Last season, in late March, I awarded John Wall something called M.V.P.N.N.K.L. It's the MVP for people not named Kevin or LeBron. The only NBA players disqualified from winning the award are LeBron James and Kevin Durant (and Kevin Garnett, and Kevin Martin … sorry, Kevin Martin). The point is, while Durant and LeBron are around, it's hard to imagine anyone else winning the MVP award, so we have to come up with something for the rest of the league. Hence, the M.V.P.N.N.K.L.
After one week, this award belongs to Paul George. In fact, he might not even need the Kevin/LeBron exemption. He might just be the MVP.
Joe Dumars has been Detroit’s top decision-maker for 13 years, and, holy cow, what a 13 years it has been for the franchise. Over this stretch, Dumars has experienced the end of the Grant Hill era; the related and visionary Ben Wallace theft; the surprisingly effective Rip Hamilton–Jerry Stackhouse swap; the magical 2004 title run; the Malice at the Palace; a heartbreaking seven-game loss in the 2005 Finals (Robert Horry was involved); six straight conference finals appearances (think about that); the highly controversial Chauncey Billups–Allen Iverson trade; the 2009 free-agency splurge the entire city of Detroit has agreed never to mention again; and a slow, painful rebuild during which attendance dropped to league-worst levels and Detroit became the consensus “league’s most boring team” — even as they quietly drafted very well outside the top five.
Suddenly, bam: The Pistons are the NBA’s new League Pass darling. Everyone wants to see the Andre Drummond dunk fest, and how three guys who need the ball — Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe — will coexist in lineups that will struggle for spacing. The Pistons have somehow become the most captivating non-contender while acquiring two big-money players most fans seem to find frustrating more than anything else.
After a weekend watching prospects at Adidas Nations in Los Angeles, Dumars took a break and chatted at length one-on-one with Grantland. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
First of all, let’s congratulate the Pistons and Bucks on collaborating for a fitting capper to the NBA’s silly season. It seemed at times like these two were at the center of at least half the free-agency rumors after July 1. The Pistons used their cap space — earned mostly via sacrificing a first-round pick to dump Ben Gordon on Charlotte — to sign one polarizing lefty free agent, and have now nabbed another via sign-and-trade. In between, they signed Italian sharpshooter Luigi Datome, who joins Milwaukee’s Miroslav Raduljica in the club of “international guys only 2 percent of NBA fans had heard of before Detroit or Milwaukee signed them.”
The Bucks, meanwhile, turned over two-thirds of their roster in ditching every perimeter player from their 2012-13 squad, save for Ish Smith. They signed Zaza Pachulia in what might have been a clerical error, and they and the Hawks damn near discussed flipping rosters at one point. The Bucks and Hawks should have worked a token swap of second-round picks into this Brandon Jennings deal, making it a three-team trade that would have worked as a convenient shorthand for the entire non–Dwight Howard portion of the 2013 offseason.
It's mid-July, the offseason is two weeks old, the second (or third?) Dwightmare is officially over, and we have at least three teams who vaulted themselves into the title contender conversation. This summer's especially fun because teams who were good last year (Nets, Rockets, Warriors, Clippers) have gotten much better, and then you have a separate group of teams who are going into scorched-earth tanking mode already. In a normal year, you're not technically tanking until you bench your best players for the final three months of the season, but what the Sixers just did has gotta qualify. Ditto for the Suns, Magic, and especially the Jazz, who let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk and then replaced them with Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. INSPIRED.
The offseason is always great, but this one's been especially fun as two sides of the league do everything they can to either contend for a title or gut their roster and lose 50 games. In the middle we have the Lakers, reloading with Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar and Nick Young as Kobe's wingmen for next year. Again, the offseason is GREAT.
Anyway, to celebrate the season, let's check out a handful of teams and hand out grades for what's happened thus far. We begin with the trade that kicked everything off back on draft night …
Every player possesses individual strengths and weaknesses, and every player casts up a unique set of field goal attempts. Some players get lots of shots in areas where they excel, and others experience the opposite — they take lots of shots in places where they are below-average NBA shooters. Here’s a look at the players that had the least efficient shooting performances by zone in 2012-13.
