I Think I’m on #TeamTradeThePick

I have yet to be won over by RJ Barrett or Jared Culver and am starting to think the Knicks should look to move the pick. Where and for what are open questions, but basically I oppose fighting the board. A given draft cohort distributes what it distributes in terms of star-quality, and the third overall selection carries no insurance against a one star draft. My impression is that neither Culver nor Barrett is a fantastic bet to be a star, however defined. It’s not outrageous to think the salary attached to the third pick is too big a premium to pay for the privilege of waiting on either to develop.

With Culver, the risks are obvious. His athleticism appears to limit his potential as a wing to a 3-and-D role player. Barrett, though not considered a cloud-piercing athlete, hasn’t been rumored to be as athletically limited. With him, I can’t get past 702 shots (i.e., 20.9 FGAs per 40). That feels like a preposterous amount of shooting to me under any circumstances. I feel like we can’t just rationalize that away by saying, “Well, less would be more in the pros.” All the apologia surrounding his freshman season (“It’s injuries!” “It’s Duke’s floor spacing!”) has nearly worn me down though. Its oddly consistent. So I’m like, “Well, maybe I’m just being a grumpy old man about this.” So I pulled up sports-reference.com’s college hoops data just to see how often somebody gets up 700+ shots in a season. Their season leader database goes back to the 85-86 season, which is far enough back to include the 3pt. shot introduction.

  • There are only 21 player seasons of 700+ shots: Interestingly, three occurred in 2018-19. Purdue’s Carson Edwards (703), Barrett (702), and Cal State-Northridge freshman Lamine Diane (701).
  • Freshmen account for three 700+ shot seasons: Barrett and Diane this season and LSU’s Mahmoud Abdul Rauf  (739) back in 1988-89.

702 shots is a LOT of shots. So, I don’t feel like my fear that Barrett could be entirely a creation of volume is unreasonable even if it turns out to be wrong. Among the 21 player seasons at that volume his 53.2% TS is 7th worst. Of course, I don’t want to ignore his age. Barrett is only 18 years old and the vast majority of players taking shots at that volume are 3rd and 4th year players. And, for what it’s worth, Lamine Diane, CSU-Northridge’s similarly sized freshman, was absurdly bad (49.9% TS). So, Barrett’s presumptively better than some random 18 year old jacking up shots. I buy that he possesses NBA upside, but as what? I’m not certain. I can see the DeRozan comp as reasonable, but not some sort of baseline expectation. As a preternaturally strong-but-skinny freshman DeRozan was a good bit better on two point shots overall, and was living death at the rim based on his elite athleticism. With the 9th pick, where we selected Knox, Barrett would seem like the right gamble. At 3rd overall, he forces NY to move a current player to pursue two max contracts. Whoever that might be was likely better than even odds to be moved anyway, to be fair. But he basically gets two developmental years to prove he’s “an asset” before expense becomes a consideration. Pretty much anyone in this class NY might consider at #3 feels like the wrong gamble for this off-season. I won’t cry if the best move ends up being pick the best player available. It be’s that way sometimes.

A few days ago I went in search of college basketball’s top no-conscience gunners to see where Barrett stacked up. Random shout out to Kevin Bradshaw of the now defunct US International University (USIU) in San Diego. He is the great white whale of no-conscience gunners. Back in the heady days of Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount teams playing at warp speed, Bradshaw transferred to USIU from Bethune Cookman. That first season, he got up a “modest” 707 shots as a junior–the 17th most in the sports-reference database–and averaged over 30 ppg. But for his senior year (1990-91) he went full Kaiser Soze. He showed so-called men of will what will really was, getting up 867–EIGHT HUNDRED SIXTY SEVEN–comically, laughably, hilariously inefficient shots to average 37.6 ppg. on 51.1% TS. I strongly suspect none of that will ever be bested (or worsted). Bradshaw, who at last check is doing what the old folks used to call the Lord’s work, teaching high school in San Diego, is an interesting sports story of dizzying heights, a near fatal fall from grace, the long road to redemption, and a documentary to go with it.

