentage in a handful of games to mean much, it’s more important to notice what kind of shots he’s getting off. Is he getting open looks? From where? Is Fisher’s offense getting Shumpert in good situations to score?

As for Hardaway, I would look at his peripherals and his scoring volume. Coach Fisher spent the first day of practice going over only the defense. Can he improve Hardaway’s lackluster rebounding and steal numbers? Last year he averaged only 14.7 pts/36 in the preseason despite leading the team in minutes per game. Can he show that’s he’s ready to expand his game?

Shumpert and Hardaway represent the Knicks’ best chance to fill out the starting lineup without paying dollar for dollar on free agent veterans. It’s easy to look at the pair and imagine the next generation of Sprewell & Houston. However, as meerkats have taught me, it’s easy looking good as a subordinate. It’s that top level which brings out all the flaws in a mammal.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of KnickerBlogger.net. His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

26 thoughts to “2015 Preseason Keys: Part 2”

  1. Anyone else thing it’s ridiculous that the league seems to be targeting Philly with these new no-tank rules? Changing the rules is fine (though surely there are more creative solutions than this) but there should be a grace period for teams who made decisions based on the current system. What the Sixers have done is smart, and totally overblown. They’ve tanked a grand total of one going on two seasons for what, at least right now, looks like a great return . Many teams have tanked like this before; the only difference is that the Sixers haven’t worked as hard to put lipstick on the pig, and also that they have been smart/lucky enough to make the tank look like an excellent NPV. They’ve basically traded two 30 win seasons for two 20 win seasons and in exchange picked up Noel, Embiid, MCW, Saric, two 1s and about 80 2s plus tons of cap room. Hey Jealousy?

  2. I don’t get why the other owners are mad. It means more wins for you team, more chances for your team to be on national tv. Philly didn’t even have the number 1 pick this year! Fucking Cleveland did. At least Philly getting a high draft choice rewards a team for having a well thought out strategy. Cleveland just keeps getting rewarded for being run by bozos (and now may win several titles, while the Knicks aim high at a first round playoff exit-hooray NBA!)

  3. What are the rule changes?

    I do think there needs to be some anti tanking rules put in place. My thought would be to make it impossible for a team to have two back to back number one picks (or maybe even top 3 to 5 picks). This would exclude any picks they got from a trade of course. I remember the draft percentages were changed after The Spurs got Duncan but I think that change really made tanking more viable for teams.

    Or better yet! Lets do a single elimination tournment for the non playoff teams! Like The NIT of the NBA but draft pick positioning is at play!

  4. I would also like to see the playoffs changed so that it wasn’t East/West but based on records so that you had more first round match ups between teams that were more evenly matched. Dallas was an 8th seed in the West last year when they easily could have beaten any number of teams in the East. You’d have to figure out the formula so that division winners weren’t facing the hardest teams in the other division. But I think this would make the playoffs far more exciting. Last year the first round in the West was AMAZING but then half of the good teams were gone going into the second round. Keep the divisions and east/west for the all star and for scheduling but mix it up based on records and division winners once the playoffs start.

  5. Memphis, Golden State, Dallas and Houston could have survived a round and faced The Heat, Pacers, Wizards or Brooklyn in the second round. This would also make the whole east west parity problem less of a problem. Also draft order for playoff teams would not favor stronger western conference teams that lost in the first round.

  6. @6 that wouldnt be fair because the west teams would still play each other at least 1 more time than the eastern counterpart. I think the format is fine, free agents just need to decide to come east to balance it out. Also high draft picks in the east and low picks in the west will eventually balance this out.

  7. There will never be parity in this league with fully guaranteed contracts and utterly incompetent front office lackeys handing them out to bad players like they’re flu shots. The lottery “wheel” system seems to be the only way to solve the draft debacle, but it’s woefully evident that most of the NBA front offices have no clue what they’re doing when it comes to player valuation.

