Farewell John Hammond: The abstract expressionist maze of deals that demolished the original “Fear the Deer” Bucks

"Convergence" by Jackson Pollock, 1952.

Bucks GM John Hammond is gone to the Orlando to work for the ultra-conservative DeVos family, owners of the Orlando Magic, and quite busy in these political times they helped finance.

Hammond replaces Rob Hennigan, the GM fired by the Magic in April after missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year, this time beaten by his own big trade last summer for Serge Ibaka.

The editorial board at BobBoozerJinx.com (and I) wish Hammond well, and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, just as I’m sure Hennigan had no clue what he was doing (any GM who trades two legit NBA starters and 6’11” lottery pick named Sabonis for Ibaka is buying a “fire me now” tattoo).

I also can’t shake the puzzling fact that Hammond was still in Milwaukee four years after his own five-year plan to build a winner lay in shambles, circa 2013. Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens bought the team in 2014 and installed Jason Kidd as coach and de facto player personnel chief right under Hammond’s nose, without bothering to consult him. That he’s only just leaving now, three years later, is a wonder.

Jeff Weltman, Hammond’s draft guru, who left the Bucks in 2013 to work for the Raptors, will join him in Orlando. Scott Skiles, the former Bucks coach who walked out on his coaching contract with the Magic last summer over player personnel disagreements with Hennigan, will certainly not be joining them. Skiles quit after one season in Orlando because Hennigan, apparently, had no respect for Skiles’ ideas about building a Scott Skiles team.

Skiles quit on Hammond, too, for similar reasons. It happened during their fifth season together in Milwaukee, 2012-13, the final year of both the coach’s and the GM’s contracts, and also the year Weltman left. Skiles didn’t like the roster he was dealt post-Andrew Bogut trade (the roster itself didn’t like the Bucks roster) and when Skiles declined to negotiate a contract extension, Hammond let him go.

Their five-year plan in Milwaukee had produced immediate results and a 49-40 record, playoffs included, in its second year, thanks to some deft Hammond roster moves, which won him the NBA’s Executive of the Year award in 2010. The fans in Milwaukee were ecstatic, and the “Fear the Deer” slogan was born. But it fell apart just as quickly when the next Hammond trades undermined the Bucks chemistry (trade for Corey Maggette, 2010, and others; the 3-team draft day trade to be rid of Maggette in 2011 looks now like an unwarranted act of desperation). Injuries robbed the team of any consistency and gave Hammond some handy excuses.

The 2012 trade of Bogut to the Warriors in time anchored a championship defense in Golden State; it immediately destroyed the Bucks identity. By summer of 2012, Skiles had listed his home in the north Milwaukee suburbs “for sale” on the real estate market. By January of 2013, he was gone. Weltman exited for Toronto later in the year, though obviously on much better terms.

There’s an irony here amid the ruined five year plans in Milwaukee and Orlando, or maybe there is only Giannis Antetokounmpo, the diamond in the rough, the superstar rising whom Hammond and Weltman stumbled upon in their 6th summer with the Bucks. Maybe it’s the truth of Scott Skiles and his refusals to coach the Frankenstein rosters his former GMs patched together. The Bucks ability to benefit exponentially from Brandon Jennings via the trade with the Pistons and beyond is another (see the greenest area below). Or perhaps it’s elsewhere, the way one might find whatever it is they’re looking for in an abstract expressionist painting.

If you let your eyes blur a little over the minutia, a full account of Hammond’s wheeling and dealing of the Bucks “Fear the Deer” roster and draft picks does resemble a work of Jackson Pollock splatter art, or at least the sense of aimless searching one finds in the random meander of Pollock’s paints. 

Hammond reduced the entire 2010 Bucks squad and five years of draft pick assets to only a handful of players under contract: Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson. Add to that other 2010-connected assets such as the right of first refusal on Tony Snell in this summer’s free agency, Spencer Hawes‘ $6 million player option; and a super protected future 2nd round draft pick, and you have less than a third of a team, with two parts in flux.

Some of it was the work of Jason Kidd, but most of the work was done by Hammond prior to Kidd being hired. And here it is, in every exacting detail (I’m pretty sure I got it all, but someone please let me know if I missed anything).

How Hammond dealt Bucks assets Aug. 2009 – June 2013
(Green and CAPS indicates deal for current player (s) or asset; Red indicates end of the Bucks 2010-12 ties to that player, where the branch ends. “Assets” includes all draft picks 2008-2012.)
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2008 No. 8 draft pickJoe Alexander – traded 2/08/2010 w/ Hakim Warrick and a 2010 1st Round draft pick swap to Chicago Bulls for John Salmons, a 2011 2nd Rd pick (Isaiah Thomas) and a 2012 2nd Rd pick (Doron Lamb).
John Salmons – traded 6/32/11 w/ 2011 No. 10 pick (Jimmer Fredette) to Sacramento Kings for Beno Udrih as part of 3-team Corey MaggetteStephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston pick swap deal w/ Charlotte Bobcats
Beno Udrih – traded to Orlando Magic for J.J. Redick
J.J. Reddick – traded to L.A. Clippers for two 2nd Rd. draft picks (2014 – No. 48 Lamar Patterson; 2015 – No. 41 Pat Connaughton)
2008 No. 37 pick – Luc Mbah a Moute – Traded for to Sacramento Kings for future 2nd Rd picks
2014 2nd Rd Pick – Johnny O’Bryantwaived 2016
2016 2nd Rd pick – MALCOLM BROGDON – (Bucks traded their own 2016 pick Patrick McCaw to GSW for $2.4 CASH)
2009 No. 10 pick – Brandon Jennings traded 2013 for KHRIS MIDDLETON  Brandon Knight and Viacheslav Kravtsov
KHRIS MIDDLETON – current Buck
Brandon Knight – Traded w/ Kendall Marshall (claimed on waivers 2014) to Phoenix Suns for Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis in 3-team trade w/ PHI.
Sixers trade Michael Carter-Williams to Bucks
Miles Plumlee – traded to Charlotte Hornets for SPENCER HAWES and Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert – traded to Denver for cash, SUPER PROTECTED 2019 2ND RD PICK (top 55 protected)
SPENCER HAWES – current Buck, has player option 2017-18.
Michael Carter-Williams – traded to Chicago 2016 for TONY SNELL
Tyler Ennis – traded 2016 to Houston for Michael Beasley, unrestricted free agent 2017
Viacheslav Kravtsov – traded Aug. 2013 w/ Ish Smith to Phoenix for Caron Butler
Caron Butlerwaived Feb. 2014, signed with OKC.
2009 No. 41 draft pick – Jodie Meeks, traded for free agent veterans and 2010 2nd Rd Pick (Darington Hobson)
2010 No. 17 draft pick – swapped for Chicago’s No. 15 as part of Alexander-Warrick for Salmons trade, used to take center Larry Sanders.
Larry Sanders bought out March 2015 – ANNUAL $1.866 MILLION SALARY CAP HIT THRU 2022
2010 2nd rd pickDarington Hobson, injured, never plays, waived 2012
2010 2nd rd pick – Tiny Gallon, waived 2010
2010 2nd rd pickJerome Jordan, obtained in trade for Maggette, sold to Knicks for CASH
2011 No. 10 pick – traded in 3-team Corey Maggette trade draft day June 2011 with SAC and CHA for 2011 No. 18 pick (Tobias Harris)
J.J. Redick traded 2013 to LAC for future 2nd Rd Pick (2015 No. 41) and 2014 2nd Rd Pick (No. 48 Lamar Patterson)
Lamar Patterson – traded to Atlanta Hawks for 2015 2nd Rd. pick
2015 2nd Rd pick – (Norman Powell) traded to Toronto for Greivis Vasquez
Greivis Vasquez – left unsigned by Bucks as 2016 free agent
2015 No. 41 pick (Pat Connaughton) sent to Brooklyn Nets as compensation for Bucks coach JASON KIDD
Ish Smith – traded for Caron Butler, Aug. 2013
Caron Butler – waived, Feb. 2014, signs with OKC for playoffs.
Gustavo Ayonleft unsigned by Bucks as 2013 free agent
2011 No. 40 pickJon Leuer – traded w/ J. Brockman, Shaun Livingston for Dalembert, 2014 2nd round pick
Dalembert leaves in free agency 2013
2014 2nd Rd. pick – traded to Philly for Nate Walters
Walters waived to make room for the Bucks to sign Kenyon Martin
Kenyon Martinwaived Feb. 2015
2011 No. 60 pick – the Isaiah pick, traded to SAC for Jon Brockman
Jon Brockman – traded to HOU in Dalembert deal, 2012
Dalembert – leaves in free agency, 2013
2012 No. 12 pick – (Jeremy Lamb) swapped for Houston’s No. 14 Pick (JOHN HENSON) in trade for Sam Dalembert
2012 No. 42 pick (from Chicago) – Doron Lamb – traded 2013 to ORL w/ Tobias Harris for J.J. Redick, Ish Smith, Gustavo Ayon
Amir Johnson – traded Aug. 2009 w/ Sonny Weems to Toronto Raptors for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic
Carlos Delfinoleft unsigned in free agency Aug. 2012, signed w/ Houston
Roko Ukicwaived Jan. 2010
Sonny Weems – traded Aug. 2009 w/ Amir Johnson to Raptors for Delfino and Ukic
Hakim Warrick – Signed as FA July 2009, traded to CHI (w/ Joe Alexander) Feb. 2010 for John Salmons
Salmons traded to Sacramento as part of 3-team trade June 2011, thread finally ends with Greivis Vasquez, 2016
Charlie Bell expiring contract – traded June 2010 to the Warriors for Corey Maggette and a 2010 2nd Rd draft pick (Jerome Jordan)
2010 2nd Rd Pick – (Jerome Jordan) sold to Knicks for CASH
Dan Gadzuric expiring contract – traded June 2010 to the Warriors for Corey Maggette
Corey Maggette – traded to Charlotte Bobcats June 2011 for Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston, as part of 3-team trade (also included a swap of draft picks and John Salmons to Sacramento for Beno Udrih).
Shaun Livingston – traded with Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman to Houston for Dalembert
Stephen Jackson – traded 2012 to the Warriors w/ Andrew Bogut
 
Darnell Jackson – claimed on waivers 2010, traded July 2010 with 2011 2nd Rd pick for Jon Brockman
Brockman – traded to HOU w/ Leuer, Livingston and 1st Rd. draft pick (Jeremy Lamb) in pick swap-Dalembert deal
Luke Ridnour unsigned in free agency, July 2010, went to Minnesota T-Wolves
Kurt Thomasgone to Chicago Bulls in free agency July 2010
Jerry Stackhouse – signed 01/19/10 for rest of season, signed w/ Heat 10/23/10
Andrew Bogut – traded 2012 season to Golden State Warriors (w/ Stephen Jackson) for Ekpe Udoh, Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown
Kwame Brown – left unsigned free agency 2012
Monta Ellis signed with Dallas Mavs, free agency 2013
Ekpe Udoh – left unsigned free agency 2014
Carlos Delfino – suffered concussion vs. Miami Heat 3/26 2010, left in free agency Aug. 2012, signed with Houston
Michael Redd – injured, played very little for Skiles. If ever there was a trade to be made for Redd, Bucks owner Herb Kohl probably nixed it. Redd was an annual $16-$19 million salary cap liability for Bucks 2008-2011, but also a combination of Lloyd’s of London insurance payments to Bucks and player asset depreciation that could be written off as loss on the team’s books . Contract expired 2011.
Ersan Ilyasova – traded in June 2015 to Detroit Pistons for Shawne Williams and Caron Butler
Butler waived by Bucks a 2nd time, June 2015
Shawne Williams – waived June 2015
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Assets remaining from all transactions, Fear the Deer 2010 roster and draft picks 2008-2012
(Includes all assets resulting from moves of players from the 2010 team and draft picks 2008-12.)
JASON KIDD, however partial – compensation 2nd Rd pick sent to Brooklyn, hiring of Kidd done by team owners without Hammond’s knowledge.
2012 #12 Pick – swapped w/ Houston for #14 – JOHN HENSON
KHRIS MIDDLETON – acquired in trade for Brandon Jennings*
RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL on restricted free agent TONY SNELL* (Snell is in Milwaukee due to trades believed to have been instigated by Kidd – beginning with the 3-team Brandon Knight trade in 2015)
SPENCER HAWES – player option 2017-18*
JABARI PARKER’s KNEES (as a 2014 draft pick, Parker should not be included but perhaps his knees qualifty)
$1.866 MIL ANNUAL CAP HIT through 2022 owing to Larry Sanders buyout
MALCOM BROGDON – 2017 Rookie of the Year finalist
A 2019 protected 2nd rd pick from Nuggets (Roy Hibbert trade) the Bucks will only see if the Nuggets have one of the five-best records in the NBA in 2019.
*Middleton, Snell and Hawes (and the 2019 pick from Nuggets) all connected to Brandon Jennings and Jennings trade thread that starts w/ Hammond’s trade w/ Detroit June 2013. 
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Source-erole and other notes:
Image: “Convergence” by Jackson Pollock, 1952. Prints available at Art.com
Tracking down the final traces of those seemingly infinite 2nd Rd picks: https://www.prosportstransactions.com/basketball/DraftTrades/Future/Bucks.htm
  • Player and team transactions: http://basketball-reference.com
  • Devos family research: Rolling Stone article on worst sports owners, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/lists/the-15-worst-owners-in-sports-20141125/the-devos-family-orlando-magic-20141124
  • Forbes Magazine, column on Devos social/political networks: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauriebennett/2011/12/26/the-ultra-rich-ultra-conservative-devos-family/#300911c06479
  • NY Times, 02/07/14, “Betsy Devos confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence breaks tie”: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/us/politics/betsy-devos-education-secretary-confirmed.html
  • Orlando Sentinel, Toronto Star, AP story on Hennigan’s firing, ESPN news, a crazy, half-baked CBS Sports feature 12/14/15 on how Hammond and the Bucks were “responsible for basically building the Warriors” championship team. It’s partially true, as everyone knows because the Andrew Bogut trade was a direct infusion of Bucks top 5 Skiles defense to the Warriors. And the decision to trade Shaun Livingston and others to Houston stands alone as Hammond’s worst trade. Where the article gets fuzzy is the question of whether the Bucks were going to draft Klay Thompson with their No. 10 pick (which they traded in their eagerness to dump Corey Maggette). Having covered the 2011 draft here at BobBoozerjinx, I know the Bucks were excited about a guy named Thompson but his first name was Tristan, not Klay. They only swapped the No. 10 pick when they realized Tristan Thompson was going to go much higher than anyone but Cleveland expected. The killer about the 2011 draft, and I never grow tired of pointing this out, is that Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried were both on the board when the Bucks made the trade, and while I didn’t write much about Faried, well, here’s the post.  “The best answer for the Bucks is hardworking Kawhi Leonard,” who “fits the Bucks core personality, if for no other reason than he has a nose for winning 50-50 plays that Skiles can’t resist.” As for Klay Thompson? Hammond didn’t want to take a shooting guard and wasn’t going to be forced into it by “Bucks needs” or any lottery politics — so he traded out of it and did what he likes to do: take the youngest forward in the draft. Klay Thompson was never the pick that got away — that was Leonard, and if you didn’t catch it before the draft, you knew it the instant that sinking feeling set in when the Spurs traded for him on draft day.
  • Adrian Wojnarowski’s twitter account Jan. 2013 (tweet on how Skiles “hates his team” https://twitter.com/WojVerticalNBA/status/288522111281135616
  • Toronto Star, “Raptors without GM Weltman”, 5/22/17:  https://www.thestar.com/sports/raptors/2017/05/22/raptors-without-gm-after-weltman-jumps-to-magic.html

Baiting Draymond Green: Overlooked in wake of Kawhi Leonard injury, Game 1 technical was foul

Referee Marc Davis got the call right on the biggest play of the 2017 playoffs so far: the “slide under” close-out foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia that re-injured Kawhi Leonard‘s bum left ankle, which Leonard had tweaked just 1:50 earlier. At least one of Davis’ bosses was watching — Senior VP of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia, who noted on his “Making the Call” NBA-TV segment Sunday that “the referee, luckily, stayed on the play all the way until the shooter landed and the foul was called on the play.”