Advertisements

The Knicks Have the Third Pick in a Three Player Draft. And Maybe It’s Only a Two Player Draft.

I will thank fellow citizens of Knicks Land–traditional media and bloggers–to stop telling me how to feel about the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. For all the losing and misery of the past two-plus decades, we should all be well-acquainted with disappointment. And, we should all know that it need not stem from a sense of entitlement or some other moral failing. It’s a big part of being a Knicks fan. Like any half-sensible fan, I knew that a 14% chance of the getting the top pick meant an 86% chance of not getting it. A golden ticket to Zion was always highly unlikely and yet not getting it is still worth mourning for a few days. For those Knicks fans who, like me, are still on the head-shaking portion of the famous Zo .gif, we can get to the head nod without all the lecturing and shaming. Thanks.

To be clear, I’m far from feeling whoa-is-me despair but the tenor of the past few days post-lottery have felt too weird and Stepford Wife-y for my taste. So, here’s my “gritty realism” take on where things stand.

  1. All hail our Pelicans overlords. Only New York and New Orleans could effectively “control” the offseason coming out of the lottery. And in truth, NY’s control, even with a golden ticket to Zion Williamson, would have been mostly theoretical unless and until Kevin Durant actually signs. With NO winning the lottery, it has the equivalent of two infinity stones already in hand. It’s not just that NY didn’t get its way. It’s that the lottery gifted the only other actor with the potential to shape the entire offseason with precisely that power. Do people not understand that it is David Griffin’s world now? This, incidentally, raises another question. Is he the secret son of Lucifer? Because, I mean, come on. That man has had way too much NBA lottery fortune for any Arizona State alum. (Ed note: #BearDown.) Meanwhile, the Knicks have STILL never drafted above (and rarely even at) their record since 1985.
  2. NY’s trade assets have no clear competitive advantage in any potential Anthony Davis deal. The only routes to star-quality veteran talent are free agency, the trade market, and the draft, which are interconnected. We can ignore free agency here since we cannot know NY’s odds of signing Durant or any star. The lottery outcome ensured that NO got the draft’s lone consensus star, the only trade asset that could’ve prevented an auction for Anthony Davis. (As we know from economics, auctions are usually hella expensive for the buyer.) With that outcome conditions are now ripe for a Davis auction involving (at least) the Celtics, Knicks, and Lakers. All can offer vaguely comparable packages, depending on Griffin’s strategy and preferences. And, of course, if he really is the son of Lucifer as I suspect, maybe he gets Davis to stay in New Orleans to play with Zion.
  3. Pending new info or insight, color me skeptical of RJ Barrett. New York may prefer, or be forced by circumstance, to draft and develop the #3 pick. Obviously, no one controls the distribution of talent in a given draft. (This must be true because no one with the power to stop it would have allowed the 2000 draft to happen. Jamal Crawford–who I love–might have the best career in that class. Yikes.) I’ve been told this is a three player draft. Are we sure? The more I read about the presumed #3 prospect, the less I like him. I’m no scout, but I wonder why we should consider Barrett a substantially better prospect (if at all) than, say, Miles Bridges. So much of what I’m reading about Barrett seems overly-reliant on counting stats, puffery, and an unreasonable amount of apologizing for a LOT of selfish play. He’s middling or bad on every advanced metric, save rebounding. It’s VERY easy to overvalue basic percentages for an 18 yr. old prospect, but what are people hanging their hats on with Barrett? It’s not cloud-piercing athleticism. It’s not a fabulous stroke, is it? Now, he is an elite rebounding wing. But even that makes me wonder whether he was an early bloomer who got reduced to a mid-range chucker by ACC-quality athletes. So much of his ballyhooed productivity seems like an artifact of a frightening usage rate that generated over 700 shots but only a 1.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Obviously, none of this dooms him as a prospect. But if Mills & Perry are buying into Barrett as much as virtually everyone else they better work him out to within an inch of his life and know exactly what he’s made of before pulling the trigger.

