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Globe-trotting Whiteside gets his chance to click in NBA

After a long and winding basketball journey, big man Hassan Whiteside has found a role with the Miami Heat.

POSTED: Mar 9, 2015 11:28 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Center Hassan Whiteside has become a surprising force in the middle for Miami this season.

In This Week's Morning Tip

  • Hassan Whiteside's long journey to solid NBA footing
  • Analytics and their place in today's game
  • Warriors supplant Hawks for No. 1 in DA's Power Rankings

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

-- Mark Twain, Mark Twain's Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review

Dwyane Wade's mind couldn't process what his eyes were seeing.

He never paid much attention to guys that the Miami Heat signed off the street. He knew what this year's team had up front, with Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen -- good, solid veterans. So he went to practice that day in late November with no great expectation that his world was about to change, and certainly not because of the gangly guy taking the floor.

But then, Hassan Whiteside went to work.

"Couldn't nobody stop him from scoring," Wade said. "He scored every time. He blocked every shot. He got every rebound, to the point where it was like, this practice wasn't fun. But it was good. I don't think none of us had experienced this kind of domination in practice."

What has followed is something out of a third-rate cable TV show: a heretofore utterly forgettable journeyman -- the worst thing you can be in the NBA is "just a guy" -- explodes out of nowhere (well, out of China and Lebanon; more later) and becomes the potential lynchpin to Heat 3.0; aka, Life After LeBron: seven feet, 265 pounds of rebounding and dunking ferocity.

There's nothing riding on this, except the next 10 years or so of the Heat franchise.

"You could fall back on some of the old, worn clichés that it takes three or four years for a young big man," said Geoff Petrie, the former Kings' general manager who took Whiteside out of Marshall in the second round in 2010.

"In Hassan's case, given where he started from, he might well be a six-, seven-, eight-year guy," Petrie said. "We'll see where it goes. It's not like before he came to Miami there weren't a lot of teams that tried, and invested a lot of effort, and tried to get him oriented. I'm happy for him, for him especially. Not unlike a lot of young players, it's his life."

Whiteside had played in 19 NBA games since 2010 before coming to Miami, having bounced from Sacramento to the Kings' NBA D-League team in Reno, to the NBA D-League team in Rio Grande, to China, to Lebanon, to Toronto, to Los Angeles, to Memphis, to the NBA D-League team in Iowa ... to Miami. Probably missed a stop or two.

But since breaking into the Heat's starting lineup after the New Year, he's wreaked havoc: 14 double-doubles, one triple-double (against Chicago, with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a franchise-record 12 blocks), and four games with 20 or more rebounds -- including 25 last week in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Whiteside Sets Triple-Double and Franchise Record 12 Blocks

Highlights from Hassan Whiteside's monster game against the Bulls where he goes for a franchise-record 12 blocks to go along with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

And, he insists, he could have been doing this -- should have been doing this -- years ago.

"I always felt like that," he said last week. "Even when I was in the D-League, I felt like that. When I was in Sacramento, I felt like that."

He can turn a phrase when inspired -- after posting the triple-double on national TV, he told Heather Cox, "I'm just really trying to get my NBA2K rating up" -- and he can get benched, as coach Erik Spoelstra did to him Friday in Washington. He's gotten in fights with Phoenix Suns center Alex Len and Whiteside would also certainly seem to be a favorite for Most Improved Player.

But can Miami sink $65 million or so into him in 2016?

The Heat signed Whiteside to a two-year deal in November, which includes a club option for next season that the Heat will certainly exercise. But that's all Miami can do. The Heat can't give Whiteside an extension before his contract expires as contracts that are for four years or less can't be extended. So he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016.

If Whiteside is as good as he's shown the last two months, there's no telling what he'll get -- or who'll give it to him. Miami hopes its work and trust in Whiteside will win the day and keep him in town. If Whiteside is coming into his own, a Heat team with him, Bosh and Luol Deng up front, with Wade and newly acquired Goran Dragic in the backcourt, would be right back in the title contending business.

If.

It's hard to find a precedent for what Whiteside has done the last two-plus months. But something has clicked.

Linsanity -- Jeremy Lin's incredible run with the Knicks during the 2011-12 season -- lasted about three weeks. Jerome James -- who came out of nowhere for the then-SuperSonics to average 17.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg and boards and 2.2 bpg in their first-round win over the Kings in 2005 -- lasted one series. After getting $29 million from the Knicks the following summer as a free agent, James blew up -- figuratively -- and did next to nothing in New York.

But Whiteside isn't a Lottery pick finding his way after a bad first experience elsewhere. Yes, he was Conference USA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 before declaring for that year's Draft. But he was thought of as a project. A long-term project.

As it turns out, that's exactly what he was. Only Miami was there when the bud flowered.

"You have to be fortunate in this league," Spoelstra said. "At the same time, our organization has always been committed to player development, and opening our doors to players that might not have the proper fit or opportunity in other organizations. And those names go on down the line. We've gotten to know Hassan fairly well even before this year, just because of all the times we've brought him in for a workout. But this time felt different."

The Heat has made a cottage industry of bringing in big men off the scrap heap. Many have failed -- Eddy Curry and Greg Oden couldn't make it work -- but some, like Andersen, have found their way.

Whiteside didn't look to be one of those when Miami first worked him out, in the fall of 2012. He worked out with former Kentucky center Josh Harrellson and a journeyman guard, Garrett Temple. The Heat signed Temple. The Heat signed Harrellson. They did not sign Whiteside.

Two years later, decimated by injuries up front, Miami came back to Whiteside, who had gone around the world to try and stay relevant. And he exploded.

But is this real?

Whiteside's Franchise-Record 12 Blocks

Check out all of Hassan Whiteside's franchise-record 12 blocks against the Bulls in Miami's 96-84 win in Chicago.