The play will surely stand in history, the video shared endlessly around the internet, as the point where the underdog Spurs lost any chance of winning this Western Conference Finals series against the Warriors. Pachulia’s “dangerous” foul will be remembered, and replays will show what Borgia and other NBA officiating execs strive for — an NBA referee unassumingly doing his job, signalling the call, getting it right. The guys in the light grey shirts look good on the most-watched video of the 2017 playoffs.

Very few will remember the call Davis made just 33 seconds before Leonard was injured.

Referee Marc Davis calls a technical foul on Draymond Green in the 3rd quarter of Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Finals, 5/14/17. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson. Licence: Standard non-commercial use.

It was an innocuous enough play, and the Warriors’ Draymond Green is probably still wondering what he did to deserve the technical foul Davis called on him. Spurs guard Danny Green had fumbled the ball near the Spurs bench and Draymond was on him, digging at it, making sure he couldn’t recover. The ball went out of bounds off Danny Green, Warriors ball.

The D. Green in question clapped his hands once, let out a yell and looked downcourt toward the Warriors bench, hoping to energize his team. The turnover was the first empty possession for the Spurs in the 2nd half. The Warriors were down 20 and needed an emotional lift, on defense, especially, and Green, the emotional leader of the team, was trying to provide just that when Davis T-ed him up before he could inbound the ball.

“Maybe on the bend-over …” ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy tried to offer an explanation but paused. “Taunting?” it was suggested. …”I don’t know,” Van Gundy decided. Nobody else seemed to know either, and the boo-birds at the Oracle arena in Oakland circled for a moment and then flocked to Davis. They always find him, it seems, in Milwaukee, Houston, Oakland; the city doesn’t matter, they’re there. Sometimes he seems to invite them in.

Davis and those technical fouls

The technical issued to Green was the 8th individual technical foul Davis has called in his last five games. No other individual techs were called in those games. There was the team defensive three seconds Tony Brothers penalized the Raptors for in Milwaukee, but in those five playoff games, Davis was the only referee calling any Ts on players.

The NBA average over the last two seasons is about three technicals called per four games, according to figures published by The Sporting News in an article on NBA referee policies. The eight called by Davis in his last five games is more than double (2.13 times) the NBA average.

If the league sees this as a problem (and nobody’s saying it does), NBA officiating operations hasn’t responded in kind. Quite the opposite, in fact: Davis has been promoted twice since the 5-game technical streak began, first to advance to the semifinals officiating pool, and last weekend to the conference finals pool of 20 officials.

So here Davis was, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, interrupting an awesome display of hot shooting by both teams to open the 2nd half — 29 combined points in the first eight possessions of the half — to issue a technical foul on Draymond Green for, apparently, being Draymond Green.

Baiting Draymond Green?

Much about Game 1 has been overlooked in light of Leonard’s injury, which occurred on the Spurs next possession following the technical on Green. But Davis’ technical on Green was a huge call at a time when, 1) not only were the Spurs and Warriors putting on an incredible show of net-scorching shooting, but 2) the Warriors were trying to build some momentum to get back in the game. The call interrupted the flow of the game to draw the attention of everyone watching from the brilliant play on the court to the officiating, to Davis and Green. It’s still not clear why, or what Green did, but Davis’ call may yet be subject an ordinance violation in Alameda County.

The importance of Green being the transgressor should not be lost on anybody. Green has, to say the least, a fiery temperament, and his flagrant foul suspension in last season’s NBA Finals cost the Warriors dearly in their quest to repeat as champions. He plays the game with emotions fully charged. The Warriors feed off Green’s energy, and he is unquestionably the leader of the Warriors defense (the No. 2 rated D in the league behind the Spurs’).

The toxic byproducts of Green’s full tilt approach to the game are technical fouls — he had 16 during the season, the most of his career, and six flagrant fouls, according to ESPN stats. But while Green exceeded the flagrant foul points limit in last season’s playoffs, he has not accumulated any this post-season. The technical issued by Davis was the 2nd on Green in the 2017 playoffs (the first was in Utah, May 6), well under the limit of seven allowed before an automatic one-game suspension kicks in.

The only risk for Green being called for a tech in Game 1 was the good chance that his next emotional outburst would be a second violation, and he’d be ejected from the game. Down 20 in the 3rd quarter to a team that won 61 games during the regular season, the Warriors could ill afford to lose him. They needed Green’s emotional energy to drive a comeback, and here Davis had given Green a technical for doing just that, providing a burst of energy on defense and showing emotion for the benefit of his team and the home crowd.

Davis had hit Draymond Green with a technical foul for being Draymond Green and, given his officiating track record in these playoffs, because he was Marc Davis.

It was bad refereeing, or worse — it could be construed as an official “baiting” a player, in this case an emotionally charged player indispensable to his team. Davis would call four personal fouls on Green in Game 1, plus the technical, shades of the game-long drama between Davis and Rockets star James Harden in Houston May 5. Green, to his credit, didn’t respond by escalating the situation (in contrast to how Harden handled, or was handled by, Davis’ officiating in Houston) and ended up playing nearly 37 minutes and making key defensive plays for the Warriors in crunch time.

Though the technical — and Davis’ focus on Green — did not turn out to be a major factor in the outcome of the game, this was the kind of officiating nonsense that gives the NBA a bad reputation, turns fans off and gives rise to all sorts of crazy theories about the league’s underlying motivations — just the sort of thing commissioner Adam Silver is trying to get away from in the new era of post-David Stern transparency.

Yet in all likelihood, Davis will be promoted again to work the NBA Finals, just as he was last season and the season before that; and this season from the first round to the semifinals and now the conference finals. Yes, there are new initiatives on the way, and NBA Official claims to track every call and hold officials to “the most rigorous standards in all of sports” (see ref. notes). Yet there appear to be no consequences for bad officiating beyond the public embarrassment of having missed calls labelled “incorrect” in one of the league’s “Last Two Minute Reports”.

For what it’s worth, one of the refereeing initiatives underway is a “newly created postgame survey process for coaches to share officiating feedback.” Steve Kerr and the Warriors should use it. They have major cause to file a complaint regarding the technical foul, and the general “over-policing” of Green during Game 1.

Too many whistles: Game 1 officiating sketch

Spurs-Warriors Game 1 was in many ways, a difficult game to watch. The Warriors weren’t themselves coming out of a six day layoff following their sweep of the Jazz. Klay Thompson had a lousy shooting day (2 for 11). They turned the ball over six times in the opening quarter. The Spurs nearly matched them with five turnovers of their own. (Official scorer’s report).

The referees contributed to the off-key nature of the game by calling 48 personal fouls, about eight more than the both the NBA season and playoff averages. Pau Gasol was victimized the most (a rare day) and has been outplayed by Pachulia in the series (another rare thing — Zaza has enjoyed a nice second life in the NBA since leaving Atlanta a few years ago). When did Zaza Pachulia become a better player than Pau Gasol?

The officials for the game were led by crew chief Dan Crawford, the senior official in the league (in his 32nd season and 29th playoff) who last worked with Davis May 5 in Houston. Davis was 2nd official. Third official Tom Washington has not worked a game since officiating with Davis May 2 in Boston for Game 2 of Wizards-Celtic, in which 50 personal fouls were called. The makeup of this crew seems like it may have been a “chemistry and composition” effort by the NBA to pair Davis (the bane of home teams) and Washington (a 65% homer this season) with Crawford, who likes to control a game — and that’s just what Crawford did in Oakland.

Source: Official Scorers Report, Spurs vs. Warriors, 5/14/17.

As you can see, the calls were even for the game, with an advantage to the Warriors through the 3rd quarter, then shifting to the Spurs in the 4th quarter, when neither Washington nor Davis called a foul on the Spurs. This coincided with the flow of the game, too obvious to be good officiating. This was a prickly officiating crew, with bad calls, touch fouls and the nonsense technical on the Warriors’ Green giving the refs a larger-than-necessary presence throughout.

  • Crawford called 21 fouls for the game, well more than the average (about 13 or 14) and tops in the four 2017 playoff games I’ve surveyed.
  • Crawford takes the lead in the 1st quarter, setting the tone with five fouls while the other two whistles are quiet.
  • 17 personal fouls called in the 2nd quarter was quite the barrage — 9 on the Warriors and 8 on the Spurs while the Warriors were trying to stay in the game. Made for some difficult basketball, and difficult viewing.
  • Gasol’s first two fouls came in the 1st quarter and he went to the bench. This quickly turned into lucky misfortune for the Spurs due to the brilliant first half David Lee played.
  • 3rd foul on Gasol a questionable call by Crawford at 5:18 in the 2nd quarter. “That’s a tough call,” said ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. Gasol was discombobulated the rest of the game, played only 16 minutes. His line: 5 points, 2 rebs, 5 fouls. Enter David Lee.
  • Davis finished the game with an 11-4 disparity in favor of the Spurs, made less remarkable by Washington’s 9-4 disparity the other way, which was actually better than the 12-5 disparity in favor of the Celtics the last game Washington worked.
  • Davis, despite his handling of Green, which seems to be something of a dramatic trend with Davis, was not the worst official in the game. Crawfords 21 fouls called were too many, too often, and too “touch-foul”.

Too many whistles marred this game. The Spurs on average in the playoffs had been called for just 18.2 personal fouls per game prior to Game 1; the Warriors average was 19.6. The combined 37.8 avg. makes the 48 personal fouls called just a bit more outrageous. This was not the Wizards vs. the Celtics, two teams in need of parental supervision in their series.

The Spurs (103.5 D-rating) and the Warriors (104.0 D-rating) are the elite defensive teams in the NBA, with the Warriors NBA-leading offense in need of no introduction and the Spurs in the top 10 in scoring efficiency. Coming into the series, it certainly looked like a classic match-up filled with future Hall of Famers and current All-Pros, and an MVP candidate (Leonard).

There was no need to muck up the basketball with so many whistles. One could say the refs didn’t have a good handle on the action or the teams, and were somewhat disrespectful to the game itself by, at times, becoming bigger than the game. The fault here probably lies with Crawford, the crew chief and senior official in the NBA, in his 32nd season and 29th playoff.

Game 2 of the series, refereed by Ed Malloy, Ken Mauer and Kane Fitzgerald saw only 36 personal fouls called and no technical fouls on either team. Imagine that.

Source-erole

Source for season stats, playoff stats, player links and advanced stats is basketball-reference.com. Source for all game stats are the Official Scorer’s Reports found NBA.com at the bottom of Associated Press “recaps”. The NBA has responded to this series with only stock “fan relations” PR quoted above, and to point to the March 2 announcement of new officiating initiatives at http://pr.nba.com/nba-officiating-initiatives/

  • ABC Broadcast, Game 1, w/ Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson
  • NBA-TV, “Making the Call w/ Joe Borgia”, 5/14/17: http://official.nba.com/making-the-call-may-14-2017/
  • Full quote from Borgia: Joe Borgia, Senior VP of NBA Replay and Referee Operations. “We see this quite often in the NBA where that defender they just go a little bit too far, and you’re not allowed to take the landing area away from a shooter. Obviously a very dangerous situation for players, and the referee, luckily, stayed on that play all the way until the shooter landed and the foul was called on the play.”
  • The Sporting News, NBA technical foul trends, 12/8/2016: http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/referees-policy-technical-fouls-ejections-nbra-adam-silver-bob-delaney/5bxteydvb19i1bxnomhbnd0l6
  • Technical foul points system, 2016 report: http://www.nba.com/2016/news/features/steve_aschburner/06/12/draymond-green-suspension-could-spark-changes-in-point-system/
  • NBA.com, “Draymond Green Walking the Fine Line”, 4/13/17: http://www.nba.com/article/2017/04/13/draymond-green-walking-line-fine-line-redemption-golden-state-warriors
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 5/6/17, “Green gets 1st technical”: http://www.sfgate.com/warriors/article/Warriors-Green-gets-1st-technical-foul-of-11127427.php
  • Draymond Green career stats, ESPN: http://www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/6589/draymond-green
  • Associated Press “Business Insider”, 2016 finals pre-game wire: http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-the-latest-green-aware-of-technicals-mum-on-the-topic-2016-6

The Bruce Bowen File, 10 years later: The incredible hypocrisy of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was “not a happy camper” Monday morning, having lost Kawhi Leonard, a 23-point 3rd quarter lead and Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors and center Zaza Puchulia, whose close-out defense on a Leonard 3-pointer caused Leonard to re-injure his bad ankle. So on Monday Popovich attacked Pachulia in the media, calling the play “unsportsmanlike”, “dangerous”, “unnatural” and leveled charges that Zaza has a history of dirty play.

