Diss Guy Miss Guy, Vol. 79

Diss Guy: Adrian Wojnarowski

It started with the draft last week and has continued unabated over the past week: I open Tweetdeck and my eyes immediately go to the list I’ve titled “Hoop” where a few of my favorite NBA minds congregate in a steady stream of messages, but I’m not looking for a few, I’m looking for one: @WojYahooNBA, the Twitter handle of Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski who has become the LeBron James of breaking NBA news and signings.

Sure, there are others in the game who are masters of their craft like Marc Spears (also of Yahoo) and Marc Stein (of ESPN), Brad Turner (of the Los Angeles Times) and Shams Charania (of Real GM), but there’s only one Woj.

The pale, dark-haired, middle-aged bespectacled reporter looks like as bookish as you’d expect. He’s not thin, not fat, there’s nothing in his appearance that stands out. But as his reputation has grown, thanks in part to his massive Twitter following, his appearances have reached beyond writing and occasional radio to forays into the TV game with Fox Sports 1.

The face of reporting genius

Being on the west coast, I was unlucky enough to have a work call scheduled last week when the draft kicked off. No fear though, I quickly turned to Woj who was, as he is every June, a step ahead of the actual draft. Before Adam Silver even made it to the podium to announce the picks, there was Woj tweeting out the picks with great accuracy and zero regard for scooping the commissioner and ESPN. While I had been in a hurry to cut the call short (“Yeah guys, that’s all I got … no really, that’s it. I don’t need to hear anymore.”) and hustle my ass home, I started realizing that the prospect of Woj tweet updates significantly outweighed the inane babbling of Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose on ESPN’s coverage. I stood at the bus stop eyes glued to my phone where I eagerly followed Woj’s tweets. Then I was on the bus, surrounded by faceless bodies, bumping me, invading my personal space, but it didn’t matter because I was locked in waiting for the next Woj tweet.

It was around this time that I figured out I couldn’t care less about the televised event. Woj singlehandedly crushed the allure of the NBA’s top TV event of the summer. Unlike a game where the action itself is the substance you want, there’s very little action at the draft beyond players exchanging hats.

A few days later, at midnight Eastern time on July 1st, the league’s free agency period kicked off and there was Woj again, applying his own version of a swarming full court press, rattling off tweets that touched teams and players in all four corners of the NBA’s world. His ubiquity is such that a couple of teens seized on his awesome infallibility to create a copycat Twitter account and fool a few veteran NBA journalists. Was Woj flustered or deterred? Nope, he just plowed through the wreckage like a headbandless LeBron, reporting more news and official signings with a higher accuracy rate than any of his colleagues.

Just for fun, I took a look at Rotoworld’s NBA player updates to track the sources of their most recent NBA notes. In case you’re not up-to-speed on Rotoworld, it’s one of the primary sources of information on players for fantasy sports purposes. Part of the attraction of their blurbs is that they’re presented in a simple, easy-to-digest format which includes a summary of player updates and then an editorialized fantasy spin.

After looking through over 100 updates broken by 54 different sources for 25 teams and 67 different players, the leaders in breaking news looked like this:

woj dominance

To be clear, this list shouldn’t be looked at with any definitive sense of authority, but rather directionally to validate the view that Woj is everywhere reporting on everything. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back on Twitter and see what crazy business Woj has gotten himself into now.

Miss Guy: Uncouth Men of the Off-Season

In a league known for its fraternalism and occasionally incestuously nepotistic hiring practices, it’s always striking to see an act of blatant inconsiderate regard with which former Bucks coach Larry Drew and Rockets guard Jeremy Lin have been treated. Worse yet, these affronts were catalyzed by men with reputations that foreshadowed exactly this type of shitty, shoddy behavior.

The former coach from Milwaukee was essentially the victim of a coup. Sure, new owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens provided the arms and the atmosphere for the hostile takeover, but it was Jason Kidd and his agent, Jeff Schwartz that set the process in motion.