  8. Anti-tanking rules are dumb because there is no way to actually change the rules to prevent tanking (besides, of course, just giving all the lottery teams an equal chance, which no one would ever propose). The proposed new system? It still incentivizes tanking. Heck, not only does it still incentivize tanking, it likely will cause more teams to tank, since it raises the point where tanking makes super duper sense from top three to top six.

  9. @ 8 but even as it is now, the Western Conference teams have better records than the East! So even though they play each other more they have better records, which should show you how bad the difference is.

    also, as far as draft picks are concerned, it doesn’t eventually even out. The Western Conference has been better than the East since Jordan retired! If the non playoff teams of the WC are better than the non playoff teams of the EC but have a good chance of getting higher picks, then that doesn’t balance out over time. plus also draft picks aren’t always a sure thing.

    I’d be fine with doing away with the whole play each other twice if you’re in the same conference system. I think there would be a way to change it. It might mean some years a team plays a team twice and another year only plays them once or whatever, but I think it could be done.

    Also we could do away with about 6 teams but thats’ another discussion all together!

  10. The East being consitently shitty would be a nice advantage for a team in the East that was very wealthy, had an owner willing to pay luxury tax, and was well run. 2 out of 3 ain’t so bad, right?

  11. I think the best way to curb tanking is to set the draft order by each team’s 41st game. Readjust at the end of the season by non-playoff teams and playoff teams. Sure teams might still tank, but they’d have to start from day 1, which means they’re hurting themselves from playoff contention. And most likely those teams wouldn’t have gotten there anyway.

    For teams on the bubble, it’s not likely they would toss games in the beginning of the season when they still have the chance to make the playoffs, which result in millions of dollars of profit.

    I think what Philly is doing is smart. Every player tries to win within the letter of the rules, not the spirit. It’s the front office version of jumping into a defender when taking a shot.

  12. BTW I’m not sure how I feel about the proposed rule change where players take only one free throw for any foul (the single free throw counting for all X points of the foul).

    However I think if they want to save time on the game, they need to work on the final minutes. (Even my wife knows the last minute of an NBA game takes forever). I’ve suggested this before, but how about only 1 timeout for each team for the final 2 minutes? And how about any non-shooting foul down the stretch is one shot & the ball? Eliminate the constant stoppage of play & you’ll get a more exciting product as well. Imagine how exciting it would be for teams to run the ball up the court in the final minutes of a close game! (instead of coaches constantly calling timeouts & moving the ball up the floor — it’s like the last minute of an NBA game resembles nothing of the first 47 minutes).

  13. Timeouts=money therefore no reduction in timeouts

    But yeah, they totally should do that. I’d like to see something like 1 timeout for the final 5 minutes.

  14. Mike, I like your piece and your anti-tanking suggestion.

    I dislike tanking a lot. All league incentives should be geared toward making every game as fun as possible to watch every year. Strategies for using the draft to balance franchise quality should help do that too and should never subvert that primary goal.

    Here’s an idea: Make the system harder to game by tying incentives to prospective estimates of success rather than past performance. You could determine draft order using a betting market of wagers that teams make next year’s playoffs. Tanking then becomes a plan to suck next year even after drafting high since bettors will take the draft into account.

    Ideally, entertainment value and effort level should also affect chances of drafting high: among teams likely to suck next year, boost odds according to how hard they try and how fun their games are to watch. An effort metric could be built from SportsVU data. Entertainment could be measured as viewership corrected for market size. Maybe NBA.com could broadcasts of a subset of 10 games for each team for free outside the team’s regions and calculate mean viewership adjusted for the popularity of opponents and number of major networks viewing opportunities. Anyhow I think a couple years of thinking and experimenting would get you serviceable measures of both effort and entertainment. The larger point is the need to reprioritize incentive targets, not just close loopholes in the current system.

    I enjoy reading posts that take a GMish view. When the basic pleasure of watching gets forgotten or outweighed by long-term strategy, though, I get the sense that priorities might be a bit skewed.