All that said, it’s a better time to be a Knicks fan than in a long time. The team is well-positioned to make a significant move in its journey toward decency this offseason. Yet the unlikeliest of teams–The New Orleans Pelicans–will play a bigger role than anyone would have imagined a week ago in determining just which paths the Knicks can and cannot travel on that journey. To sum things up, in the words of the great Bill Connolly of SBNation, “sports are dumb.”

A QUICK RE-SET ON NTILIKINA & KNOX

Let’s get this out of the way with haste. I am firmly on #TeamFrank and #TeamKnox. I’ve stan’d for Frank since day one and still do. I’ve been more cautious in my outlook on Knox than some. But, I’ve always said he was a perfectly defensible 9th overall selection.

With a bit over two-thirds of a bad–err, miserable–season gone, it’s a good time to re-visit the available data and see what it says. Notice I did NOT say, “make enduring pronouncements or predictions.” I also did NOT say, “abandon all hope for growth and development.” What I am saying is that all data tells you something and you would be wise to figure out what it tells. Nearly 60 games is enough for us to do some figurin’ for diagnostic purposes.

Frank Ntilikina — We know about Frank’s defense, even if at a glance it doesn’t seem quite as good as last season. Consider that he rates as a net positive in 6 of the 10 five-man combinations in which he’s played (-7.7 overall, one of the best on the team, but his on-court/off-court is +1.7). And, all of his net negative lineups feature some combination of Burke, Kanter, and Hardaway. I can’t wait to see his long, switchy, versatile defense with (in theory) a capable rim protector on the the floor at all times. Unfortunately, his injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. That’s just buzzard’s luck. I like that the team has publicly been patient with his groin injury. Those are notorious for fooling you into thinking you’ve recovered only to be easily aggravated and quick to re-occur.

Speaking of unfortunate, there is no getting past Frank’s ghastly shooting numbers. A 41.9 TS% at age 20, following 43.7% as a 19-yr. old rookie, is “hoo boy” bad. It’s a miracle he has a positive on-court/off-court differential. And yet, from a bird’s eye view–if you squint and tilt your head–you can see the outline of a useful offensive player. Ntilikina may never become a consistent league average shooter, but he can still be valuable on offense like Marcus Smart, a reasonable comp as a moderate-usage, defense-oriented combo guard. Smart shot 49% as a 20-yr. old rookie. Terry Rozier shot an unspeakable 39% as a 21-yr. old rookie in 2015-16. A lot of guys have had to shoot their way out of the basement, into the 50s in TS%, so they don’t offset their defense and the non-shooting aspects of their offense. That is Frank’s path.

As it happens, his non-shooting offense is actually pretty decent. On basically identical usage to last season his assist rate is 19.3% (down a tad from 20% in 2017-18), which seems to back up my thinking that he has the best court vision on the team. He also cut his turnovers way down from 19.8% to 15.8%, mostly by cutting some of the lazy post feeds and floaty cross-court passes out of his diet. Frank has to shoot better for any of this to matter, but there are enough examples of guys who have traveled that path–two active in the division–to have some faith he can do it too.

Kevin Knox — I am not worried about Knox. I think he’ll travel a similar path as Brandon Ingram, where he’ll work his way into being an average(ish) shooter as he adds the necessary strength to play his position. That said, he, ummm, may not develop into a perennial all-star.

Knox’s TS% (46.9% as of this writing) is not meaningfully better than Ntilikina’s rookie year shooting. He’s not shooting well, but he is using up possessions like an elite bucket-getter or playmaker. Trust me, I get all the caveats. Knox goes to work against grown-ass men every night with an IOU for a grown man’s body. He is the third youngest member of his draft class, and one of only five 19-yr. olds playing real minutes (Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Jr., Wendell Carter, Jr., and Marvin Bagley III). Of those, only Jackson, Jr. is younger (~1 month). The others are older by 5-6 months. Keep in mind, at that age 5-6 months is huge for physical development. Considering all that context, Kevin Knox is still the worst shooter on a comically bad shooting team. Even in his 19-yr. old cohort he’s the worst shooter by a country mile. So it may be wise to back off the “future scoring title” predictions. If that happens let’s all just revel in the surprise.