Is there a protocol or a best practice for how to go about getting an NBA coaching job? If you believe the aforementioned Adrian Wojnarowski, then yes, there’s a coach’s code where “You don’t pursue job belonging to someone else.” Kidd going after Drew’s job doesn’t appear to be unique as Woj wrote back in May in regards to Pacers coach Frank Vogel:

Most of the stories surrounding Vogel’s possible removal as coach, league sources told Yahoo Sports, had been coming from unemployed coaches trying to angle themselves into contention to replace him.

Kidd, and likely anyone else attempting to go to underhanded lengths to supplant an existing coach, has a simple response: “I think Billy (King) said it best: It’s business. That’s what it comes down to.”

That the NBA is such a small, tight-knit community is where an “it’s business” attitude has the appearance of becoming problematic, but with both Kidd and Rockets GM Daryl Morey, that hasn’t been the case at all. In Morey’s latest situation, his callous decision (as GM and the external face of the Rockets organization, he has to be held accountable), to use Lin’s number 7 in a mockup of Carmelo Anthony was disrespectful and dismissive of Lin, a player still on the team and still under contract.

Houston Rockets: Where there’s only room for one #7

As Eric Freeman, also of Yahoo Sports, wrote:

It’s an approach that treats Lin not so much as an employee in partnership with the franchise than as a mercenary contracted for a particular task. While the latter may be true in terms of cold contractual language, it’s far from the only factor in a sports world where loyalty and family bonds are spoken of as principles that contribute to success. When a player is spoken of as an “asset,” he becomes a commodity rather than a person.

Any NBA player must know that he could be moved to another team at any time — it’s part of the business. However, at a very basic level, they still want to be treated with respect. It’s a point worth keeping in mind the next time a Rockets executive — or one from any team, really — demands that a player show his loyalty to his team. These relationships must go both ways if they are to mean anything.

Freeman acknowledges the inevitable role of business in the NBA, but also points out the obvious: that players (and coaches) want (and deserve) to be treated with respect. Some would hope that karma exists for people like Kidd and Morey who show such little regard for others, but in each man’s case that hasn’t happened.

In Houston, Morey continues to attract free agents with a combination of glitzy sales pitches, big money, and a pipedream of building a championship contender – which feels further and further away as the Rockets repeatedly dismiss any notion of chemistry or fit. Meanwhile Kidd, who had a reputation as a coach killer as a player, is able to get a head coaching job fresh out of retirement and parlay one decent season in Brooklyn into a raise and an extension in Milwaukee. If you’re looking for justice, as our little friend Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones reminds us, “you’ve come to the wrong place.”

We hope the nastiness catches up with guys like this, but in an NBA where the top-paid coaches are guys with zero years of bench experience and GMs are increasingly selected for their ability to navigate the complexities of the cap (or for their association with the Spurs), it appears that business, no matter how seedy or unseemly, trumps basic decency. The sad aspect of this possible trend is that in both Morey’s and Kidd’s cases, the end result could’ve been achieved with just a modicum of considerate communication that was overlooked, ignored, or worst, acknowledged, but dismissed.

Posted in Diss Guy Miss Guy | 1 Comment

Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014.

A quiet pre-Independence Day week here at The Diss. Here are some pieces to enjoy while celebrating our victory over the Redcoats. We’ll be back in earnest next week.

Run and Gun
Flinder Boyd
FOX Sports

The offseason is the time to kick back with a chilled beverage and read some long pieces about basketball, and Flinder Boyd gets the festivities started with this excellent piece about Javaris Crittendon, focusing on how, where, when, and why things went south for him. Crittendon, who is known to most NBA fans as “the other guy the Lakers sent to Memphis to get Pau Gasol in 2008,” is currently in prison, awaiting trial to see how involved he was in the killing of a woman in Atlanta, Georgia. As we learn in these types of pieces, it wasn’t always that way for Crittendon; there was a time when things were going well for the young man who beat all sorts of odds to be drafted in the first round. But it’s never an easy tale to tell, nor explain, and Boyd — a professional baller-turned-writer, who is a favorite around these parts because of his ability to weave a fabulous story — does justice to the man and his life. This is a fine contribution to an already-expansive body of “troubled baller” longform literature, and very much worth your time.