“Follow-up questions?” Popovich asked, after his rant.  Apparently, none of the assembled with ipods and other recording devices thought to mention Popovich’s old defensive “specialist”, Bruce Bowen, the subject of controversy a decade ago about exactly the same type of illegal “step under” or “slide under” defense Pachulia used against Leonard.

Popovich had this to say back in 2006 when the NBA warned Bowen about Bowen’s crowding close-outs and the sprained jump shooter ankles that he sometimes caused.

“The people who cry about it are just frustrated about having to go against Bruce,” Popovich said in 2006, and complained that league officials were “trying to change the way my best defender plays.”

There was a reason for that. Bowen was as dirty as they come, and made it all too obvious that the shifting or “sliding” of his lead foot into a shooter’s landing space was an intentional defensive move meant to wreak an ankle or few, as you’ll see in this video.

Popovich went even further defending Bowen, and took a defiant stance toward the league directive on Bowen (from VP of NBA basketball operations Stu Jackson) and the efforts to clean up the game.

“The league is just trying to cover its ass,” Popovich said. “I told Bruce, ‘You be Bruce Bowen. You’re the best (expletive) defender in this league. You will NOT change the way you play defense.'” Bowen, when asked, said he was going to ignore what Stu Jackson and the league had told him, and do what his coach told him: “I’ve been given a command, so I’m going to keep playing hard.”

“Pop” and Bowen basically told the league to (expletive) off, a shame considering the bigger picture. The era in which Popovich and his Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio won their first three NBA championships (2003-07) was an ugly era for the NBA — no Michael Jordan (for the most part); bigger, stronger players lacking in fundamental skills; the “Malice in the Palace” in Detroit; a feuding Shaq and Kobe; a referee betting scandal; slow, “dead-ball” pacing; one-on-one isolation offenses and low offensive ratings; and even lower TV ratings — the lowest since the league was young, if not the lowest in NBA history. The defense that Bowen played was part of the ugliness, and Popovich’s defense of it was just one of the league’s many problems.

It would culminate in the months following the Spurs’ rebuke of the league, in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Phoenix Suns and reigning two-time MVP Steve Nash. Bowen kneed Nash in the groin early in the series and was not suspended. Suns players accused both Bowen and Manu Ginobili of being dirty players. And — ten years ago the day of Leonard’s injury in Game 1 — Spurs’ forward Robert Horry hockey-checked Nash hard into the scorers table in the final seconds of Game 4, igniting a good scuffle on the court.

Defying all common sense and with the series tied 2-2, the NBA suspended Horry for two games, and two Suns for Game 5 — All-Pro big man Amar’e Stoudemire and forward Boris Diaw. Stoudemire and Diaw were not in the fray but had “left the immediate bench area” during the pushing and shoving on the court.

Popovich was less than contrite in 2007 about the dirty play of his team. “It was an end of the game foul,” he shrugged, pausing for effect. “And Steve fell down. I didn’t think it was such a big deal.”

Ten Years Ago to the Day

The historical symmetry here is too good, and if you made this stuff up, nobody would believe it. Ten years ago on this day, May 16, ESPN and other media were spinning about the wrongheaded suspensions of the Suns players and wondering that commissioner David Stern’s league had failed yet again, and now seemed incapable of levying even a simple suspension. The Spurs went on to win the Suns series and championship No. 4 in the Popovich era, sweeping a 22-year-old Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavs in the finals, a series watched by few. The 2007 NBA Finals was a an unqualified ratings dud, the first time since nearly every household in America had a television that fewer than 10 million people watched the finals. Dark times toward the end of a Dark Age for the NBA.

The league has come a long way since then, led first by the renewal of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry and then Lebron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant; and now by James, Steph Curry and other players — Kawhi Leonard — along with a change of style and a new commissioner, Adam Silver. The pace has picked up, the ball moves more quickly on offense, sometimes with astounding precision, and the game has opened up. It’s not all for the better, but much of the strong-arm play of the 1990s and 2000s is a thing of the past — though Popovich and Pachulia and the Celtics-Wizards series have taken us back there for a visit. Zaza may not be able to help it — it’s when and where he’s from as a pro basketball player.

Zaza Pachulia is a down and dirty tough guy in the NBA, a squarish, slow-footed big man who passes well, doesn’t shoot much and makes up for his lack of athleticism by using his strength and low center of gravity to advantage; by making the right cuts without the ball; and by playing hard-nosed basketball, including the occasional nastiness. “You don’t mess with Zaza,” is a rule of thumb his fans and teammates in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Dallas and Golden State have enjoyed and opponents hated.

Pachulia was drafted as a 19-year-old in 2003, and is very much a product of that ugly era of NBA basketball, including the inherent dirty defense. He would have fit in well on the Spurs of the mid-2000s.

If one comes away with any conclusions watching video of Bruce Bowen stepping under jump shooters, note that there is a technique to it, in Bowen’s case more of a step than a “slide” of the right foot forward as the shooter descends from his shot. ESPN TV and radio analyst Jalen Rose, who played in the NBA 1995-2007, fully admitted on “SportCenter” after the Spurs-Warriors Game 1 broadcast that he had used the step-under on Kobe Bryant in the 2000 Finals, when Rose was starting for the Pacers and tasked with guarding the Lakers star. “If [Kobe] sprains his ankle, we win the championship,” Rose said.

There’s no question it’s a dirty play, despised by shooters and employed by the worst hacks on any team at any level of basketball (sorry, Jalen), guys like Bowen who don’t possess great skill but work hard and do the dirty work coaches like Popovich love and encourage.

Zaza Pachulia steps to Kevin Garnett in the 2008 playoffs. License: Standard noncommercial use.

Pachulia was a young, developing player of limited offensive abilities in the mid-2000s, and would certainly have put the Bowen “step under” technique in his defensive toolbox, knowing that dirty work and the occasional dirty play could lead to more playing time in a league where playing time is hard to come by. Zaza had been on three different teams by the time he was 21 and found a home in Atlanta, where he played for eight seasons.

Judging by the play that caused Leonard’s injury, Zaza’s technique is as good or better than than Bowen’s was, as Zaza did a very convincing job of selling his footwork as accidental, a little clumsy even. Try that on any playground or gym in America and you better be ready for a fight, or, in the very least, to defend yourself aggressively.

So do we take Popovich and Pachulia seriously?  Of course not.  Popovich is a win by any means necessary coach, a quality revered by fawning sports media types. By attacking Zaza in the press, Popovich is trying to gain an edge, any edge he can against the Warriors, the better team over the last three years and big favorites to win the series before Leonard went down (Leonard will miss Game 2 of the Series and is questionable for Game 3). He’s doing his job in the aftermath of Leonard’s injury, whether or not his hypocrisy flies in the face of the great basketball the Warriors usually play. Call it a “Popocrisy”.

As for Pachulia, It’s not the first time anybody accused him of being dirty; it comes with the dirty work role he’s occupied in his career. Ask Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls, who got into it with Zaza in the 2015 playoffs. Mirotic was largely absent from that 1st Round series against the Bucks following this incident:

For fans and players alike, for the NBA itself, we’ve all come full circle in ten years, back to a season (2006-07) when the “slide under” was hotly debated and Popovich’s dirty work defender was being fairly singled out. Popovich isn’t apologizing for the three championships he won with Bowen as his starting small forward, nor has he loaned his 2007 ring to Nash for walk-around purposes.

The league was and is a willing accomplice. The NBA might have outlawed the “slide under” ten years ago by invoking harsher penalties, but that didn’t happen. It’s considered a shooting foul, no more no less. As Sports Illustrated pointed out above a May 15 column by Ben Golliver, “blame the NBA, not the Warriors” for Leonard’s injury.

The Warriors may not be to blame, but Puchulia certainly is. Blame him. Better still, blame Popovich, too, and know that there are some Phoenix Suns fans out there getting a pretty big kick out of all this. #popocrisy

Source list:

  • Washington Post, 5/15/15, “Greg Popovich lights into Zaza”: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2017/05/15/gregg-popovich-lights-into-zaza-pachulia-for-play-that-injured-kawhi-leonard/?utm_term=.118e51bdf697
  • MySA.com, “Spurs Popovich says league crossed line with Bowen” 11/18/2006: https://web.archive.org/web/20080612112118/http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/basketball/nba/spurs/stories/MYSA111806.05C.BKNspurs.notebook.38e2352.html
  • TV By the Numbers, “NBA Finals ratings”: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/sports/nba-finals-tv-ratings-1974-2008/
  • NBA Finals TV Ratings wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_Finals_television_ratings
  • NBA on Television, wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Basketball_Association_on_television
  • The New York Times, “Suspensions Have Suns Crying Foul”, 5/16/07: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/16/sports/basketball/16suns.html
  • Sports Illustrated column 5/15/2017: https://www.si.com/nba/2017/05/15/nba-playoffs-warriors-spurs-kawhi-leonard-zaza-pachulia-slide-under
  • NBA Official, “Making the Call”, 5/14/2017: http://official.nba.com/
  • NBA.com News, “Leonard to sit out Game 2”, other updates.

NBA promotes referee Marc Davis again – he’ll work Spurs-Warriors Game 1

He’s baack. NBA official Marc Davis.

Screw the Bucks in Milwaukee, throw out the rule book on flagrant fouls in Boston, get into it with James Harden in Houston, incite the home crowd in each city and get promoted to officiate in the NBA Conference Finals.

That was one message sent by the NBA today (May 14) when it released the list of officials for today’s Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Finals in Oakland: Official Marc Davis is assigned to work the game with refs Dan Crawford and Tom Washington.

An hour before the game, NBA Official posted its conference finals pool of 20 officials. Davis made the cut despite, in three games worked April 27-May, actually doing all those things mentioned in the lead paragraph. This raises some questions about whether the evaluation process for playoff officials touted by the league amounts to anything but press releases and blog posts at NBA Official. Those questions can wait until after the Spurs-Warriors game.

Crawford, the NBA’s most experienced official — 32 years on the job — will be the crew chief. Crawford was crew chief in the last game officiated by Davis, May 5 in Houston for Spurs-Rockets Game 3. The 3rd official is Washington, who last refereed Game 2 of the Celtics-Wizards series in Boston May 2, with Davis as crew chief. This crew combines 77 seasons and 61 playoffs of NBA officiating experience. Seniority counts, obviously.

The mix of referees for today’s (May 14) game is interesting to say the least. While Davis had a visiting team win rate of 54% in games he worked this season and seems to have a habit of inciting the home team’s crowds, Washington trends the other way and had a 65% home team win rate in 2016-17, according to referee stats at basketball-reference.com. The home teams won 58% of the regular season games this season. Crawford’s in the middle, just 3% off the average. The NBA seems to have put some thought into the make-up of this crew. Maybe not, but they did issue a press release March 2 about a host of officiating initiatives, including plans to give more weight to the chemistry of its referee crews when assigning them.

In any case, Davis hasn’t worked since he incited the Houston crowd in Game 3 of Rockets-Spurs by making a couple of bizarre calls against the Rockets, which were contrasted by whistles few and far between against the Spurs (Spurs center Pau Gasol, didn’t pick up a foul until the 4th quarter, hard to believe). As the game wore on Davis engaged in an ongoing debate with James Harden over the injustice of things, which ended in the 4th quarter when hit Harden with a technical foul for arguing. He dispensed another T to Rockets guard Patrick Beverly before game’s end, bringing his technical fouls-called total in his last four games to seven in all. No other official working those games issued a single technical foul.

On the other hand, Davis didn’t issue a flagrant foul to the Wizards’ Markieff Morris after Morris threw Al Horford into the photographers row along the sidelines in Game 2 in Boston May 2,  In that game, Washington served as a counter balance to Davis, with his whistle blowing 12 times against the Wizards and only 5 on the Celtics. The Celtics enjoyed an overall 29-21 personal fouls disparity in their favor and won the game in OT.

Davis’ officiating in Raptors-Bucks Game 6 in Milwaukee belonged in the realm of the absurd, as the Bucks were denied a Game 7 in no small part due to the officiating. He called 0 fouls on the Raptors through the first three quarters despite how bad that looks, and then blew two calls early in the 4th quarter, leading to a rare technical on Bucks coach Jason Kidd (called by Davis) and another outraged reaction from the home crowd.

The NBA also ruled in its Last Two Minutes (LTM) Report on the Raptors-Bucks game that Davis and crew chief Tony Brothers missed a rather obvious shooting foul (Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled by Patrick Patterson) with the game tied at 82. Unfortunately, those LTMs are more for the public and the media than for the evaluation of referees, the accountability of referees being a nebulous thing that may or may not exist.

On the bright side, today’s game is Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors series. Nobody’s being eliminated from the playoffs today.

More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 3: Referee Marc Davis vs. James Harden in Houston

The boos began as a smattering but became a steady chorus, raining down on the officials and the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard as he stepped to the free throw line with 10 seconds to go in the 1st half of Friday night’s Spurs-Rockets game in Houston. It wasn’t this shooting foul on Ryan Anderson that the Rockets fans were booing, or Leonard, really. It was a culmination of calls and non-calls made and not made in the 2nd quarter by the referees — five on the Rockets and two of them on star James Harden — but not a single call against the Spurs by refs Marc Davis and Brian Forte.

This foul putting Leonard on the line was called by Forte. It wasn’t a terrible call. There was contact, not a lot, but enough, as Leonard pulled up for a jumpshot.  But the Rockets hadn’t been getting calls like this, hell no, and Harden had been attacking the Spurs defense most of the half. And so the boos began. Although Forte had made the call, Harden approached Davis. It was Davis who had called two fouls on Harden, his 2nd and 3rd of the game, the last one on an odd, awkward play with 5:18 to go before halftime as Harden was shooting a three. Spurs center Pau Gasol had moved into Harden as The Beard shot, exaggerating his follow through to ensure that he got the call. But he hit Gasol in the head with his off hand, and Davis didn’t like it. An unlikely offensive foul on Harden. Harden couldn’t believe the call then, and didn’t still, so it was Davis whom Harden approached now as Leonard shot his free throws and the boos rained down.

James Harden pleads his case to official Marc Davis during Game 3 of the Spurs-Rockets series Friday night in Houston, May 5, 2017. USA Today photo.  Licence: Standard noncommercial purpose.