Consider that Thaddeus Young*, a perfectly around-the-median player now in his 12th season, had a 19-yr. old rookie season in 2007-08 that was basically twice as good as the season Knox is having.

*Did you think this was Young’s 12th season? Me either. His career could easily slot into the top half of players drafted 9th overall, where Knox was drafted. Except Young was drafted 12th, where his markedly average career is easily one of the ten or so best.

I am not here to dump on the kid. I like him. I am in NO WAY declaring that he can never develop into the perennial all-star that Young never did. He could make the second year leap De’Aaron Fox is making right now. Sign me up for that, but we should all stop pretending–coaching staff included–that there is any good reason for him to have a green light stuck in the “on” position. In the remaining games I’d love to see him work on other aspects of his game and be held accountable for defense, rebounding, and passing.

2018 SummerKnicks Wrap-Up

The SummerKnicks of the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League finished with a record of 2-3. Obviously, the record by itself doesn’t tell us much. The real learning from Summer League is to be found in individual performances rather than aggregate stats, so let’s get to those.

Kevin Knox. You’d have to be cynical even for a Knicks fan not to be hopeful–maybe even a little giddy like Fran Fraschilla–about Knox’s performance in Vegas. We saw glimpses of him leading the break and initiating the screen roll both to score and create for others. These are things we really didn’t see at Kentucky. He was very committed to attacking the rim and getting to the FT line. He is going to be hard to guard for teams that aren’t committed to stopping him. (Boston was committed and leveraged him into difficult shots.) Knox had the greenest of green lights in Vegas leading him to throw up some bad shots here and there. So he was hardly a model of efficiency, though he hit a reasonable share of difficult shots. A bigger–if still mild–concern coming out of Summer League is that the jumper comes and goes. It’s a good looking shot, so it should be just a matter of time before it becomes a reliable weapon but how much time is anyone’s guess.

Mitchell Robinson. If you loved Knox in Vegas then you also have to love what Robinson put on display in every game. His rebounding and shot blocking should absolutely translate to the NBA. And good heavens, he covers so much ground. He blocked at least three jump shots on the perimeter that I can recall. Of course, like most young bigs he has no real idea how to establish defensive post position or rotate. Given all this, Robinson may represent a tough call for the brain trust. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Fiz and Perry decide that it is best to let him mature in Westchester this entire upcoming season regardless of what he does in training camp or pre-season. Totally reasonable. Or, he could play his way into 15-20 rebounding, shot-blocking, slam-dunking minutes per night.

Frank Ntilikina.  Game 2 Frank was the best Frank, obviously.  But how he performed is just as important as how well. He pushed the ball up the floor, even on dead balls. He attacked the rim and unveiled a bit of Andre Miller to his game. That last part might be the most important development for his upcoming season. Ntilikina isn’t likely to be a classic penetrate-and-kick PG like Marbury but he can still break defenses down. Miller is the patron saint of putting a defender on his hip and taking him to the mid-post to pass or score. He did it on slow-paced teams and fast ones. Given Frank’s size, he needs some Dre in his game. Though plenty quick, he’s big enough to back down all but a few PGs. We needed to see that in summer league, along with a willingness to keep his dribble alive in traffic. We saw him do all these things across five quarters. (The first three quarters vs. ATL were ychhh.) I don’t subscribe to this being a so-called “make or break” season for Frank, I expect to see him carry this skill set into the regular season.