  15. I don’t really care too much about tanking. It was much more of an issue for me when the picks were in order (like they still are in NFL and MLB, right?)

    If a team like the Sixers is willing to be garbage for 4-5 years to possibly land a couple of studs, so be it. If the owners are going to bail these teams out financially with revenue-sharing and are going to expand to the point that there aren’t enough NBA-caliber players around to fill out the top 12 slots on every team, tanking doesn’t matter much. Whether by design or by chance, there are always likely to be doormat teams when the talent pool is smaller that the demand. It’s not like there are a bunch of good players out of jobs because of what Philly is doing.

    The bigger issue for me is that there are too many teams. I would love to see the NBA contract by 3-4 teams and have a “contraction draft” that favored weaker teams. If every team could be at least as good as, say, the Pelicans, or last year’s Nuggets, then no one would have to worry about tanking. It would also result in better D-league franchises since fewer fringe players would be polluting the NBA.

    How about making the bottom 2 teams play in the D-League for the following year, and make their #1 pick ineligible to play in the D-League?

  16. Should Philly really be spending money on some somewhat less bad teams so they could win 30 games instead of 20? Like the fans in Philly and around the league would really give a shit? Either way you know your team is going to lose a lot and has no chance of winning a championship that season. Good for Philly for realizing they were in no position to compete for a few years and trying to build a championship caliber team instead of making stupid long term moves to have an outside shot and a bottom playoff spot, like Minnesota keeps doing. Or like, say, the Knicks did for years. I think we’d all be much happier if the Knicks went into full blown tankapalooza after the Brown fiasco and had a stable, in contention team for the last 5 years.

  17. Is pace of game really an issue for the NBA?? Compared to MLB and especially the NFL (college football is even worse than the NFL) an NBA game is a breeze to sit through IMO.

  18. @20

    It’s the final 2 minutes of the game that’s gotten annoying. It just feels like Team A scores, Team B calls a time out. Team B scores, Team A calls a time out..

    In terms of free throws I think the 1+1 foul shot (you only get the 2nd if you make the 1st) should be a rule. This punishes bad free throw shooters even more.

  19. I stopped watching baseball, in part, because it was so tedious in the later innings as pitching coaches and managers shuffled their way back and forth between the mound and the dugout, and made pitching changes to match up lefties and righties and stats and blah blah. Not sure if they’ve done anything to fix that or not, but it really ruins an already long and boring game (I used to wish they only allowed one pitching change per inning, which I think is still pretty generous).

    The NBA can fix their issue pretty easily, too. No back to back time outs without any time elapsing, penalize gratuitous fouls down the stretch, make time outs shorter, etc.

    But I don’t think the problem is in dire need of fixing. Basketball has a lot bigger problems that that, in my view.

  20. I agree with DW in that intentional fouls should not be encouraged down the stretch. Maybe give the team being fouled the choice of 2 shots or 1 shot and the ball, or the fouled teams choice of who shoots the FTs.

    The other issue is that 60-second TOs seem more like 3-4 minutes long. Make them 60 seconds, then say 20 seconds to be ready to inbound the ball.

  21. Replay and all the time outs can make the last few minutes of a basketball game ridiculously long. And it turns a creative full court game into an overcoached half court game.

  22. Maybe give the team being fouled the choice of 2 shots or 1 shot and the ball, or the fouled teams choice of who shoots the FTs.

    I think the easiest solution is to simply extend the rule that gives the team a shot and the ball if they foul away from the ball under the 2 minute mark. Maybe extend it out to 5 minutes.

    Replay and all the time outs can make the last few minutes of a basketball game ridiculously long.

    Personally I’d prefer the calls are made correctly even if it means replays. However, I think JVG’s idea of having the standby ref being the one to look at most of the replays is a good one.

  23. I’m not complaining about the existence of replay-it’s a good idea. But you add a replay or two to the timeout fest that a late/close game already is and it just completely ruins the flow.

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