Started from Yaounde, Now He’s Here
Jordan Conn

I cannot lie: I do not get a good feeling about this Joel Embiid cat. I’m perfectly willing to ascribe this line of thinking to a sort of confirmation bias (that is, set of problematically-held stereotypes) about 7-footers who get mentioned for their “injury prone” nature as much as their height, wingspan and upside, and who start their careers in street clothes, chewing gum and watching their team lose tons of games. But as Jordan Conn explains in this excellent piece for Grantland, Embiid has already beaten the odds just by playing basketball in the first place. Conn takes us through a whirlwind tour of the history of basketball in Cameroon, the soccer-crazy African nation where Embiid grew up. Cameroon’s claim to fame is Luc Mbah a Moute, a respected specialist who is anything but a household name, both in the States and in Cameroon. Embiid hopes to continue a growing tradition of Cameroonian ballers taking the Western Hemisphere by storm, a process that, as Conn explains, involves equal parts persistent recruitment and blind luck. Conn does a wonderful job with this story, writing a piece which takes the reader all the way to Cameroon, where soccer rules the day, and there are two — two! — indoor courts in the entire country. If Embiid proves me wrong, I’ll point to this story as the one that got me intrigued with the guy.

LEBROCALYPSE 2014: Thinking Outside the Major Market Box
Miles Wray
Hardwood Paroxysm

The funny thing about the title of this piece is that LeBron’s been blissfully silent about his free agency plans, mostly because it seems to be a question of dollars-and-cents rather than where exactly he wants to go. All signs point to a re-upping in Miami. But what if that was different? Miles Wray takes us down the rabbit hole, and shows us reasons why LeBron should consider some of the, shall we say, “lesser marketed” cities in our great country. Imagining LeBron playing for the Hawks, Raptors, or even the Spurs, is enough to cause one to crack a smile. The affable Mr. Wray does an excellent job making the fantastical seem believable. I don’t think LeBron’s headed to Phillips Arena to turn it back into The Highlight Factory, but it’s a nice thought.

Posted in Annotated Bathroom Smartphone Reader | Leave a comment

Thank You For Your Childhood.

“Jonas has not been assigned, she informed the crowd, and his heart sank.

Then she went on. “Jonas has been selected.”


One of the enduring scenes in Lois Lowry’s The Giver – the highly influential young adult novel which has made dystopia quiet, calm, and soothingly horrific for middle schoolers across the world since 1993 — takes place in early in the story, before we know and understand how disturbing things are in the understated world that Lowry creates. That scene is the Ceremony of Twelve, the ritual where 12-year-olds in “the community” — a strange, eerie society hell-bent on order, control and sameness — are “assigned” the jobs they will work for the rest of their waking lives, before they grow old and immobile, can no longer fulfill the essential duties of their respective assignments, and are mysteriously “released”, and never seen again. The story’s protagonist, a young man named Jonas who is selected to be the community’s “Receiver of Memory”, and who serves as the novel’s narrator, is appropriately intimidated by the ceremony, which carries as much importance as any of the society’s many rituals, which eliminate individuality through orchestrated acts of sameness. “It’s the last of the ceremonies, as you know,” Jonas’ father says to him a few days before the event, “After Twelves, age isn’t important. Most of us even lose track of how old we are as time passes.” He emphasizes to Jonas that “what’s it’s important is the preparation for adult life, and the training you’ll receive in your Assignment.” This is made very clear on the day of the ceremony, as Jonas sits, waiting to hear what he will do for the rest of his life. The Chief Elder presides over the ceremony, a stern but serene presence. Her message is simple: “Today we honor your differences. They have determined your futures.”