The madness is nearly over, just like that. Dwight Howard has taken his farts to Houston, finally, and may God have mercy on all our souls. The Lakers are flailing (and should probably join the deepening Tank Pool), the Thunder are still looking for some wing depth, the Clippers need a third big man who can catch a basketball (i.e., not Ryan Hollins), the Warriors need to fatten up their bench, the Nuggets are doing interesting stuff, the Hawks are Hawking, the Bucks are Bucking, the Bobcats somehow agreed to pay Al Jefferson twice as much as Atlanta paid Jefferson’s superior Jazz partner, and the Sixers should perhaps sign an actual NBA player or two, just for appearances.
Free agency only started a week ago, and executives around the league are just now popping their heads up to examine the landscape beyond their own team’s cap sheet. Still, some early themes are starting to coalesce as free agency spirals to a close:
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. Here, you'll find takes on all the big free-agency transactions of the last few days, along with some of the not-so-big ones.
“It was on the Fourth of July,” Howard said. “That’s when I felt it was Houston. I was in Colorado. It seemed like every person that I met was from Houston. It was just so ironic. I’d walk around. Someone would ask for a picture. They’d give me a business card and it would say Houston on it. I was like, ‘Is everybody in Colorado from Houston right now?’ It was unbelievable. … I was like, ‘You know what, this has to be from God.’ You pray for things to happen. You pray for signs, for God to show you things. It just seemed like, this was it.”
So this whole thing, this whole will-he-or-won't-he, and if and when he does, where-will-he … all of this got settled by one chance encounter, like something ripped from an unreleased Frank Capra movie about a giant moron who goes up a mountain to decide what to do with his life, and finds a moment of clarity with a complete stranger. Word is he had an eye patch, wore himself salty sea dog facial hair, and spoke with a lot of "ARGGHS" added to the end of his sentences. But, man, isn't it weird that there happened to be a guy walking around the streets of Aspen, just as Dwight Howard was taking his Independence Day constitutional, and these two wayward souls bumped into each other and found common ground?
"You're thinking about going to Houston? Aye! Arggh! I be from Houston, matey."
It's the most wonderful time of the year. NBA free-agency season is officially got under way. Consider this a clearinghouse for all the rumors floating around. Loose lips may sink ships destroy cap space, but they also sure as hell make for interesting reading.
This Year's Model
The Subject: Tyreke Evans
The Players: The Pelicans, the Kings, the Pistons, the Hawks, Tyreke Evans's business manager, that guy who was hoping Tyreke Evans would invest in his Korean BBQ taco truck
The Gist: This seems like seller's market hysteria to me. The Pelicans reportedly offered Evans a four-year deal between $40 million and $48 million. Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Greivis Vasquez, and Austin Rivers. Keeping Austin is an obvious decision, but someone else has to go. Eric Gordon has shown nothing but Pelican passion and Greivis is named "Greivis," so I guess that means amnesty Jrue. In the meantime, the Pelicans' interest in Evans has sparked a little bit of a bidding war, with Detroit, Atlanta, and Evans's current/former team, the Kings, all wining and dining the combo guard.
Being able to put NBA players into neat little boxes helps fans, writers, and executives alike conceive of their value, be it around the league or to a particular team. Rim-protecting bigs, 3-and-D wings, pure point guards, bench scorers; when a player conforms to one of these archetypes, it’s that much easier to pinpoint how he fits and how much he’s worth.
But there are players who defy convention — some because they lack the requisite skill, others because they’re so multi-dimensional, they don’t fill any particular mold. Andre Iguodala is the latter. Iguodala is a wing — we know that much — but beyond that, it’s hard to describe where he fits.
Iggy’s a great defender — one of the best in the league, in fact — but to pigeonhole him as merely a wing stopper would do a great disservice to his many other talents. Such a label is for the Tony Allens and the Luc Richard Mbah a Moutes of the world, not those with career averages of 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game.