Davis, the official who was the bane of home teams during the 2016-17 season, had done it again. He had the Houston crowd’s attention, Harden made sure of that in walking over to him. He had the players’ attention — the player as far as the Rockets go — and he had the focus of the cameras, ESPN’s and those on photographer’s row. He was part of the show, the character the fans love to hate, a foil written in to draw out the best and worst of the show’s stars. Not the ideal part, no, but no minor role by any means, and for the moment the man at the center of it all. Forte might not have been in the building as far as the Rockets crowd in Houston was concerned.

While Harden pleaded his case to Davis, the ESPN broadcast team decided to help him out. They ran a series of low-lights showing Harden driving through the lane, taking hits from Gasol and other defenders but coming up empty. Harden wants the call on every drive to the basket, and in this game he is determined. Instead of retreating, he advances, demanding an official response. He’s put Davis on the spot in front of a hostile home crowd, precisely the place where Davis wants to be, based on the trend that emerges in games he referees.

During the season, the visiting teams had a 35-30 record in games Davis officiated, a 54% win rate, a remarkable thing in a league where the home teams have won about 60% of the games, historically. The visitors fared better than the league average when Davis worked their games in 10 of the last 14 seasons, though never quite like this season, where the divergence from the norm was a whopping 24.4%.

It hasn’t worked out that way in the playoffs so far, largely due to the Round 1 mismatches and the NBA not scheduling Davis to officiate a contender on the road until the Spurs-Rockets game (whether the Spurs remain a contender without injured Tony Parker is the question of this series). The Bucks on April 27 in Milwaukee were the first home team of these playoffs to fall with Davis as the ref. (See “More than a Slap on the Wrist (Part 1)“) The Wizards nearly had a road win with Davis as crew chief May 2 in Boston, but 2nd official Rodney Mott bailed the Celtics out by putting Isaiah Thomas on the line to tie the game with 14 seconds left. The Celtics won in overtime.

Friday night in Houston, Harden and the Rockets were the home team feeling a pattern of injustice from Davis. Harden took the bait, and as the game wore on Davis drew more and more of the Beard’s attention, culminating in a technical foul on Harden in the 4th Quarter. Davis is notably more approachable for the players than many of the league’s longtime officials (Davis is in his 19th NBA season), a practice that helps build the drama for the spectator, but doesn’t do the protesting player much good.

“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said in an anonymous survey the LA Times conducted during the 2015-16 season to find the best and worst officials of the NBA. Davis was named one of the three worst. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”

Davis is “hands down the worst,” another player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”

While Harden and the 3rd-worst referee in the NBA engaged in ongoing debate about how the game was being officiated, Forte was the ref making most of the calls against the Rockets. Whatever Harden was saying, it wasn’t helping. Entering the 4th quarter, none of the three officials had bothered to call a foul on Spurs center Gasol; and Harden had the same number of fouls (3) as Spurs stars Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Gasol combined.

Below is the breakdown of the calls in the game. Note that the average number of fouls called per team per game this season was about 20, and this has held true in the playoffs.

Source: NBA.com, official play-by-play, Spurs-Rockets Game 3, 2017-05-05.

For the game, we see five personal fouls fewer than the league average (20 per team), not including the technical fouls Davis called on Harden and Beverley in the 4th quarter when the Rockets players frustrations with Davis flared, all negotiations failed. Other key points:

  • The Spurs 17 fouls were below even their average of 18.3 per game.
  • Forte, in his 10th NBA season, saw only two fouls on the Spurs through 36 minutes of play. No, not as bad as Davis was in Milwaukee (not a single Raptor foul called by Davis in the first 36:52 of the game), but a 9 to 4 disparity suggests a rather one-sided view of the action.
  • Danny Crawford, a 32-year veteran who was named the best ref in the NBA in the LA Times survey, set an odd tone at the start of the game by taking two Rockets’ fast break baskets points off the scoreboard and calling a blocking foul on Patrick Beverley behind the play. He then put his whistle away, using it just twice more in the half.
  • Crawford called the first fouls on all three Spurs stars, Leonard, Aldridge and finally Gasol in the 4th. If the officiating “game plan” was to “let them play” and not call touch fouls, it certainly worked for the Spurs.
  • Davis was the most balanced in his calls, though most of them were called on the Spurs bench players and role players such as Danny Green and Dejounte Murray. The Davis-Harden story was about the non-calls as much as it was about the calls, and the three fouls on Harden in the first half.

The Spurs were the No.1 rated defense in the league this season (103.5 pts allowed/100 possessions). If the refs are letting them play their physical, constant pressure defense with less scrutiny than even their usual low foul rate, they’re very difficult to beat, and it’s bound to frustrate the opposition. The Rockets, with the Spurs defense in their grills, didn’t shoot well enough to win this game or any game (36.4% a team), though Harden himself did (14-28, 43 pts).

James Harden protests one of the two fouls referee Marc Davis called on him in the 2nd quarter of the Spurs-Rockets Game 3 in Houston, May 5, 2017. Photo by Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle.  License: Standard noncommercial purpose

Yet despite the focus on the referees that clings to this game like a lingering doubt, it was all eminently watchable. The Spurs would go on to win, 103-92, taking a 2-1 lead in the series. They pulled away late in the 4th quarter by playing the most efficient offense either team had played all night (31 pts in the quarter), with Danny Green hitting two big shot threes.  In the absence of Spurs injured point guard Parker, Patty Mills (Parker’s backup) and the Rockets’ Beverley were water bugs on a lake of hardwood, chasing each other all over the court in high speed bursts.

Harden’s trials and tribulations were made-for-TV drama, and his determination was remarkable. He drove down the lane at every opportunity, whether he was getting the calls or not. no matter how much he was being hit near the basket. Whether or not this was good basketball or something else entirely is debatable, but with his teammates struggling to make shots (an arctic 18-60, or 30%), Harden kept the Rockets in it until late in the 4th, when the Spurs fired up a 9-2 run.

The free throws capping the run brought Davis back into the picture, as he sent Mills to the line on a Beverley shooting foul with 2:38 to go in the game. It was Beverley’s 5th foul. The Spurs were up 94-82 at that point, and Davis’ call felt like the game clincher. Beverley turned his frustrations on Davis, and Davis hit him with a technical foul, the second on the Rockets in the quarter (Harden got the first). The Spurs made all three free throws, running the score up to 97-82 with 2:38 to play.

By the final horn, 25.7% of the fouls called in the game had been called on two players, Harden (4) and Beverley (5), the guys doing the most to force the action and keep the Rockets in it. In addition to the nine fouls, each had a technical foul issued by Davis, bringing their foul share up to 11 of 37 total calls, which looks more than a little odd in a game where the other key players were allowed to play with minimal interference from the refs.

The T’s marked the 4th game in a row for Davis in which he had called the only technical fouls in the game, going back to the last time Davis saw the Rockets, in Houston April 25.

  • May 2 in Boston, Wizards-Celtics Game 2. Double technicals to Isaiah Thomas and Wizards PF Markieff Morris after a confrontation in the 3rd Quarter.
  • April 27 in Milwaukee, Bucks-Raptors Game 6. Bucks coach Jason Kidd for arguing a missed slap call on a rebound and a blown charge-block call, both by Davis within 30 seconds of each other in the 4th quarter. Davis had called only one foul on the Raptors at that point, and that call was made 36:52 into the game.
  • April 25 in Houston, Thunder-Rockets Game 5. Davis issued double technicals to Beverley and Russell Westbrook for “arguing” (trash talking) in the 4th quarter.

Is the NBA watching?

It would be difficult to believe that the NBA isn’t keeping tabs on these developments, and possibly even on Davis himself, given the infamous inbound play from last year’s Thunder-Spurs series and the ensuing  public scrutiny  of Davis, who was the official right on top of three obvious inbound violations. That got the attention of everyone who follows the league or watches sports news, as well as a statement from the league acknowledging that the game officials had blown the call.

“The Playoff Selection Process” page posted at NBA Official is the only document I can find relating to the league’s evaluation process of referees. (Note: An NBA press release dated 3/2/17 announced the launch of an Officiating Advisory Council and a number of other initiatives “with an eye toward continuous improvement” to take place over the next few years.) Davis has survived two personnel cuts for this year’s playoffs, the first to qualify as one of the 37 officials working Round 1 games, the second to advance into the pool of 30 working the semifinals. The evaluation process, assuming it is more than just a corporate rubber stamp, is described in two sentences:

“The determination on playoff advancement for referees is based on referees’ overall evaluations from the regular season, as well as their performances in the previous round of the playoffs.  Those evaluations factor in analytical data and ratings by coaches, GMs and referee management.”

Okay, so surveys involving players such as the LA Times survey don’t matter. Davis having called the only technical fouls (six in all) in his last four games, however, seems like the sort of data that can’t be ignored, in particular the technicals issued in Milwaukee and Houston, where the crowds were already riled up over Davis’ calls and non-calls when Davis called the Ts.  The decision not to give Markieff Morris a technical foul (flagrant 1) after throwing Al Horford into the sideline area also seems like the sort of thing the league office would take note of.

It is possible that only geeks who study referee data at basketball-reference.com are aware of Davis’ visiting team .540 win-loss record, or that Danny Crawford is the living embodiment of the league averages — but this doesn’t seem likely. The existence online of analytical stat pages for each referee is a sure sign that this writer is not the only NBA geek who has ever looked at them (I didn’t know those pages existed until last week). The NBA, apparently, does not.

The league announced on March 2 a number of new initiatives, including expansion of officiating staff over the next three years, an Officiating Advisory Council, a new scheduling system to “optimize the chemistry and composition of crews”, and “the use of a new data-driven review system”, among other things. The review system will “create objective referee measurement standards and track progress regarding call accuracy and errors per game over multiple seasons” — which is to say, whatever the NBA does now probably doesn’t track progress or trends such as Davis’ visiting team win rate over time. Whatever the NBA does now in the 2017 playoffs isn’t exactly clear, but they do mention the use of “analytical data” in the playoff referee selection process.

The questions begged here are whether or not the NBA assigns refs to playoff games randomly or whether there is a thought process involved in, for example, sending Davis to Houston for Game 5 of the Rockets series with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, OKC facing elimination on the road. And if there is a thought process in place, what is it?  It’s obvious that Davis is not worried at all about incurring the wrath of a home crowd or going head to head with a star player — this much was evident in Houston on Friday and in Milwaukee April 27.

If it’s not random, and there is a thought process involved in making the officials’ assignments, do we really want to know why — with the Bucks needing to win to stay alive in the playoffs — the official who was the bane of home teams this season was assigned to referee a Game 6 in Milwaukee?

Note: As of games through Wednesday May 10, including Wizards-Celtics Game 5 in Boston, neither Crawford or Davis has worked another game since Game 3 in Houston May 5. Forte was 4th “alternate official” for one game. The officiating pool will be cut from 30 to 20 after the semifinals round.

Source-erole

This post has been edited to include notes about the NBA’s new officiating initiatives announced in March. Source for player stats, regular season and playoff averages is basketball-reference.com. Sources for game play-by-play data are the Official Scorer’s Reports posted at NBA.com at bottom of AP recaps.

  • ESPN/ABC Broadcast of Spurs-Rockets Game 3, 5/5/17. Analyst: Doug Collins
  • Official play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170505/SASHOU#/pbp
  • NBA referees data: http://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/davisma99r.html
  • Last Two Minute report, Wizards-Celtics Game 2, 5/2/17: http://official.nba.com/last-two-minute-report/?gameNo=0041600202&eventNum=558
  • LA Times survey, NBA best and worst officials, 1/31/16:  http://www.latimes.com/sports/nba/la-sp-nba-best-worst-referees-20160131-story.html
  • Playoff selection process: http://official.nba.com/playoff-officials-selection-process/
  • Fox Sports: Officiating fiasco, Thunder-Spurs, 05/03/16: http://www.foxsports.com/nba/story/san-antonio-spurs-oklahoma-city-thunder-referee-mistake-dion-waiters-050316
  • NBA press release, officiating changes, 03/02/17: http://pr.nba.com/nba-officiating-initiatives/

More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 2: Wizards-Celtics in Boston, throwing the rule book out the window

Note: The initial post on referee Marc Davis began with the Raptors-Bucks game April 27 and, after Davis was promoted into the semifinals officials pool, was extended to include analysis of the officiating in Davis’ next few games along with his trends in recent seasons.  The next game Davis worked after the Bucks elimination was Game 2 of the Wizards-Celtics series, May 2 in Boston. For reference purposes, and because the original writing/notes were buried down at the bottom of “More than a Slap on the Wrist (Part 1)”, I’ve created a separate post here to put this game in better focus.

Davis was crew chief for Game 2 in Boston, with Rodney Mott and Tom Washington the other two officials. He wasted little time provoking the Boston crowd when, just 1:07 seconds after the opening tip, Wizards power forward Markieff Morris flung Al Horford into the photographers row along the baseline. Morris was retaliating for a play in Game 1 where he sprained an ankle shooting a jump shot over Horford, who slid underneath Morris as he shot. Though Morris had, well, thrown Horford into the stands, a technical (flagrant) foul was not issued on the play.

The Celtics play a rough brand of basketball, and have a couple of players in their rotation who might make good NFL tight ends or pass-rushing outside linebackers (Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart). They use their power to create advantage, intimidate and bully, and tend to get away with it. When they’re not getting away with it, they’re still wearing down the opposition.

The Wizards are also a rugged team, and the Atlanta Hawks complained in their Round 1 series that the Wiz were “playing MMA.” The Celtics and Wizards didn’t like each other before the playoffs, both sides admitted, and they’re going to like each other even less when this series is done.  The tricky task of the officials is to keep the rivalry under control while ensuring that the fouls and penalties don’t unfairly disadvantage one side or the other. Leniency was thus a reasonable approach once Horford picked himself up and tempers cooled down.

That said, a technical foul (flagrant 1) was the best Morris might’ve hoped for when he threw Horford into the baseline area. Davis, however, decided to disregard the rule book altogether and charge Morris with only a loose ball foul. The standard for a flagrant foul {1) is contact “interpreted to be unnecessary”, and what Morris did was certainly that (ref: Official Rules pg. 46). A flagrant foul (2) is contact “interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive”, and Morris probably did that too. A flagrant foul (2) results in the offender’s ejection from the game.

Davis had apparently decided he wasn’t going to throw anybody out of the game just yet, and didn’t feel obliged to award Boston the two free throws they had coming under the flagrant (1) rule, either. Instead of getting those, Boston on the very next possession was called for an offensive foul on Amir Johnson. Davis made that call too, denying the Celtics two free throws and a possession after their center had been tossed around like a … like a very large person being thrown into a bunch of unsuspecting photographers.