Damyean Dotson. The most disappointing summer league performance (relative to expectations) almost certainly belongs to Dotson. A second round flier who generally impressed when he got some run with the big club, he is hardly “the” key to the upcoming season. Still, a lot of people expect Courtney Lee to be moved this off-season. That mostly presumes that Dotson will contribute (if not start) as a 3-and-D wing. I’m not gonna go nuts over a few bad games. (And, he did play well in the final game.) But, Dotson was mostly awful on both ends of the floor against non-NBA talent for four straight games. He has training camp and pre-season to turn things around but he’s got  work to do. I’ll be rooting for him.

Allonzo Trier. The Knicks tried him at PG, when as far as I know he never even brought the ball up the floor at Arizona. And hoo brr-other, it did not go well. Jason Kidd he ain’t. But, he’s not a bad project on a two-way deal to play the bench scorer role. At 6’5″ he has nice size for SG so even if he never develops as an initiator he should contribute at his natural position. His college and summer numbers make it evident he can score reasonably efficiently. He was also the 3rd leading (per game) rebounder. 

Others. Apart from Kornet, the SummerKnicks really didn’t feature other NBA talent. Daniel Ofechu had some nice moments as a rebounding and passing PF. I have my doubts about whether he’s athletic enough to stay on the floor but he has an NBA skill set. On the other hand, I don’t really understand the team’s fascination with Isaiah Hicks.

Why Being a Knicks Fan is the Worst (But This Time Might Be Different)

As you are no doubt aware, dear reader, Knicks phenom Kristaps Porzingis (aka the Unicorn) tore his ACL in a meaningless game on February 4th against the Milwaukee Bucks. The injury ends his 2017-18 season and almost certainly keeps him out of game action until after the calendar turns to 2019. This was, in its own way, a perfect microcosm of life as a Knicks fan. To that point in the contest, KP had more than held his own against Milwaukee’s uber-talented phenom, Giannis Antetokuonmpo. Porzingis blocked at least one of his dunk attempts and generally frustrated him. Of course, with Porzingis off the court the “Greek freak” went bananas

On the 2nd quarter play where Porzingis was injured he faked a high ball screen then quickly slipped it and cut to the rim, coming wide open to receive a perfect bounce pass for a dunk. Antetokuonmpo pursued but had little chance to contest the shot. Unfortunately, as Porzingis landed he appeared to catch just a wee bit of Antetokuonmpo’s foot with his own. He came down awkwardly and crumpled into a heap, clutching at his knee. With so little contact (it’s not even clear on video) a torn ACL seemed far less likely than an ankle sprain. Yet here we are.

Of course, Knicks fans are hardly alone in terms of suffering through life with an injured star. So when I say that the Porzingis injury is a microcosm of life as a Knicks fan, I’m not suggesting the Knicks have it worse than others. Rather, I’m referring to that foreboding sense that every Knicks fan feels; that the outcome will eventually be terrible no matter the cause. Now, it’s incompetent boobery often enough to warrant endless mocking from seemingly every ignorant jackass in the sports media universe. So at least dumb luck represents a kind of rhythm change. We usually have to wait all the way until the June draft lottery to get screwed by dumb luck. But here it is in early February, like Punxatawney Phil’s dismal shadow.

But y’know? This time feels a little different. To be clear, losing Porzingis is fetal-position-thumb-suck bad. I just feel more confident than in the past that this front office won’t make things worse with idiotic quick fixes. Y’know why? The Knicks are–gasp–not incompetently run. As much as it feels like tempting cruel fate to type those words, they are true as far as I can tell.  Although the possibility of a James Dolan “big time” move this summer hangs like the Sword of Damocles, he has (to date and to his credit) stayed disengaged from day-to-day management since firing Phil Jackson. The Mills/Perry duo (to date and to its credit) has stayed away from the kind of short-sighted, just-do-a-bigger-deal disasters that any Knicks fan can recite without thinking. Reasonable people can criticize their player evaluation (they clearly didn’t value Hernangomez), but turning McDermott (who they weren’t going to pay) into a cost-controlled look at a guard with size, athleticism, and some upside is not a bad look at all. 