The ceremony is anything but simple for Jonas, and the events that transpire set the stage for the rest of the story. He is initially skipped by the Chief Elder as she hands out the Assignments to his fellow classmates, and no explanation is given. It is deeply confusing and embarrassing for Jonas, a well-liked child who had progressed normally throughout his childhood. “He hunched his shoulders and tried to make himself smaller in the seat. He wanted to disappear, to fade away, to not exist,” Lowry writes about Jonas, who wonders, specifically, “What had he done wrong?” However, all is made right — to a certain extent, given what transpires in the rest of the book — when the Chief Elder addresses Jonas, and apologizes for skipping him. The overlooking was intentional, and carried great importance: he had been chosen, specially, to be the Receiver of Memory for the community, one of the most important Assignments known to the polity, and the job that would define him for the rest of his life. “He heard a gasp — the sudden intake of breath, drawn sharply in astonishment, by each of the seated citizens. He saw their faces; the eyes widened in awe. And still he did not understand.”

Much like the Ceremony of Twelve for Jonas, the thing we call “the NBA Draft” is a bit beyond understanding. In my three years of writing about basketball, I have never quite figured out the angle I want to approach the event. I borrowed a term from an old professor of the Atlantic World, and called out general managers and owners for coveting the lusty bodies of the mostly-black draftee base. The next year, I called out the process itself, and wondered why new NBA players — like the rookies who will be “drafted” today — were not just allowed to enter the league as free agents, able to determine their own vocational destinations and destinies. In year three, I’m not sure where to go. I don’t disagree with my old assertions; the draft is, in many ways, equal parts pageant, auction, forced conscription and fully-optional lottery, a splattering of colors and concepts. But at the same time, they do not satisfy like they used to. They don’t get me — us, really — where we’re trying to go.

Certainly, it is fitting that this event occupies such an uneasy intellectual space in our own churning minds, still hungover from the NBA finals, and not yet fatigued by the endless nature of the offseason. It floats around like a satellite in orbit, marking neither the end of the old season, nor the beginning of the new one. It exists unto itself, generating its own hype through two different fanbases, and gathering its own momentum as prospects turn to pariahs, and vice versa. It puts all of our methods of analysis to the test, and requires us to unfurl our most nuanced takes about not what the player is, but rather, what they will be; a hollow cry into the cold, dark wilderness. Most of the time, we are wrong about the players, and for us, that’s okay; part of the fun of the draft is the prospect of failure, the probability that one of these teenagers will become labeled a “bust”, and we’ll see Jonathan Abrams pen a great tale that does justice to their individual process, and hangs a neatly-weaved laurel on their personal legacy. This makes the event imminently knowable, recognizable and repeatable, year after year. But a game of lots involving human livelihoods leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. Or, at the very least, it probably should.

In The Giver, when a child receives their Assignment, and begins to drift away from his or her friends, and towards his or her new coworkers, the Chief Elder of the community shows a brief moment of compassion and love. “Thank you for your childhood,” she says to the Twelve entering the “real world”, acknowledging that, indeed, it was their uniqueness that determined what they would do for the bulk of their life, and what would define their adulthood, at least from a vocational perspective. Thanking one for their childhood — like they gave it to you, like a gift — is about as ambivalent as can be. On the one hand, it establishes that a period of one’s life is over, and must be moved on from. On the other, it establishes that something special happened; something we may not have been privy to before the sole purpose of existence became vocation, became labor. “Thank you for your childhood” the Chief Elder in The Giver says to her young charges, now spread in front of her, newly bestowed with gilded shackles to join the lock-step of a society bent on sameness and legibility. If one closes their eyes, and replaces a stately elder and young Twelves with a bald, bespectacled commissioner and 60 new NBA players, who if only for a moment, are making good on a dream, the entire process makes a bit more sense.

To all who will walk the stage today; large children about to enter one of the strangest jobs in the world, I say with conviction: thank you for your childhoods. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your childhoods. I am filled with gratitude. I am honored by your differences. And, sadly, I am awash with greed, and an overall lack of patience, as you begin your long, difficult journeys.


Posted in General | Leave a comment

Silly Season Has Arrived, and Basketball Fans Are on Their Own

A couple centuries ago, the term “silly season” was coined to describe the summer months in various European countries. With congresses out of session, there was less for the news media to report on but the same number of pages to fill, and thus a flood of silly stories was unleashed.