Bad officiating? Of course it was, and perhaps part of a visitors vs. home team trend with Davis. This season the visitors won 54% of the games Davis worked. Visitors have won more than the league average in Davis’ games 10 of the last 14 seasons. The Wizards were the visitors in Boston, Game 2.

The fans in Boston, where even the obvious calls against their Celtics are booed, were outraged. Davis had managed, just over a minute into the game, to incite the wrath of the home crowd. He had managed this in his previous game, in Milwaukee, but it took him the better part of a quarter to set anybody off, and until the 4th quarter to bring the building down. The early occasion set an aggressive, angry tone for the evening. There would be 50 personal fouls called in this game, 29 on the Wizards. The Celtics would go on to win in overtime in dramatic fashion and take a 2-0 lead in the series, with Isaiah Thomas scorching the nets to score 53 points on his late sister’s birthday.

Here’s how those 50 fouls, plus two technical fouls, broke down by official who called them:

Sources: NBA Official and NBA.com, official game play-by-play.

If official Tom Washington’s 12 to 5 foul disparity in favor of the Celtics doesn’t jump out at you, the fact that he called only two on the Celtics after the 1st quarter should. Home teams won 65% of the games Washington refereed this season (13% above the league avg., and he tends to call more fouls than avg.) The quarter ended with Wizards ahead 42-29, a lead that didn’t last as the refs unleashed their whistles on the Wizards bench in the 2nd quarter.

  • Davis called fewer personal fouls than Mott or Washington, and only 16 for the game. This is part of the trend that emerges with Davis over the last six seasons. Davis calls fewer fouls than the average official. Over the last three seasons about 2.6 fewer fouls per game were called in games Davis worked.
  • The per game average this season was about 40 fouls per game, meaning that even the official who made the least calls in this game (Davis) called more fouls than he typically does, adjusting for the extra five minutes of the overtime.
  • Mott was fairly balanced with his calls, just as he was in Milwaukee.
  • Nine fouls were called on the Wizards in the 2nd quarter, as all three officials unleashed their whistles on the Washington bench.
  • Six personal fouls vs. the Wizards in the 3rd quarter, only 2 on Boston, making the 2nd-3rd quarter foul disparity 15-6 in favor of Boston. (The Wizards were ahead by 14 mid-quarter and were threatening to blow the game open.)
  • Davis called a double technical on Thomas and Morris after the two former Suns teammates confronted each other. Had Davis issued Morris a flagrant (1) technical foul in the 1st quarter, Morris would have been ejected from the game with this second T.
  • Mott made the shooting foul call on Wizards center Marcin Gortat that sent Thomas to the line to tie the game with 14 seconds left in regulation. This was a highly questionable call.

There were factors not related to the officials that prevented the Wizards from putting Game 2 out of Boston’s reach. They went cold from the outside in the 3rd quarter after building a 14-point lead. Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal had a horrific game (4-15 shooting, 6 turnovers). Washington also had opportunities on the last possession of regulation to win it, but Beal and John Wall misfired on open looks, setting up Thomas’ heroics in the overtime. The Celtics’ little big man (53 points!) earned this win.

But it’s fairly obvious to say that the refs helped keep Boston in the game, given 3rd official Washington’s 12-5 disparity in foul calls, and the overall 15-6 foul count against the Wizards over the 2nd and 3rd quarters. This wasn’t lost on Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who tried after the game to remain benignly vague when approaching the taboo subject of the refs, but didn’t quite succeed. Brooks ended his post-game interview session abruptly after the following comments.

“We had a couple of leads, 14 and I think a 10 or 12 point lead, and things changed,” Brooks said. “My job is not to referee the game, my job is to coach, and sometimes I struggle doing that. It’s a tough job. And our players gotta play. We have to be able to control the game, and (he paused) it’s not our job to do that.”

Davis served as a counter-veiling influence to referee Washington, mainly through his handling of Morris. The Wizards’ power forward, coming off a sprained ankle in Game 1, played just 26 minutes due to foul trouble but had a stabilizing impact for the Wizards on the court, scoring an efficient 16 points. Not calling the first technical on Morris was a boon for the Wizards, compliments of Davis in the face of a hostile Boston crowd, part of his modus operandi in this year’s playoffs.

But with Mott making the big call to send Thomas to the line in the final seconds to send it into overtime, this game became a reminder that it’s difficult for any one ref to engineer an outcome when there are two other officials on the court.

Note: Davis has worked one game since this May 2 game, the Rockets loss at home to the Spurs May 5 in Game 3 of that series. The Washington-Boston series is currently tied 2-2, with Game 5 about to tip off Wednesday, May 10. Davis has not been assigned to work a game, even as an alternate, since May 5 in Houston.

 Source list:

  • Official Rules, NBA 2016-17: https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/2016-2017-Rule-Book-Final.pdf
  • Official game play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170502/WASBOS#/pbp
  • Wizards-Celtics Box score, 05/02/17:  http://www.nba.com/games/20170502/WASBOS#/boxscore
  • Scott Brooks post game interviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mj-69Br2zE
  • ESPN story, 04/17/17: “Paul Millsap after Hawks loss: We played basketball, they played MMA”, http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/19173546/paul-millsap-atlanta-hawks-washington-wizards-were-playing-mma-game-1-victory
  • Last Two Minute report, Wizards-Celtics: http://official.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/L2M-WAS-BOS-05-02-17.pdf
  • NBA Officials Data: http://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/
  • 2014-15 Phoenix Suns: http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/PHO/2015.html
  • AP report, NBA statement on 2016 non-calls in Spurs-Thunder Game 2: http://www.nba.com/2016/news/05/03/nba-on-spurs-thunder-game-2-non-calls.ap/
  • Last Two Minute Reports FAQ: http://official.nba.com/nba-last-two-minute-reports-frequently-asked-questions/

More than a Slap on the Wrist: How referee Mark Davis sent the Bucks fishin’ early (and got promoted)

The slap was so loud, you could hear its echo snap throughout the arena. The fans heard it. Bucks coach Jason Kidd heard it. Bucks center Greg Monroe felt it, the smack of P.J. Tucker‘s left hand hammering down on his hands as the Bucks center secured the rebound, 9:31 to go in the game and the Bucks trailing by eight. You can hear it now still, in the Game 6 highlight reel posted on the Raptors official site, a sharp clap above the squeaky shoes and crowd noise (the play in question is at 6:40 of the video).

But NBA official Marc Davis, the ref under the basket, nearest to the play in the paint, apparently did not hear it. Davis swallowed his whistle, something he’d been doing all game where Raptors fouls were concerned. Tucker was allowed the rebound, and found Kyle Lowry free in the lane for a lay-up, making the score 76-66 (6:43 of the video).

Davis, who was named one of the three worst NBA officials in a survey of players and coaches conducted by the LA Times (*see note on survey below) during the 2015-16 season, had not called a single foul on the Raptors the entire first three quarters of Game 6. When the 4th quarter began last Thursday, the Bucks — facing elimination at home — had endured an overall 14-9 disparity in personal fouls called and were down 13 on the scoreboard.

The Toronto lead had been 25 but the Raptors were falling apart. The Bucks seized the momentum after a time out with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd, and were on a 20-3 run when Davis missed the loose ball foul on Tucker. The lead was down to eight, and now it was back to ten. A temporary setback. No big deal. But Davis would stun the Bucks and their home crowd again just 30 seconds later, making another highly questionable call that put more points on the board for the Raptors and blew the cool of Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who was hit with a technical foul — called by Davis.

So with Davis’ foul calls running 7 on the Bucks to one on the Raptors (yes, he had finally called his first foul of the game on the Raptors early in the 4th quarter, a shooting foul on Tucker) why should anybody have expected Davis to get a tough charge-block call correct on the very next Raptors possession after the slap-that-wasn’t-called?

Except this charge-block call was not so tough. As he drove for a layup with 8:40 to go, Kyle Lowry leaped into a set Khris Middleton. Middleton’s feet were planted clearly outside the circle, more planted than most defenders get when successfully taking a charge. Lowry didn’t shift to avoid the contact, and both players went down. Charge on Lowry? Not according to Davis. Foul on Middleton, Lowry to the line.

In and of itself, an official missing a charge/block call isn’t cause for alarm; it happens in nearly every game. But in the context of this play, Davis was exposed, and Bucks coach Jason Kidd reacted. Kidd this season has played it cool with the refs, maybe too cool at times. But Kidd had had enough of Davis in Game 6. Davis hit him with a technical as the Bucks home crowd jeered its disbelief.  While the Raptors shot their ensuing free throws, Kidd engaged in a lengthy discussion with referees crew chief Tony Brothers, the substance of which, one can only speculate, centered around the question of “what the hell is Davis trying to do to this game?”

The Raptors made the technical free throw but Lowry missed one of his two, pushing their lead to 12 points, 78-66 with 8:38 left in the game. Davis had put four points on the board for Toronto in less than a minute. There was still plenty of time for the Bucks, and they would score the next 14 points of the game to take an 80-78 lead and cap an improbable 34-7 run. The devastation might’ve been 34-3 or worse for the Raptors, had Davis not softened the blow of what would otherwise have been a knock-out punch.

The officials missed another key call with 1:54 to go and the score tied at 82 — a shooting foul on Patrick Patterson as Giannis Antetokounmpo wheeled into the lane for a 7-foot baby hook shot. This play was ruled “incorrect non-call” by NBA Officiating in the “Last Two-Minute Report” for the game. To view that play, click HERE.

Toronto forward Patrick Patterson pushes into Giannis Antetokounmpo as Giannis shoots over him with 1:54 left in Game 6. No foul was called on the play. NBA Official ruled that the refs made an “incorrect no-call” on this play, the correct call being a shooting foul on Patterson, two free throws for Giannis. The official on the baseline is Tony Brothers; Marc Davis is the official on the sideline. Both officials appear to have a good view of the play.

The impact of that non-call was immediate. Whether or not Giannis made his free throws (he missed 6 out of 13 on the night), the non-call allowed the Raptors to break up the court on the ensuing possession, which ended with a corner-3 made by Cory Joseph. Calling the foul would have at least slowed the flow of the game and allowed the Bucks to set up on defense, possibly with a one or two point lead. One or two points late in a close game, obviously, could have changed everything.

NBA Officiating also found enhanced video evidence that DeMar DeRozan slid his pivot foot before driving with 1:35 to go (no ruling was made on this, even though you don’t really need to enhance the video to see it — you can watch it right here); and ruled that Jason Terry fouled DeRozan on a dunk with 49.6 seconds left. Ironically, this determination was made with much less video evidence than there was for DeRozan traveling, on which there was no determination. (There’s a post on the ironic reality represented in the NBA’s “Last Two Minute Reports” coming soon.)

Everywhere one looks in this game, it seems, there is an officiating controversy brewing. Yet all three of the refs involved, Davis included, made the conference semifinals officials cut from 37 to 30. Davis and 3rd official Rodney Mott worked the Wizards-Celtics game on Tuesday. Davis is back on the job tonight in Houston for the Spurs Rockets game. What does that say about the 7 refs who didn’t make the cut? What does it say about the NBA’s officials review process?

But before we take a closer look at other parts of Bucks-Raptors Game 6, it should be mentioned that Davis, after being named one of the three worst refs in league in the LA Times survey, was the official who stood by watching as Dion Waiters and Manu Ginobili committed multiple violations on the last play of Game 2 of the Spurs-Thunder first round series last year.  To quote deadspin.com on that play “all hell broke loose” and the rulebook went out the window.

Bucks-Raptors Game 6 official Marc Davis (#8 above) was the ref who swallowed his whistle during one of the most notorious playoffs officiating fiascos in recent years. On the inbound play of the last possession of Game 2 of the Thunder-Spurs semifinal series, Dion Waiters of the Thunder illegally shoves the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili from out of bounds, as Ginobili tries to get away with illegally violating the inbound space. In the foreground, Kawhi Leonard has a handful of Russell Westbrook‘s jersey. No calls were made on the play. AP photo.

Whistles in the 1st quarter send a confusing mixed message

Considering how difficult it’s been for the referees to draw a technical foul out of Kidd this season, those four points midway through the Bucks run were writ large on the outcome of Game 6 as the Raptors scrapped out the win, 92-89, ending the Bucks season. That Davis did not call a single foul on the Raptors during the first 36.52 of the game, certainly raises some questions. The Raptors 9 to 14 foul call advantage as they built a seemingly insurmountable 25-point lead raises more questions. The non-call on the Patterson shooting foul under two minutes was key. Davis’ preceding reputation is interesting to point out, but Tony Brothers, the official along the baseline on that play, could also have made the call.

Does it all add up to the conclusion that the Bucks were robbed of a game 7 opportunity? Bucks fans would probably say it does, others might suggest that the Bucks had their chances and couldn’t close the game out, which was certainly true. The Bucks had an 82-80 lead with 2:29 left to play. The Bucks certainly could have won Game 6 in spite of Davis, in spite of the non-called fouls, and despite problems of their own in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, such as missed open shots and free throws throughout as Toronto built its lead.

A closer view of Game 6, however, does add more grist for the idea that, in the very least, a Game 7 in Toronto would have been played but for the refs. Whatever can be said, Game 6 from the outset was not well-managed by the officiating crew, and let’s start there.

The Game 6 refs were not short on experience, and all three are on the current officials roster for the semi-final round of the playoffs. Tony Brothers was the crew chief, with Davis and 3rd official Rodney Mott. Together they combined 63 seasons of experience and 39 playoffs. Davis is a 19-year veteran and Mott has 20 years on the job.

Davis’ whistle blew the most often in the game, with all of his calls against the Raptors made in the 4th quarter, and all but one after he issued a technical foul on Kidd.

Source: NBA.com, Raptors-Bucks play-by-play, 04/27/17. Chart graphic added to post 5/12/17                                           Note: Goaltending against Bucks, John Henson, 2nd quarter (called by Davis).

As you can see, the whistles stopped blowing against the Raptors after the 1st quarter, when at one point the violations were 6 against Toronto, 2 on Milwaukee.