Iguodala can score a bit, but it’s a near certainty that you don’t want him to be your team’s primary scoring option. He’s just not efficient enough, especially when you consider the relatively low percentage of his team’s possessions that he uses. Iguodala’s career True Shooting Percentage of .550 would rank as merely average in most seasons for players defined as “swingmen” by HoopData, and that’s despite his slightly below-average usage rate of 19.5.
As his assists per game mark shows, Iguodala is quite the playmaker for a wing. A team can ask him to play point forward for a few stretches a night and feel totally comfortable. Giving him too much of the ballhandling responsibility is unwise, though, because he’s prone to turning it over. He sports a career average of 2.4 turnovers per game, dragging his assist-to-turnover ratio down near 2:1. Among the 90 swingmen to average at least 20 minutes per game and appear in at least 40 games during the 2012-13 season, Iguodala had the ninth-worst turnover rate, per HoopData.
It's the most wonderful time of the year. Early this morning, at midnight, NBA free-agency season officially got under way. Consider this a clearinghouse for all the rumors floating around. Loose lips may sink ships destroy cap space, but they sure as hell make for interesting reading.
The Red Carpet
The Subject: Dwight Howard
The Players: Daryl Morey (Houston general manager), various Rockets luminaries, Mitch Kupchak (Los Angeles general manager), a limping Kobe Bryant, the sides of buildings in Los Angeles.
Do you guys remember the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs? They’re still in the playoffs, I swear! That Heat-Bucks series was actually this season. I know — it seems like it might have been Miami’s first-round series last season, but it really was just a week ago the Heat wrapped up the most predictable sweep of this season’s first round.
The biggest story out of Miami since then has been Shane Battier’s decision to grow something like a Fu Manchu mustache. They may have also scheduled some exhibitions against the Generals, just to stay fresh. The Spurs have presumably been on a wine-tasting tour with Gregg Popovich, and rumor has it franchise higher-ups forced Pop to undergo a media-training refresher after he was strangely polite to sideline reporters during the Spurs’ first-round whitewashing of the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Tonight is a night for both rejoicing and sadness: Depending on the results of three crucial games, including two elimination games, this could be the last night featuring more than two games until next season opens. This is a bad thing for fans seeking a variety of entertainment options, especially on nights with one or two blowouts, but a good thing for the spouses and loved ones of us poor saps watching every single one of these first-round bad boys.
A lot is at stake in tonight’s tripleheader, obviously. A game-by-game look at some key questions on this busy Wednesday, in order of Most Intriguing to Least Intriguing:
That’s right — I’m giving Most Intriguing status to this season’s NBA TV/Illegal Streaming/Ratings Basement special. (It’s a league rule, by the way, that the NBA TV Special first-round series must include either Indiana or Atlanta every season. Seriously — I think it’s in the new collective bargaining agreement. Plenty of good seats still available on the cheap for tonight in Indy, by the way. Catch the fever!) After three boring blowouts, these two finally gave us a competitive contest in Game 4, albeit one in which the Hawks were in control after a blistering second-quarter run. Some key questions:
• Can Indiana figure out the Hawks' “big” lineups?
The trade deadline, even a mild one, reshuffles rosters and hints at franchise priorities going forward. The changes and the signals combine to heighten the scrutiny and pressure placed on certain players. Here, we present a list of who — and what — is on notice after last week’s relatively uneventful deadline:
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Reggie Rose
In the land of the boring trade deadline day, the brother of an injured superstar making loud noises in the shadows may not be king, but he's at least going to get our attention. At the end of a day where names like Fab Melo and Ish Smith became trending topics, Derrick Rose's brother Reggie came out and made some pretty provocative statements regarding the Chicago Bulls' front office and the club's personnel. The short version? Jimmy Butler ain't it, man. Here are some of the greatest hits from Reggie's chat with ESPN Chicago: "What have you pieced together? Have you made any moves? ... Joakim Noah is a great player. Luol Deng is a great player. But you need more than that. You have to put together pieces to your main piece. The players can only do so much ... Everyone is expecting Derrick to come back," Reggie Rose said. "If Derrick comes back, they're going to sell more tickets. Is the reason for Derrick to come back to win a championship or make money? Right now, I don't believe a championship. Everything in the NBA is financial."