In modern times, soccer fans have adopted the term to describe a similar phenomenon in soccer news. The transfer of soccer players is restricted to two windows, and the biggest and most important of these runs from June through August. During these months you are liable to see any and every player connected with any and every team.

This happens for a couple of reasons. Soccer fans, to put it impolitely, are stupid. There is a whole phenomenon of ITK—In the Known—twitter accounts that are anonymous but purport to be agents or former club officials. Despite no real names attached to the accounts nor any proof offered of their legitimacy, soccer fans continue to believe them. Europe, and England especially, is also home to a much “richer” tabloid culture than the United States, and thus has a plethora of quasi-legitimate publications to push dubious stories. Finally there is just the sheer enormity of numerous publications and reporters across dozens of countries reporting on news in different languages.

Thankfully, basketball reporting is not quite this crazy. There are no anonymous basketball rumor twitter accounts that have any sort of following or power. America has very few tabloids to begin with, and the ones that it does have mostly don’t bother reporting on basketball transactions. Things are much simpler with one league with thirty teams based in a single country (the Raptors excepted, of course). There just isn’t as much room for bad reports.

But the NBA does have a silly season, and we’re smack dab in the middle of it right now. Basketball’s silly season begins after the Finals, roughly June 15, and ends a couple of weeks into free agency, say July 15. This month-long period has an immense amount of transactions compressed into a small part of the year with contracts expiring, the NBA draft and the beginning of free agency. To most fans the actual season is the busiest time of year, but ask most basketball reporters and they will tell you the busiest time of year is right now.

During this time of year, the modern basketball fan really has no hope in ascertaining what is true and what isn’t. There are so many concurrent negotiations, the details of which are so fluid, that it is impossible to tell. In the last week, if we are to believe all of the reports, the Kevin Love situation has gone from Minnesota thinking Golden State had not offered enough to Golden State refusing to include Klay Thompson in the deal and thinking David Lee and Harrison Barnes alone can get it done. LeBron James is interested in going to Golden State, Houston or Los Angeles, and is also making a play to get Carmelo Anthony to sign with the Miami Heat. Every single team is looking to trade its draft picks.

The above details come from the best reporters in the business, not some shlubs off the street making things up. And to be clear, they probably aren’t wrong. Seven days ago there likely was a Timberwolves official who didn’t think Golden State was offering enough for Kevin Love, and today there likely is a Warriors official that refuses to trade away Klay Thompson. Every single team in the draft is assuredly fielding and making calls to figure out if they can get something better than what they have.

The only tool the discerning, truth-loving basketball fan has is to consider who benefits from and who is harmed by each report. General managers, agents and players usually don’t tell reporters things out of the goodness of their hearts, but in order to further their interests. When you think about reports that way, you often have a good clue of the source and can thus make a judgment about their truthiness.

The Warriors haven’t offered enough for Kevin Love? Likely a Timberwolves official trying to get more out of Warriors, or the agent of a Warriors player included in the deal trying to extract more for his client’s new team. Klay Thompson is deemed untouchable in trade talks? Like a Warriors official trying to convince the Timberwolves to accept a worse deal or trying to assure Klay Thompson that he is valued in the event that the trade does not materialize.

Being a basketball fan during silly season can be exhausting and whiplash-inducing. There ought to be some sort of way to track reliability, but as Larry Coon explains, that is much easier said that done. Until then, basketball fans are on their own.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Tuesday, June 24th, 2014.

I have returned from the wilderness. The transition has been rough, but these excellent pieces are helping the cause.

Why Isn’t Delonte West in the NBA?
David Haglund

I read this piece last week, and wanted to make sure I included it in this week’s reader. In general, I’ve gone away from longform, as most of the pieces take the same form, regardless of the subject. There typically is a central conflict, usually based around “proving doubters” and admitting a problem, and the issue is resolved through the telling of the player’s story, both through primary sources (the player themselves) and secondary material. This piece is like that in many ways, but it strays from the well-treaded path by delving deeply into the mental health diagnoses West carries and manages. Haglund does an excellent job casting Delonte West in a fair, balanced light. Many times longform reads as an extended cover letter for a struggling baller, and this manages to avoid that pitfall. Read this piece over your lunch break, and I guarantee you’ll leave impressed.