  • The quarter began with Brothers hitting Raptors center Serge Ibaka with a  quick foul trying to guard a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo and another on Ibaka guarding center Thon Maker. This forced Raptors coach Dwane Casey to sit Ibaka down 2:16 seconds into the game. Ibaka returned to start the 2nd quarter.
  • Mott then called a rare defensive 3-second violation (the rule few understand) on Ibaka’s replacement, Jonas Valanciunas, though Brothers offset that Bucks free throw by immediately calling an offensive foul on Middleton.
  • From 6:18 to go in the 1st quarter to 11:08 of the 4th quarter — 31:10 — the calls ran 12 against the Bucks to only 4 on Toronto, as the Bucks fell behind by 25.
  • Davis and Brothers combined called 1 foul on Toronto in the middle two quarters. One.
  • Davis called 0 fouls on the Raptors for the three quarters. (It still doesn’t seem possible, but it happened. Those zeroes can’t help but look bad for the league. — 5/12/17 edit 

P.J. Tucker grapples with Greg Monroe. Tucker, a tank-like forward who makes up for his size with physical play, tends to commit so many violations on the court that the referees are bound to miss a few.  License: Standard noncommercial purpose/use.

A blocking foul on Tucker was the Raptors fifth team foul in the 1st quarter, which put the Bucks in the bonus with half of the first quarter still to play. At this point, the message seemed to be that it was going to be a long night for the Raptors; the visitors weren’t going to be allowed to bully the Bucks out of the playoffs on their home court.

It seemed a fair message, given how even the series was been statistically, save for the Raptors big advantage in free throws attempted and made. A Game 7 was the logical conclusion. But Davis apparently had ideas of his own. The rest of the calls made in the 1st quarter of Game 6 — most of them by Davis — went against the Bucks.

The first call was made by Mott, the first foul on Monroe. Then came four straight by Davis, including Monroe’s 2nd foul, a highly questionable loose ball foul that seemed little more than an obvious attempt to even the score with Ibaka’s two fouls. The call prompted coach Kidd to take Monroe — who put up big impact numbers against the Raptors (a series-leading 16.29 BIER) — out of the game. Monroe would not return in the first half, a decision by Kidd that, if it didn’t open the door for the Raptors double digit lead, it at least altered the complexion of the game.

Davis wasn’t done yet. He called a shooting foul on Monroe’s replacement, shot-blocker John Henson, on Henson’s first possession. With 23 seconds to go, Davis put the Raptors on the line with the 5th Bucks team foul, a call on the floor against defensive specialist Tony Snell, sending Raptors star Demar Derozan to the line. Two free points for Derozan, and the quarter ended with the Raptors ahead, 28-24.

The Bucks had the edge early on, but Davis had helped even the score. In the very least, the 1st quarter officiating sent a confusing message and offered some relief to the Raptors. Davis had given them a break on the road, they had the lead, and the Bucks 2nd best player, Monroe, was on the bench with foul trouble.

Lowry in the land of the giants. Thon Maker (left) and Giannis Antetokounmpo surround Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the paint. Lowry, listed at 6’0″, is small even by point guard standards, but seems microscopic here, swarmed by 7-footers. Great photo by AP’s Nathan Denette that probably won’t be here for long. License: Standard noncommercial purpose/use.

Looking for a motive – natural bias and recent Davis trends

There is more than ample evidence, a compounding of events not all circumstantial, that leads to the conclusion that the Bucks were wronged by the Game 6 officiating crew and by Davis in particular. But why? What would motivate a ref to tip the balance in a game to deny the Bucks a Game 7, given that, if anything, what the NBA and its media desire (in theory) would be a do-or-die 7th game played in Canada’s largest media market (2.85 million pop, twice the size of the Milwaukee area market).

If the Bucks engender any bias against them it’s due to the lack of success in recent history, their last playoff series win having been 16 years ago with the Sam-I-Am, Big Dog and Ray team, or before most teen-aged Bucks fans were born. In Game 6, however, the Bucks had the natural edge being the home team, and being the home team counts for something in the NBA (where home teams win 57-60% of the time) and in the Big Ten and just about anywhere in the world one plays basketball. Add to this the “Game 7 media theory” and the perception was that the Bucks had a certain advantage going into Game 6.

The Bucks had jumped out to an early lead as Antetokounmpo forced the action, scored 12 points and shot five free throws in the first six minutes. One theory this season as Giannis’ star rose high and the Bucks relied on him to do just about everything except make the locker room sandwiches, has been that The Greek Freak constitutes unfair advantage. At times, certain referees will make calls against the Bucks to balance the scales. This may have been what Davis had in mind the last half of the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Bucks, Davis went too far by dumping foul trouble on Monroe and throwing the game out of balance.

The Bucks are not as deep as the Raptors at center. The Raptors can readily go to Valanciunas, usually a more reliable player and stronger center than Ibaka, and not worry about losing ground. They proved that in Game 6. The Bucks have Henson, a 5th year project that was all but abandoned in the second half of the season. Jason Kidd can’t take the risks Dwane Casey can at the center position. The absence of Monroe, statistically the Bucks biggest per-minute impact player in the series, crippled the Bucks in the first half.

The second call against Monroe did not appear to be circumstantial, nor were the non-calls in the 4th quarter, or Davis’ apparent glaring refusal to call any fouls on the Raptors during the first three quarters of the game.  Compounded, these instances draw the conclusion that something was amiss with Davis.  A different referee for Game 6, and the Bucks and Raptors play Game 7 in Toronto, Saturday, April 29.

Not sure of the what , but that’s Marc Davis above. “Effective pregame advice” might be … don’t even try to fathom the bottomless pit of referee motivations. From Peachtree Hoops.

Referee Stats!

In a different information age not so long ago, I’d have to leave it at that. Here comes the summation about how, for the love of the game, the paranoia about the refereeing in the NBA, justified or not, is not good for anybody. When a society no longer trusts its judges, what then becomes of the social fabric? Davis should be handed a stern warning by someone not named Stern, the former commissioner who made every small market team in the NBA nervous except the one in San Antonio.

But in this information age, the NBA and its ever-advancing statistical society have provided stats and trends for each and every referee! Exciting stuff. Marc Davis stats can be found here at basketball-reference.com. And from what those numbers say, a home vs. road theory can be built to explain why Davis was so tough on the Bucks in Game 6.

Two things stand out in Davis’ stat charts. The first is a trend over the last three seasons that shows fewer fouls than average called in the games he works, a range of 2.5 to 3 fewer fouls since 2014. That certainly held true for the Raptors in Game 6 but not for the Bucks, where Davis went against his usual m.o. and called more fouls than the other officials and more than he would normally call.

The average number of personal fouls per team in this year’s playoffs so far has been 19.7 per game (or 6 or 7 calls per official per team; it had increased to 20.3 pfs per team as of 5/12). Davis called 9 personal fouls on the Bucks.

The other outstanding trend has been an up and down relationship to the NBA’s home court advantage (a fairly consistent win rate of about 60% for the home teams). Home court advantage seems to be out the window when Davis is working. In the 2014 season, the visitors won 47% of Davis’ games. In 2015 the visitors won 50% of the time – a 15% variation from the norm. So the road teams have done well when Davis is managing the game. This is no doubt confusing to the home players, which may in part explain his “NBA worst officials” dishonor.

But hold on – the trend completely reversed itself wildly in the 2016 season, and home teams won 65% of Davis’ games. Whether a memo was issued to Davis is unknown, of course, the process of reviewing officials being top secret stuff — but there have never appeared to be any repercussions for bad or incompetent officiating. Whatever the cause, this was a 27.7% swing from the previous season, the highest of Davis’ career. This season, Davis’ trend swung even more wildly back in favor of the visiting teams.

In 2017, the visitors won 54% of 65 games officiated by Davis. The league trend was 60/40 in favor of the home teams. That’s a 24.4% divergence from the average the highest of Davis’ career.

Now let’s look at this season’s playoffs. Coming into the Bucks-Raptors game, the home team had won all five of the games in which Davis worked. Is it possible that Davis had decided a victory by a road team was due, and the Bucks were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong referee? Maybe.

Wizards-Celtics Game 2: Marc Davis’ next game

[I took the Wizards-Celtics analysis and the notes below and made a stand-alone post, “More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 2: Wizards-Celtics Game 2, throwing the rule book out the window”  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the notes (they’re really good notes), but the post has two videos and a two-tone chart, just so you know.]

Davis and Mott officiated the Wizards vs. Celtics Game 2 in Boston Tuesday with Tom Washington as third official. The Davis trends suggest that the Wizards, the road team, have a good chance of winning the game. This was a tough, physical game (the Celtics like to bully the opposition) that went into overtime and featured 50 personal fouls called — 29 against the Wizards, 21 against the Celtics (about average considering the OT).

Here’s how the 50 calls broke down per official:

  • Davis: 16 or 32% of calls, 8 per team
  • Mott: 17 or 34%, 9/17 on the Wizards
  • Washington: 17 or 34%, 12/17 on Wizards

First thing to note is Davis calling fewer fouls than the other officials, part of the trend that emerges for Davis over the last six seasons.

Below is the breakdown by quarter:

  • Boston was hit with the most fouls in the first quarter (7) but only 14 the rest of the game, including the overtime, below the average in the playoffs so far this season.
  • Nine fouls were called on the Wizards in the 2nd, as all three officials unleashed their whistles on the Washington bench.
  • Six fouls vs. the Wizards in the 3rd quarter, only 2 on Boston. (The Wizards were threatening to blow the game open middle of the 3rd quarter).
  • Fourth quarter & Overtime – 9 on the Wiz, 7 on the Celtics.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the referees helped keep Boston in the game, though Davis was the least involved in that. 3rd official Tom Washington’s 12 to 5 call disparity in favor of the Celtics is hard to ignore. If Davis leaned to the visitors, Washington more than made up for that, a reminder that it’s difficult for a ref to wire a game with two other officials on the court with him/her.

The Wizards went cold from the outside in the 3rd quarter after they had built a 13 point lead that was still 12 with 3:20 to play in the quarter. Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal had a horrific game (4-15 shooting, 6 turnovers). The Wizards also had opportunities on the last possession of the 4th quarter to win the game, but Beal and John Wall misfired on open looks.  Isaiah Thomas heroically torched the nets in the overtime and scored 53 points on his late sister’s birthday. Thomas also made the free throws that tied the game and forced the overtime (Mott made that rather questionable call – see NBA Official video here).

As for Davis, other than keeping to his trends of, 1) calling fewer fouls; and 2) making things tough on the home team (fewest calls against the visiting Wizards), a call he chose not to make in the 1st quarter helped the Wizards later on. During the opening minutes of the game Wizards PF Markieff Morris threw Al Horford into the sideline area as Horford tried to save a loose ball (this was retaliation for a foul in Game 1 that caused Morris to sprain an ankle). Davis called a loose ball foul on Morris but, for reasons unclear, did not issue a flagrant foul (1 or 2) technical to Morris as called for in the NBA rule book. Had he done so, Morris would have been tossed from the game in the 3rd quarter when he and Thomas were T’d up after a confrontation.

What Davis did do in the wake of Morris’ retaliation – on the Celtics next possession – was call an offensive foul on Celtics big man Amir Johnson. Can it really be that the NBA doesn’t look at this stuff?

*Note on LA TImes Survey: The “best officials” survey was anonymous, involving 36 current players, coaches and assistant coaches. Each participant was asked to name a best and worst referee. Scott Foster (24 votes) was voted worst; Lauren Holtkamp was next (14 votes); and Davis, with 12 votes, was voted 3rd worst.

Here are the anonymous survey comments about Davis, published in the LA Times story January 30, 2016:

“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”

“Marc Davis is hands down the worst,” a player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”

Danny Crawford was voted “best official” (30 votes). Joey Crawford (no kidding) was next best (25 votes). Crawford retired after last season, which I suppose makes Monty McCutchen (13 votes) the 2nd best ref in the league.

Other sources: This post was edited to include the “Last Two Minute” reports from Raptors-Bucks and Wizards Celtics, and their findings, as well as other source material from NBA Official. Other main source material is from either Basketball-reference.com or NBA.com.

  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 highlights, NBA.com/raptors:  http://www.nba.com/raptors/video/teams/raptors/2017/04/28/1493347703009-nba-web-170427-gamehighlights-1396692/
  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 broadcast, Fox Sports North, analyst Marques Johnson.
  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170427/TORMIL#/pbp
  • Bucks-Raptors series stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com//playoffs/2017-nba-eastern-conference-first-round-bucks-vs-raptors.html
  • 2017 NBA season stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2017.html#all_team-stats-per_game
  • 2017 NBA playoff stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/NBA_2017.html#all_all_team_stats
  • Deadspin, “Thunder-Spurs Game 2:
  • 2016-17 NBA rulebook: https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/2016-2017-Rule-Book-Final.pdf
  • Referee assignments: http://official.nba.com/referee-assignments/
  • Playoff officials selection process: http://official.nba.com/playoff-officials-selection-process/
  • Last Two Minute Report: http://official.nba.com/nba-last-two-minute-reports-archive/
  • Playoff officials roster: http://official.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/2016-17-NBA-Referee-Headshots-Conference-Semifinals-1.pdf
  • Radio Media Markets: http://www.radio-media.com/markets/main.html

NBA Trade Deadline: A survival guide

It’s that time of year when nothing is true and everything is permitted in the NBA rumor mill. Fake news abounds, the rumors mostly click bait, yet somehow, someway, the craziest out-of-nowhere trades happen. Who saw either Plumlee trade (Miles to Charlotte and Mason to Denver) happening?

Who saw DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi (an underrated forward) headed for New Orleans for a 6’4″ rookie shooting guard (Buddy Hield), another shooting guard who won the Rookie of the Year with the Kings (Tyreke Evans) but doesn’t play much these days, a backup point guard who bombed out with the Knicks last year (Langston Galloway), and a first and second round draft pick.

Even Rolling Stone hates this deal for the Kings. Since when does Rolling Stone write about sports? And what does this have to do with the Bucks, or surviving the phantasmagoria of internet non-reality at the #NBATradeDeadline ???

Everything and nothing. Let’s get started, then.

Rule No. 1: Trust no one, but especially not the Bucks reporter in Racine. Gery Woelfel long ago got into the habit of citing unnamed sources for trades that he truly believed in but never happened. Woelfel’s “news” is mostly click-bait for the Journal Times and gets ignored around Milwaukee, but is picked up by Hoopshype, Hoops Habit, Hoops Rumors and other NBA nooks online, who then serve it up to people who follow those nooks, people you may know, and pretty soon you’re talking about the very Woelfel rumor you ignored the day before.