And About All This Tanking

NBA tanking is always a popular topic. I don’t think the league cares about it quite as much as some fans, but it is a big deal. I am generally not opposed to tanking. A team may fairly conclude that it’s better off starting over than throwing good money after bad on a non-competitive roster. More importantly, I think the league is generally best off not dictating strategy to individual franchises.

With that as a caveat, I think the league has a duty to limit (not eliminate) tanking as a long-term strategy. Sam Hinkie’s infamous “The Process” is not good for the business of basketball, even if one might reasonably conclude that it was the best strategy for the Philadelphia 76ers. Hinkie’s strategy was built on economic theory. In essence, if one is allowed to lose a bet, but then bet double-or-nothing in perpetuity, he should continue betting until he wins. Hinkie applied this thinking to the draft. Keep betting (i.e., being bad enough to guarantee good odds of winning the draft lottery) until you win (i.e., land franchise-altering talent).

Although Hinkie is no villain–in fact, the Sixers appear to be improving–the league should be highly motivated to identify and limit perverse incentives to forego improvement. Bad franchises need to acquire young talent at the expense of winning, but they also have a duty to develop talent for long-term competitiveness. They shouldn’t be allowed to bet double-or-nothing in perpetuity without penalty.

As structured, The NBA’s draft lottery distributes the odds of getting the top pick too finely. There’s really no good reason that two teams whose records vary by a game or two should get different mathematical odds of having the chance to draft Tim Duncan (versus Keith Van Horn). Yet that’s what we have, and the consequence is perverse incentives to actively sabotage late-season games so as not to “lose ground” on other bad teams. This is not just “playing the kids.” I’m talking about benching a kid who is playing well in order to lose.

I would offer two basic reforms:

Reform 1: Tier the Ping Pong Balls

Rather than distribute ping pong balls weighted precisely by record, I would place the worst teams in the same tier and assign them all the same probability. There’s no real downside to this.

  • Tier I: Worst 5 records
  • Tier 2: Other lottery teams

The lottery would still feature names drawn at random, but here’s the kicker. I’d give the commissioner the power to expand Tier 1 to include 8 teams or 10 at his discretion. I’m all for go-nowhere teams developing young players at the expense of winning, but the point is to create conditions where a one or two game difference in record doesn’t change the odds of getting a good player. That should cut down on perverse incentives.

The Draft Should be a Hand-Up, Not A Way of Life…

The other change I’d implement is a three (consecutive) year limit on appearing in Tier 1 for each franchise, excluding traded picks. Again, you shouldn’t get to tank in perpetuity. So for example, if the Sixers were a Tier 1 team for three seasons they’d be in Tier 2 in the fourth (unless they made the playoffs). However, if they traded their pick to Portland the Blazers would get a Tier 1 pick if Philly finished with a bottom five record.

To be clear, I would not bar a team from winning the draft lottery for four consecutive seasons if the ping pong balls fell their way. Random chance would still be random. Rather, my intent is to limit tanking as a long-term talent acquisition strategy.

 

The NBA Could Use a Few Tweaks But So Could Fans

This “rest and scheduling” issue is the talk of the NBA right now. Powerful moneyed interests are feeling threatened and have responded in their usual way: like a 5 year old going limp in a grocery store checkout line. Still, if you can get through all the blubbering, hyperventilating, and slobber, they–and I’m talking national TV networks here–have an actual point. We know the economics. The big networks (esp. ESPN/ABC and TNT) pay the NBA for broadcast rights. They make their money by charging advertisers insane prices to peddle their wares to the nation. The prices are based on ratings, and the league’s broadcast model is heavily star-dependent.