Dispatches from the NCAA’s Deathbed
Charles Pierce

Charles Pierce checks in from the hospice center where the NCAA lays dying, suffocating under the weight of its own imbalanced system.  Of course, Pierce is referring to the Ed O’Bannon trial, and in his piece, he provides the reader with a run-down of the primary issues, as well as the central debates that are driving the trial altogether. In Pierce’s estimation, this trial centers on a question that is present in many different areas: what, exactly, constitutes a person? Pierce argues that “at the end, it is a question of personhood” which makes the O’Bannon case important, adding that “names, images and likenesses” are all wrapped up into a philosophical conundrum where virtual reality can now prevent people existing in reality from collecting on images and actions modeled in their likenesses. “Is Ed O’Bannon’s avatar really Ed O’Bannon, or is it an Ed O’Bannon made by someone else so that a lot of someone elses could make a whole lot of money?” asks Pierce. Aye, that is truly the question.


Jodie Meeks, Schroedinger’s Free Agent
Michael Pina
The Classical

I enjoyed this short piece by Michael Pina, which does a deeper exploration into Jodie Meeks, who may be due for a raise after two solid seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Pina does a closer interrogation of the numbers, and finds that Meeks presents a picture that is far more beguiling than folks may assume. While Nick Young got most of the “glory” last year, Meeks was the far better player. However, Pina asserts that Meeks, in his brilliance (he was, by the numbers, the 13th most efficient player in the NBA last season) illustrated the main crux of his problem: he can be the best player on a very bad team, and as a role player on a good team, his skills aren’t as necessary. “Meeks spent a season showcasing the type of important, game-winning skills that any playoff team in the league would love to afford, and it’s safe to call the marriage between D’Antoni’s system and Meeks’s own development successful,” writes Pina, adding that “the next frontier, for Meeks and the team that bets on him, will be knowing which one mattered more.” This was a nice exploration into a lesser-player; very well-written and researched.

The Faded Smile: The Life & Death of Eddie Griffin
Jonathan Abrams

I unintentionally included two longer pieces about players who struggled with their own personal issues while trying to perform well in their high-stress job as an NBA player, but both are worth reading. Abrams — a favorite here at The Diss — pens an excellent tale about the late Eddie Griffin, who was a lottery pick in the early 2000′s after a brief ride as the next great high school recruit, and a star player for Seton Hall. Abrams details Griffin’s brief life, cut short in 2007 after his car ran into a moving train in an apparent suicide. In the story that unfolds, we learn that Griffin had a good heart, intentions, and support network. The problem, among other things, was that no one really knew him, or exactly what he was going through in relation to depression and alcohol abuse. The story is sad, but told in an instructive, patient way by Abrams. Both this piece, and Haglund’s piece on Delonte West, are humanizing works that do the player justice, and impart a new sense of dignity in the face of overwhelming disgrace. It’s excellent stuff.

Ian Levy
Hickory High

I wanted to briefly acknowledge that Hickory High, who The Diss has considered something of an informal sister-site, is shuttering its doors after a few years of providing numerica and esoterica to its readers. Worry not: the site’s staff is working on a new opportunity, and the site’s founder Ian Levy can be found at FiveThirtyEight, among other places. So while Hickory High may cease to exist, their mantras and methods will continue to shine brightly. Kudos to Levy, and everyone involved with Hickory High. It was a great, great run.

Posted in Annotated Bathroom Smartphone Reader | Leave a comment

Now Entering Our Thrilling Three’s. There’s Cake in the Break Room.

Happy 3rd birthday to us. Time flies when you’re having fun.  And rest assured: the best is yet to come. In the meantime, here were our favorite pieces from the year.

The Provocateur 
Gently Rolling Hills.

This Is What Structural Racism in the NBA Looks Like
The Assassination of Andrew Bynum by the Coward Anonymous Source

Catharsis with Kenny Anderson
Processing Loss through Shared Experience: Seattle Edition

Other contributors
Who the Fuck is Akeem Scott?
How I Came to Own Nine Stromile Swift Jerseys
My Mind is a Cage: The Tumultuous Nature of Criticizing Masculinity in a Male-Oriented World.