Woelfel’s trying to trade Matthew Dellavedova and Roy Hibbert for Ricky Rubio and a walleye sandwich right now. Past attempts to get Rubio ended when the T-Wolves demanded that Khris Middleton be included in the deal. Everybody loves Khris, but so do the Bucks.

Rubio doesn’t know about Woelfel, apparently, and sounds a little like he might be traded. Yesterday he tweeted: “Never stress over what you can’t control.” @rickyrubio9 on twitter.

Rule No. 1a: Revisit that twitter account you rarely use.

Rule No. 2: Trust no one, but check out The Vertical with Woj. I became a fan of Adrian Wojnarowski’s feature writing for yahoo a few years ago, and he and his gang of Vertical writers are a heads up crew around trade deadline. They’re saying most teams aren’t looking to do anything major right now, there’s “no traction” to much of the talk, and swaps involving big money centers are the most unlikely of things (killing the Monroe rumors they helped fuel last year). The Cousins trade really did come out of nowhere.

Rule No.  3: The most trade-able player in the NBA is Ersan Ilyasova, and it’s getting pretty funny (that’s him in the photo above, don’t send him money!). Ersan and his highly trade-able, expiring $8.4 million contract were shipped to the Hawks last night, his 5th trade since playing for the Bucks in 2015. This is good for Ersan, as he’ll get a chance to play in the playoffs on a team with Dwight Howard, who’s back near the top of the NBA center rankings (No. 2 behind Denver’s Jokic). The Hawks have the fifth seed in the East and would play Toronto if the playoffs started today.

Rule No. 4: Don’t click on anything that has a question mark in the header or offers a list of things, unless it’s a really funny list. People that sit up all night trolling for trade rumors are very tired people who are not usually funny. People who put questions marks in headlines (ESPN does this a lot) don’t usually have any news.

Rule No. 5: If you think your team has bad contracts, chances are the other teams also recognize those contracts to be bad and don’t want them either. The Bucks overpaid Dellavedova, John Henson, Mirza Teletovic and Miles Plumlee and were lucky to dump Plumlee on the Hornets. The remaining three are not “helpers” in the sense that a playoff contender might really want any of them and they are all heavy – $83 million left to be paid AFTER this season. Henson and Delly contracts go through 2020. The Mirza deal is for two more years after this one. Lebron wants Delly back in Cleveland, but the Bucks made it nearly (edit: the CBA says no, Cavs can’t do it) impossible for the Cavs to do anything about it, given how much the luxury tax they’re already paying.

Let’s review those salaries:

Delly – 3 more years, $28.8 million.

Henson – 3 more years, $32.5 million

Mirza – 2 more years, $21 million, the most trade-able contract, the least impactful player this season.

Rule No. 6: Think of all the reasons a team won’t do the trade, and keep in mind that those reasons are probably more important than your team’s reasons for wanting to do the trade.

Rule No. 7: You need movable pieces to make a trade. The Bucks have a couple of those, most notably expiring Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes, who has a player option for $6 million this summer. They offer salary relief, cap space, and, like Ilyasova, are highly trade-able. Unfortunately, you need the cap space too, and to make the trade happen, you probably have to take on a contract for next season that will eat up just as much if not more of your cap space than the contract you’re trading.

Rule No. 8:  A case of Pabst Blue Ribbon sweetens any deal. In the past, we’ve used Milwaukee’s cheap-o hipster beer to improve fantastic Michael Redd trades, a deadline trade for Josh Smith‘s favorite headband, and one involving this great looking parka that Wally Szczerbiak had, which was a much better deal than Raef Lafrentz’s “Curious George” hat, which was also pretty cool.  I’m not exactly sure whether that last one happened or not.

Rule No. 9: Stay off of the Sports Illustrated fan sites. The Bucks site is Behind the Buck Pass (don’t click on that link, unless you really want to run all those ads!). which started out Trade Deadline Day working up a deal for Kings backup point guard Darren Collison. This fire was quickly doused by Brewhoop, which had found a tweet from Bucks beat reporter Charles Gardner of the Journal Sentinel that said the Bucks haven’t talked to the Kings as the deadline approaches.

Rule No.10: Trust no one, but know that Magic Johnson is now the Lakers GM, and is able to make trades with Larry Bird, the GM in Indiana. They talked about Paul George this week, but, hey, nothing happened. Bird’s probably figured out that Paul George isn’t the impact player people thought he was, but also figures most of the league hasn’t figured this out yet. The deadline has passed, and Danny Ainge still hasn’t made a trade for Boston despite a cacophony of chatter about what Danny Ainge and the Celtics want.

Rule No. 11: Just start a list like this one, make up some trades of your own, and suddenly the deadline has passed and we can get back to basketball.

Rule No. 12: Don’t trust your own list, but here’s one to check out. SB Nation’s “Every Trade” list. Oh, look, Andrew Bogut‘s a Sixer for a couple of months, and Taj Gibson‘s out of the Central Division (to OKC).

But hold on, the Sixers will likely buy Bogut out, freeing him up to be signed as playoff help, San Jose Mercury News is reporting (alert: real  newspaper!). The Warriors can’t resign their championship center until after the new NBA fiscal year starts, July 1, but the Cavs are reportedly interested in Bogut. The Celtics couldn’t make a move at the deadline, so they’ll be interested.

And if the Raptors (acquired P.J. Tucker from the Suns, Serge Ibaka from Orlando), the Wizards (acquired Bojan Bogdanovic from the Nets, not to be confused with Serbian Bogdan Bogdanovic) and the Hawks (Ilyasova from the Sixers) are gearing up for the playoff dogfight in the East by adding solid veterans, real basketball players all, why can’t the Pacers and the Bucks? Bogut would be everything coach Kidd has wanted in a tough, intimidating defensive center to start games. There’s no harm done in trying to compete, nor in having a little fun while your doing it. The Bucks have been in the NBA’s bottom 5 in defensive rebounding % ever since Bogut was traded to the Warriors in 2012.

Tyler Ennis has been traded again, this time from Houston to the Lakers, who will trying to lose lose lose to protect their top 3 draft pick. Ennis reminds us that NBA Trade Deadline is often about players like Tyler Ennis.

Meanwhile, the Bucks handed Roy Hibbert’s expiring contract Denver for a super protected 2nd round pick in 2019 that the Bucks won’t get unless the Nuggets are one of the top 5 teams in the league. But at least the Bucks have an open roster spot to sign a player (Bogut!), and as of right now they are $453,951 under the salary cap.

Now we can talk “Best Team Ever” – Durant signing unites MVPs for the 2nd time in NBA history (no, the 1st time did not involve Lebron)

The only available precedent says that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry’s Warriors will win the 2017 title – going away.

When I saw the text that said Kevin Durant had made the big decision and was leaving his OKC Thunder to sign with Golden State — the team he couldn’t beat in the Western Conference Finals — my immediate response was two words: “Not Fair”.  As the week progressed and I read and heard the mountain of spin piling up about Durant’s move, it doesn’t strike me any differently. It’s simply not fair competition for two NBA Most Valuable Players — in the prime of their careers — to join forces on an NBA Finals team.

The last and only time this happened, the impact on the psyche of the league was devastating. Most teams rolled over in submission, with the notable exceptions of one team that became the Super Team’s nemesis and another that put up a good fight in the playoffs but still lost their series 4 games to one. It was the only loss the Super Team suffered in the playoffs.

The team in question is the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who after losing in the 1982 NBA Finals were able to bring together free agent center Moses Malone, the Chairman of the Boards, at age 27 the baddest player in the league and the reigning MVP, and Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who had won the MVP one season prior (1981). Until this week’s uniting of Durant, the 2014 MVP, with Stephen Curry, the reigning MVP for two seasons, the Moses and Dr. J pairing was the only time in NBA history that a team had been able to suit up two concurrent MVPs to lay waste to the rest of the league.

The late Malone (who passed away last fall at age 60) in 1982 was the first reigning MVP to leave his team in free agency; Lebron James in 2010 was the second. Though NBA fandom and the media are wired to talk about Lebron (the Lebron context being where the league lived until Durant signed with the Warriors), the similarities between the Lebron signing and the Durant signing don’t go very far. When Lebron joined the Heat, Dwyane Wade was in his prime, had made 1st team All-Pro for the 2nd year in a row, and had been in the running for 2009 MVP (Lebron won that one, too) — but Wade’s Heat were nothing resembling title contenders until Lebron came along. And there’s the rub. The Warriors were within a Kyrie Irving 3-pointer of winning a 2nd title last month. One shot. And now they have Durant.

Indeed, let’s set aside the analytics and graphs and charts and apples to oranges comparisons and take a look at what happened the first time two concurrent MVPs suited up on the same team.

Moses leads the Sixers to the Promised Land

Moses Malone and Dr. J at the outset of the 1982-83 season.

The Sixers in the early 1980s had in many ways adopted the cool intellectualism and quiet intensity of their star, Dr. J. The ball moved freely on offense, the shot selection was smart, the Philly fast break was a work of art featuring the graceful glide of the Doctor in mid-air, and the Sixers took pride in their plus 50% shooting, which in 1982 was 2nd best in the league behind the run-and-gun Denver Nuggets. If Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins had seemed out of place as the Sixers starting center, it’s because he was. Dawkins was traded to New Jersey in the days before the Sixers signed Malone. Moses was the ultimate fit for the team’s biggest needs: Better inside scoring and rebounding, the boards having been the Sixers trouble spot for years. Moses, one of the most prolific rebounders in NBA history, quickly put an end to that problem. He also had the feet of a ballet dancer, as Bucks radio voice Eddie Doucette described them, and a dump truck-full of quick moves around the basket. Erving wisely and tacitly agreed to allow the natural flow of the offense through Malone, and the Sixers quickly found their new chemistry.

Philly won 9 of their first 10 games, then put together win streaks of 14 and 10 games, powering their way to a 50-7 record and a big lead over Larry Bird‘s Celtics in the Atlantic Division, and an even bigger lead over the Central Division champs, the Bucks. When the Sixers record reached 49-7, coach Billy Cunningham began resting his stars, beginning with All-Star, All-Defensive forward Bobby Jones and 33-year-old Dr. J, who sat out ten games during the season. While taking it easy down the stretch, the Sixers went 16-10 to finish 65-17.

At season’s end, with his team healthy and well-rested, Moses laid down his famous “Fo’ Fo’ Fo'” declaration — meaning the Sixers would sweep all three of their playoff series’ and become the only team in NBA history to romp undefeated through the playoffs. Malone wasn’t bragging when he said it, and his team came oh-so-close to accomplishing Fo’ Fo’ Fo. They went 12-1 in the playoffs, the lone loss coming in the East finals to a Milwaukee Bucks team flying high and pushing the pace after sweeping Bird’s Celtics in the semis (and making it look easy).

The Marques Johnson-led Bucks had put up a terrific fight, losing game 1 in overtime and dropping Game 2 in the final minute.  Every game in the series but Game 5 was close, every minute a bitter contest. The Finals against the “Showtime” Lakers were a different story: Moses dominated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in the paint (the Lakers defensive plan relied on Magic dropping down to help on Malone), averaging 26 pts and 18 rebs a game in the series. The Sixers blew the Lakers out in Game 3, the first game played in LA,  and the sweep was on. Fo’ Fi’ Fo’.

Moses won the 1983 MVP, his 3rd in five years, and his 4th rebounding title in 5 years. Moses and Dr. J were named 1st Team All-Pro. Malone, Jones and point guard Maurice Cheeks, one of the great thieves of NBA history (No. 5 all-time steals) were voted 1st Team All-Defense.  Jones won the 6th Man of the Year award. Four Sixers — Moses, the Doctor, Cheeks and shooting guard Andrew Toney — made the 1983 All-Star team. There was no room for Jones, apparently, who had made the All-Star teams of 1981 and ’82.

Did I mention that the Sixers swept the “Showtime” Lakers in the NBA Finals? The Lakers featured four Hall of Famers (Kareem, Magic, Wilkes and McAdoo), all-star guard Norm Nixon and the great defender, Michael Cooper.

Malone shoots over Alton Lister in the 1983 Eastern Conference finals as the Bucks move in to triple-team him.

The 1983 Sixers were declared the best team in history by nearly everyone who saw them play with the exception of Celtics and Lakers fans whose DNA is engineered to deny the glory of others; and, ironically, their coach, who thought his 1967 Sixers team was better and even wrote a book about it (Season of the 76ers,  2002). The Moses – Dr. J – Bobby Jones – Cheeks – Toney five was, for one dominant season, the best five to play together since the days of the battles between Bill Russell‘s Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain‘s Sixers (1966-68).  That homage to the 1960s Glory Days said, the brilliance of the players and the rising fortunes of the league during “the renaissance” of the 1980s — yes, even before Jordan and Barkley — should not be underappreciated. The game had evolved for the better and entered its Golden Age.

The Warriors of today have a lot in common with that Sixer team. No, they don’t have Moses Malone in the prime of his career — but there’s more than enough to suggest that the extreme success of the 1983 Sixers gives NBA fans a pretty good indication of what’s in store for the league in 2016-17. The Warriors, not the champs in Cleveland, are now the team to beat.

The obvious and irresistible parallels

They seem very happy. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Durant and GM Bob Myers. 7/07/2016

Both the 1982 Sixers and the 2016 Warriors made the NBA Finals and lost. In both instances, the losing team was coming off of an intense 7-game struggle in the conference finals, while the winner of the championship series had strolled through their conference playoffs unmolested.

A tired, beat-up Sixers team faced a Lakers team that hadn’t lost a game in the West playoffs and waited an unprecedented 12 days for their opponent (still the record for longest Finals layoff). Like the 2016 Warriors, the 1982 Sixers had barely made it out of their conference playoffs. In the semi-finals they were pushed to six games by a short-handed but star-studded Bucks team. In the conference finals, the Sixers became the first team to win a Game 7 on the parquet floor of Boston Garden.

After beating the Celtics, the 1982 Finals were “anti-climactic”, Dr. J would write in his autobiography years later. In Game 1 the well-rested Lakers played just seven players and stole home court advantage from the Sixers, then ran away with the title in six games. The weary, beaten Sixers were satisfied to have had their revenge in Boston (they lost the 1981 East finals in a Game 7 in the Garden) but knew they had to make a change if Dr. J (and Bobby Jones) were ever going to win the NBA Championship that had eluded him since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Doc was running out of time, and there was an even chance the Bucks or Celtics might prevent the Sixers from reaching the Finals again. Enter Moses Malone.