Nevertheless, as ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh points out, the rest issue cannot be ‘bah! humbugged” away. A lot of the belly-aching about how lazy these millennial NBA stars are, and how their bodies really don’t need that much rest is rhetoric we can trace from the plantation to the plant floor, and safely ignore. The truth is that professional basketball is labor of the high repetitive stress variety. It may lack football’s explosive brutality, but it is hell on soft tissue, ligaments, and tendons.

So you can see the problem. When a star-driven broadcast model fails to deliver stars you best believe advertisers won’t keep paying premium prices. Revenue stability is of course in everybody’s long-term interests, but grinding up players’ bodies is not.

So, how to solve the issue? Well, I have one big thing and a few minor suggestions.

One big thing: NBA fans are just gonna have to learn to love the non-stars.

Basketball is improvisational art. As an NBA consumer, whether your taste is for Steve Kerr’s Warriors or Chuck Daley’s “Bad Boy” Pistons, aesthetics are a big part of what you are consuming. A game with Lebron James’ artistry is not the same product as one where he rests, even if the final score is identical. Yet artistic brilliance is a finite resource. To regularly produce it the artist needs time to recover. That’s just part of the deal.

But NBA fans in particular are spoiled rotten on this point, which is part of why the broadcast model has crept away from being star-driven to being star-obsessed in recent years. NBA fans are simply not habituated to times when their favorite players are not available. Baseball has its “getaway day” lineups on Sunday afternoons and its September call ups. In the NFL, the 30-carry RB is a thing of the past. Everybody has a “committee” now. Hell, in weeks 14-17 you don’t even know what you’re getting because teams are resting players.

Those fans don’t always like it, but they are generally habituated to players resting to treat or prevent injury. As a consequence they pay a fair bit of attention to non-stars and so-called role players. I’d wager that the typical NFL fan can tell you the backup tight end on his favorite team, because that guy plays regularly. The typical baseball fan knows the fourth outfielder (and probably at least one minor league prospect he’s never even seen). In sharp contrast, many, many NBA fans are so casual that they don’t even follow any particular team. They may know Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubling and James Harden’s beard, but they can’t name any other OKC or HOU starters (much less backups). I’m not saying this is most NBA fans, but way more than some insignificant portion, and far more than other sports.

THIS REST ISSUE CANNOT BE RESOLVED WITHOUT FIRST ACKNOWLEDGING THAT NBA FANS MUST CHANGE. I’m a marketing guy, and the marketing orientation is fundamentally about giving the people what they want. But, this is one of those moments where playing to the casual fan’s star-obsession is enabling a tragedy of the commons. Fans have to learn to want something else, or at least live with something else. Thing is, the league is so deep right now and the product is so good this shouldn’t be hard.

What the NBA can do.

  • Alter the schedule to accommodate regular season series play — This to me is low-hanging fruit. Teams should play 2-3 game series across non-consecutive nights in the same city to cut down on the insane every-road-game-in-a-different-city travel. You could see real benefits to player health before having to entertain cutting games. Teams already don’t play every other team. So if you lose a few inter-conference matchups each season, big whoop. You rotate inter-conference games by division like the NFL. Apart from cutting travel, it also cuts down on the complaint that “Lebron is only gonna be in city X once this season. Therefore, he must play.”
  • Play more 10-man rotations — Too many coaches are grinding star players down with 30+ minutes of high-intensity, high-stress basketball, in part because the league is so deep with athletes. It’s way past time to see more 10-man rotations. For all the talk of how playoff seeding doesn’t matter because one road win wrests home court advantage away, it’s amazing to me that more coaches don’t institute more minutes restrictions to get to the playoffs rested.
  • Expand rosters at the start and close of the regular season — Insert two call-up periods during the season for D-Leaguers and free agents, one pre-Christmas and one in March, where rosters expand to 16 players.
  • Promote teams AND stars — The NBA’s own marketing reinforces the “stars-and-scrubs” bias of its most casual fans. So, it is routine, for example, to see TNT/ESPN promos where the team names are never stated in the voiceover; only the names of stars. The NBA could be more diligent about having at least some product promos that mention teams and standings.