Thank you for reading, folks. Long live The Diss.

- Jacob, Kevin & Kris

Posted in General | Leave a comment

The San Antonio Spurs Success is Not a Referendum on Team Building

The superstar model is eternally on the verge of extinction. Provisions of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement were specifically implemented to prevent The Decision 2.0. Influential basketball columnist Adrian Wojnarowski saw the trade of Rudy Gay to Sacramento as a sign that, “the Super Friends scenarios are gone, replaced with the NBA’s vision of talent spreading out to the have-nots.” The final nail in the coffin is the triumph of the Spurs’ “Built not Bought” model over the Heat’s Superfriends, leaving Miami to consider crazy ideas to improve.

The Miami Heat were constructed with a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of star talent. In baseball the best hitter only bats every nine times; the best pitcher only steps onto the mound every five days. But in basketball LeBron James plays 85 percent of every game and can take every shot if he so chooses. It doesn’t matter that your starting point guard is Mario Chalmers and your starting center is Rashard Lewis is they’re surrounding James, Bosh and Wade.

The folks over at Wages of Wins have long pushed the importance of the Pareto Principle for understanding who wins basketball games. Applied to basketball, the Pareto Principle states that 80 percent of a team’s wins are generate by just three players. James, Wade and Bosh. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. Garnett, Pierce and Allen. Bryant, Gasol and Bynum. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman. Jordan, Pippen and Grant. Across NBA history, this principle has often held.

There’s another economic principle we can use, however, to consider who wins basketball games. The Herfindahl–Hirschman Index measures competition and concentration in markets, and is frequently used by the Department of Justice to determine whether allowing two firms to merge will create a monopoly. Herfindahl-Hirschman Index scores range from 10,000 (one firms has 100% marketshare) to 1 (thousands of firms each have very little marketshare).

Basketball-Reference calculates Win Shares for each player. It isn’t a perfect tool, but generally does a good job measuring how much each player contributes to his team’s wins. The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index can then be used to calculate how much each team’s wins are concentrated: are a few players contributing vastly more than others (the Big Three model) or are Win Shares spread more evenly throughout the roster (supposedly the Spurs model).


Over the past ten years, the Spurs have had a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index score below league average, and in fact the lowest in the league last season. Surrounding their core with good players like Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter—as well as Gregg Popovich’s extreme resting of his stars—is indeed reflected. Similarly, the Big Three Heat have always had a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index score higher than league average. When it comes to individual team models, the conventional wisdom bears out.

If the league is moving towards a more even distribution of talent throughout teams, however, the long-term outlook picture is muddied. The league average Herfindahl-Hirschman Index has been trending downwards (less concentration of Win Shares), but only modestly. Looking at the past season, of the five teams with the most even distribution of talent, one was very good, two were good and two were terrible. Of the five teams with the most concentrated distribution of talent, two were very good, one was okay and two were terrible.


Additionally, no matter how heavily you commit statistical malpractice and slice the data to try and make a point, there is no correlation between the concentration of talent and any measure of winning. Whether they did so intentionally or not, the Detroit Pistons built a “Big Four” of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Kyle Singler and Brandon Jennings, and they were terrible. The Oklahoma City Thunder built a team around Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, and they were a couple of games away from the NBA Finals.

As it always has been, the key to team-building in the NBA isn’t following a specific model, but acquiring good players. If you can acquire a couple of superstars but can only surround them with scrubs, that works. If you can acquire numerous good but not great players, that works as well. The San Antonio Spurs are neither an ideal model nor an exception to the rule; they’re simply a team built with high-quality role players. Even if the Miami Heat do somehow break-up, the Thunder, Clippers and Trail Blazers will be standing nearby to pick up the Superfriends mantle.

There may be a small, long-term shift towards Spurs-like roster construction, but if so it is a minor evolution, not a revolution. Superstar-filled teams are here to stay.

Posted in General | 1 Comment