It can’t be said that the 2016 NBA Finals were anti-climactic for the Warriors, but they were battered and bruised after coming back from a 3 to 1 deficit to beat Durant’s OKC Thunder in a 7-game West finals series. Riding on the energy from that series, the Warriors ran out to a 3-1 series lead against Lebron’s Cavs, which meant they had won six of seven games against the Thunder and Cavs.  A great achievement, but they were running on fumes, and it showed in games 5, 6 and 7, especially in the play of Steph Curry. Lebron James played a Finals for the ages, the Cavs swept the last three games and the title was theirs. Enter Kevin Durant.

The 4 All-Pro starting lineup

Kevin Durant isn’t Moses Malone — he’s not a player on quite that transformative Moses level.  But as some of the spin has spun this week — with an eye toward making a case that competition has not been compromised by Durant’s move — KD’s already historic achievements have been somewhat downplayed.

Durant is just the 4th small forward in the 61-year history of the MVP award to win the award. The other three are Dr. J, Larry Bird and Lebron James.

Durant in 2014 swiped the MVP crown Lebron James had worn for four out of five seasons. Steph Curry won the next two MVPs, so today’s Warriors players have held the crown three straight seasons.

Durant’s career impact and efficiency (BIER) numbers, while not as phenomenal as Bird or Lebron’s, are comparable to Dr. J’s NBA stats, and to the numbers put up by Marques Johnson, the sadly under-recognized forward who led the Bucks against the Sixers in the early 1980s. In this top shelf “box score impact” statistical context, the sixth small forward in league history worth mentioning is 1980s scoring machine Adrian Dantley. There are many others with legendary reputations and Hall of Fame recognition, but they didn’t have the statistical impact, or, (in Kawhi Leonard’s case) haven’t yet played long enough.

Kevin Durant after nine seasons in the NBA is simply one of the best small forwards ever to play the game. KD’s already accomplished Hall of Fame-worthy honors and stats. He’s got an MVP award; and he’s going to Golden State at age 27, in the prime of his career. The irresistible parallel here is that Moses Malone was 27 when he signed with the Sixers.

Durant joins Curry, the MVP, and two All-Pro teammates, big forward Draymond Green (2nd Team All-Pro) and shooting guard Klay Thompson (3rd Team). Since the ABA-NBA merger, no team has had three All-Pros in one season, so what Curry, Green and Thompson accomplished last season was unprecedented — and let’s not forget the 73 regular season wins.

Durant was 2nd Team All-Pro last season, behind Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard at forward. Green was the other forward honored on the 2nd Team. Let’s pause there.

3rd Team All-Pro honors didn’t exist until 1989, so for 40 seasons the NBA honored ten guys, which made sense when there were only 8 to 10 teams in the 1950s up through 1967. The NBA merged with the ABA in 1976, so for 31 years (1976-2016), no team has boasted 3 of the first 10 honored All-Pros. The 2016-17 Warriors will be the first.

No, it’s not fair

Lebron, Wade and Chris Bosh were All-Pros in the same year only once – in 2007, when Lebron was in Cleveland, Wade in Miami and Bosh in Toronto. Bosh was never an All-Pro during the Heat’s four-year run.

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were never All-Pros in the same season, though they would have been in 1995 had Jordan played the full season. Rodman was still a San Antonio Spur at that point. The 1996 Bulls, the 72-win team, best team ever?  The dilution of the talent due to expansion and the lack of great competition in the mid-1990s makes it impossible to say. Jordan’s Bulls were undoubtedly the NBC Network’s greatest champion.

Both the Celtics and Sixers started four All-Star players during the Bill RussellWilt Chamberlain battles 1966-1968, but because both teams played in the Eastern Conference, neither team ever got four All-Star spots in a season. Combined, there were five players from “The Great Rivalry” voted to the 1967 All-Pro team.

Bird and Magic.

3rd Team All-Pro honors did not yet exist when the 1980s Super Teams battled for supremacy, so the All-Pro teams are a poor measuring stick for the greatness of the Sixers, Lakers and Celtics teams of the Golden Age. It gets messy. No team had three in one year. Only the Sixers and Lakers had two. From 1983-1986, Larry Bird was the only Celtic to be named All-Pro (he won three MVPs in that time, and the Celtics won two titles).  But the Celtics had four All-Stars who were All-Pro at one time or another, and a former MVP – future Hall of Famer (Bill Walton) coming off the bench in 1986. The “Showtime” Lakers had similar talent — four players who made All-Star teams from 1980 through 1985, and a former MVP – future Hall of Famer (Bob McAdoo) coming off the bench.

And now we’re back to the 1983 Sixers and their four All-Stars, plus 1982 All-Star Bobby Jones, the 1983 6th Man of the Year — the team that swept the Showtime Lakers in the Finals. That’s good enough to settle the Best Team Ever debate, especially in light of Moses’ domination of Kareem and Magic in the Finals, and of the entire NBA that season.

Those Super Teams were loaded with talent almost beyond comprehension in today’s NBA — until this week. The Warriors bringing three current All-Pros together is unprecedented. Now add to the mix 3rd Team All-Pro All-Star and Olympian Klay Thompson, and veteran Sixth Man Andre Iguodala — an All-Star in 2012, All-Defensive in 2014 and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP …

As currently constructed, the Warriors are as close as the Super Teams of the 1980s were to the Sixers five-star team. It’s just not fair to the rest of the league; and It’s very small solace for the opposition that, at age 32, Iguodala’s All-Star days seem to be behind him, or that the Warriors had to let go of all four of their big men to sign Durant. They’ve already replaced two of them, and this seems like a good time to point out that Durant is listed at 6’9″ but is taller than that, and rebounds on the defensive end like the average NBA center.

And here’s the kicker: As we look to the Super Teams of the 1980s for proper perspective and precedent for the 2017 Warriors, we find that there is no record of failure in that precedence — all three of the 1980s Super Teams won the championships they set out to win, with the 1983 Sixers being the team most dominant and decorated, but sometimes forgotten in the shadow of the Magic and Bird story.

No record of failure. It wasn’t fair in 1983 when the Sixers signed Moses to win a title with 33-year-old Dr. J. It’s not fair now. Kevin Durant is just 27 years old, and signed on with the Warriors for two years. Steph Curry is 27. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are 25, and under contract for four and three years respectively. The 1983 Sixers slowed down due to age after winning the title. The 2017 Warriors won’t be slowing down any time soon.

Think about that.  It’s not fair, but enjoy this team while it lasts.

Most missed shots last season, final 4:00 of the 4th: James Harden, D. Lillard, Reg Jackson and Paul George led the league in errant gunning

Basketball-reference.com posted the always interesting 2015-16 clutch shooting stats via their twitter feed Saturday. The top 10 list below answers the question:  What do NBA stat geeks do on the weekend?  But it also tells an illuminating story about the state of most of the current NBA, where the pace is picking up but scoring is not; and where the most 3-pointers in league history were shot while offensive rebounding hit an all-time low.

Curious who missed the most shots in the last 4:00 of the 4Q? Find out in the Play Index

Note that there are no Warriors, Cavaliers or Spurs on the list (no Bucks either) — and no big surprises. Not one of these ten players was in the top 20 in 3-point % last season, yet five were in the top 20 in 3-point attempts (Harden, Lillard, George, Walker and Thomas). All of them were in the Top 15 in field goals missed, with the guy with the best shooting % in the final 4:00, Reggie Jackson, ranking 15th.

Seven of these guys were All-Stars last season (Lillard, Jackson and Walker were not). Eight were on playoff teams last year (Wall and Anthony were not), making for some nearly unwatchable basketball in the early rounds. Six are point guards plus Harden, who tries to play three positions simultaneously. Two are wildly inconsistent Kobe-formula All-Stars (George and DeRozan).  And there’s Carmelo. Every player on this list is on a team that would likely win more if the player shot less, passed more and took better shots.  Meet the marksmen of mediocrity, the top 10 gunners who shouldn’t in the final 4:00.

Harden called a reporter a “weirdo” for questioning his 29% shooting in the 2014 playoffs vs. Portland. The Rockets lost the series.

1) James Harden was 2nd in the league in scoring (29.0 pts/gm) but got off to a horrendous start 2015-16, dug his team into a hole early on, and led the NBA in missed shots and turnovers.  He posted his lowest 3-point shooting % in the last 5 seasons yet shot more threes than anybody but Stephen Curry. Harden’s stat sheet is filled with such absurdities, his Rockets were next to unwatchable, and the center, Dwight Howard, opted out for bigger green and greener pastures. (Edit: Howard signed with the Atlanta Hawks).

D. Lillard. When you’re this wide open, you should definitely shoot it.

2) Portland wasn’t supposed to do anything last season, so Damian Lillard shot more than he ever had in his career, missed more than anybody but Harden, shot less than 42%, and was snubbed for the All-Star game. Thanks to some Allen Iverson-type heroics from Lillard, however, and teammates that hustled for the missed shots and won 50/50 plays (much like Iverson’s Sixers), the Trailblazers had a surprising season. They even won a playoff series.

3) Reggie Jackson went from OKC to Detroit in 2015 after Brandon Jennings went down with a snapped Achilles tendon, and Jackson helped lead the Pistons to the playoffs for the first time since the Allen Iverson experiment. Having paid a fair amount of attention to the Pistons last season, I can say they lost a bunch of close games (hack-a-Drummond played a role there) and that Jackson and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot their team out of a few of those.

However, note that Jackson’s 45% shooting in the final 4 minutes is tied for tops on this list, and that 7 of the ten guys on the list played in the East. This means that the competition usually shot worse than Reggie, yet, somehow the Pistons were unable to catch the Pacers in the standings and were stuck playing Lebron and the Cavs in Round 1 of the playoffs (they were swept).

Paul George shooting, I think. This is not good form, kids.

4) Paul George shot less than 42% last season and missed more than anybody but Harden and Lillard. Despite the Pacers 3rd-best team defensive rating, George’s inefficient offensive play, along with Monta Ellis‘ usual madness and poor outside shooting, exiled the Pacers to mediocre-ville, prompting the firing of coach Frank Vogel.  Will new coach Nate McMillan be able to bring sanity to the Pacers’ offense?  We shall see, but note that George shoots below 40% outside of three feet from the basket, and under 40% in the final four minutes (see above chart).  That’s worse than mediocre, though his 3-point % is not. The Pacers crash to mediocrity was predicted here three years ago, and, well, we know what happens to most mediocre NBA teams. They don’t win, nor do they remain mediocre.  Let’s see how long GM Larry Bird waits before overhauling the roster. And look, I finally spelled Monta right.

5) Russell Westbrook would be near unstoppable if he played smarter and remembered more often that he plays with Kevin Durant (who’s not on this list of failure, you’ll note). The Thunder finished ahead of only the lowly Sixers in 4th quarter scoreboard differential last season, and a lot of it had to do with the hero ball that Westbrook and Durant like to play down the stretch (and that the OKC bench had a habit of losing big leads.) It’s scary to think that OKC has so much room for improvement, but they do.  The Thunder upgraded their roster last week with the trade of Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova. (This was written before Durant bolted for Golden State, obviously).

This is not a good shot. Kemba Walker underwent successful surgery on his left knee in May.

6) Hard to believe Kemba Walker missed so much in the final 4:00 last season, given his uncanny success killing the Bucks in close games. Walker shot 46% (12 of 26) from three vs. the Bucks last season.  Thanks in part to the Bucks, he led the league in clutch scoring, according to the Hornets, narrowing it down to the final 2:00 of games decided by 4 points or less. His Hornets moved up in the East and won 48 games, but Hornets fans shouldn’t get too happy. The success had as much to do with the competition in the East than the Hornets’ competence — Charlotte was 20 wins, 3 losses against the Bucks (3-1), Magic (3-1), Knicks (3-1), Pacers (3-0), Nets (4-0) and Sixers (4-0).  But maybe they should get happy — all of those teams are still in the East.

7) Surprised John Wall is on this list?  I am too.  The Wizards were limping around for most of last season, and Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal seemed at times exhausted by it all — when they both played.  Wall had to take on added responsibilities due to the injuries, and, obviously, this resulted in more shots and fewer of the surgical passes he’s known for.

DeRozan and George battled it out in the playoffs, and it wasn’t pretty. DeRozan shot 32% from the field in the series, with George hacking him every step of the way.

8) DeMar DeRozan shot so poorly (39% including 15% on threes) during the playoffs that he should have been fined. Yet somehow he made another All-Star team and Toronto had its most successful season in history, losing to the Cavs in the East Finals — but only because Miami center Hassan Whiteside‘s knee gave out during the series with the Raptors.  They were nearly unwatchable in the playoffs. In the Pacers series, DeRozan’s eFG% was 33%, but, in all fairness, the refs kinda let George push him all over the court. Double D had a “Kobe formula”  stat line on the season, and, well, being on this list is part of having a Kobe formula stat line.

9) Isaiah Thomas is an electrifying young point guard, but he’s so small at 5’9″ that he gets worn down by the 4th quarter. Boston GM Danny Ainge desperately tried to trade the No. 3 pick in the draft for an established No. 1 scoring option at shooting guard/small forward but the Bucks (Khris Middleton), the Bulls (Jimmy Butler) and the Jazz (Gordon Hayward) all rejected the offer.  This may be an actual case where Thomas needs better-shooting teammates to stay off lists like this one.  But note that he did tie with Jackson for best shooting % on the list. Boston won 48 games, so it follows that opponents were usually shooting worse Thomas in the 4th.

Still Carmelo after all these years.

10)  A study a few years ago showed that Carmelo Anthony was the best clutch-shooter among the big names in the league, going all the way back to the early 2000s when Kobe and Shaq were winning titles and McGrady seemed unstoppable.  Carmelo has slipped, but then his 2016 Knicks were in a holding pattern, firing another coach and waiting for the free agents of this summer.  Carmelo laid back last season, played some good team ball, and enjoyed the surprise development of teammate Kristaps Porzingis.  I was actually surprised to see him on this list, but then, scorers will try to be scorers, whether they’ve lost a step or not.

What have we learned from this list?

High volume – low efficiency scorers may find their way onto All-Star teams and ESPN’s Sportcenter … if they shoot enough and don’t play in Portland or Charlotte (or Milwaukee).  But they’ll eventually drive their teams to mediocre-ville and take up residency there, where the fishing is always good in May and June.