"It's real," Wade said. "The only thing that you hope for with someone like that is, for one, he stays healthy, for two, he stays hungry, and he stays humble. If he does those things, it's real. It's a good start when you have a guy, unexpected like that, 25 years old, that can dominate the game the way he's able to do."

Whiteside has made his biggest strides in his consistency with the Heat's development program. "That's all we've asked," Spoelstra said. "That hasn't changed from day one. It was never about how many minutes, how many shots, how many opportunities. It was about commitment to our player development program. And that hasn't changed since he's found more success on the court. We still expect him to work ...every day, pre-practice, post-practice and film sessions. And he hasn't formed a sense of entitlement from his play. He's been very committed to the work behind the scenes."

"The numbers have always been there," Whiteside says. "You can even go back to Summer League and look at my rebounds per minute, and in the D-League per minute, overseas. If the minutes are there, the production's going to be there. That's the way it always has been for me."

It's not that we don't trust you, Hassan, but ... well ... let's look at the numbers.

Whiteside played 6.8 minutes per game for the Kings' Summer League team in 2010. He averaged 5 rebounds per game. That correlates to a Per 36 minutes average of 6.7 rebounds per game.

Per 36 is a fairly straightforward stat, extrapolating a player's per-minute average over 36 minutes, a likely amount of time a starting NBA player would play per game. Of course, most players don't start, for many reasons, including a) they're not better than the people in front of them, b) they wouldn't sustain those numbers if they indeed played starter's minutes, which is why they're on the bench), c) they have no chemistry with the other starters, and on and on.

The only thing that you hope for with someone like that is, for one, he stays healthy, for two, he stays hungry, and he stays humble. If he does those things, it's real.

– Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, on Hassan Whiteside

Whiteside was assigned to Sacramento's D-League affiliate, the Reno Big Horns, in 2010. He played on a Bighorns team that included Lin, Danny Green, Steve Novak, Damon Jones and Donald Sloan. Whiteside played 10.6 minutes per game, averaging 2.7 rpg. That would correlate to a Per 36 of 9.2 rpg.

After a brief callup to Sacramento in the spring of 2011, Whiteside underwent knee surgery and missed the rest of the NBA season. Sent back to Reno the following fall, he played in 11 games for the Bighorns, averaging 6.5 rpg in 18.9 mpg. That's a Per 36 of ...12.4 rpg.

Yeah, but ...

"He just didn't have an ability to process the game and everything else that came along with it," Petrie said. "That and his mental framework on life, being a pro, and what it took. A lot of people spent a lot of time trying to help him, trying to get him involved in some outside programs. It was difficult to get a lot of follow through on that."

Lakers vs. Heat

Dwyane Wade scores 25 points and Hassan Whiteside grabs 25 rebounds as the Heat defeat the Lakers 100-94.

The Kings waived him in the summer of 2012, an understandable position with DeMarcus Cousins set at center for the next decade. Whiteside spent the 2012-13 season as a D-League free agent, splitting time between the Sioux Falls Sky Force and Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Playing in 36 total games that season, he averaged 5.3 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game, a Per 36 average of 16.3 rpg.

Um ...

In China in 2013, playing for the Sichuan Blue Whales of the National Basketball League, Whiteside played 42.4 minutes per game, averaged 25.7 points per game, shot 56 percent from the floor, was named to the league's first team, won Defensive Player of the Year, and led the Blue Whales to an NBL championship. He also averaged 16.6 rebounds per game. That correlates to a Per 36 minutes average of...14.1 rpg.

But...it was China. Right?

"I definitely share that shock and awe with how everything's taken off for him lately," said Krys Faber, the former DePaul center who played against Whiteside in the NBL championship series that year for Jiangsu Tongxi, Sichaun's opponent.

Faber was going to be a free agent himself after the NBL Finals. The series before, Faber had played against Hilton Armstrong, the former first-round pick by New Orleans. He didn't know much about Whiteside, but he knew he'd been drafted by the Kings and that he was a name, and a good series against him could get him a payday.

"The first game, he didn't really want to bang," Faber said. "Not to take anything away from him, but it felt like he was trying to collect that check. He kind of coasted. He was big-bodied, but certainly plays were just taken off. But the dude could jump. His arms were as long as I don't know what, I'm not going to lie."

"You go get on a computer, and you look at per minute, all through my career, and you will see the numbers. It ain't, 'oh, what clicked? What clicked? What clicked?' Nothing clicked. I just never had a chance."

– Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside

Sichuan won the first two games of the best-of-five series. Jiangsu won game three -- "we stole a win on the road," Faber said. "They let their guard down and they coasted. They had to travel all the way to our place. He was telling me how heated everybody was. People were putting a lot of pressure on them to win the game. He came with it. That was the first time I felt like we were really competing, going all out."

Whiteside went for 19 and 12, Sichuan won the title, and Whiteside was named Finals MVP.

Then came a stint in Lebanon, playing for Al Moutahed Tripoli of the Lebanese Basketball League. He lived in Byblos, but rarely got out to see the wonders of one of the world's oldest and beautiful coastal cities. "I ain't have a night off," he said. "I was overseas, trying to get back to the NBA."

In 16 games for Al Moutahed through the spring of 2014, Whiteside averaged 35.3 minutes per game and averaged 14.8 rebounds. Per 36 minutes his average was...14.1 rpg.

Um...

Whiteside Makes An Impact

Hassan Whiteside scores 24 points (on 12 for 13 shooting) and grabs 11 offensive boards, 20 rebounds total, in a tough loss to the Timberwolves.

Last summer, Whiteside played with the Raptors' Summer League team, along with Toronto's first-round pick, Bruno Cabolco. Whiteside played in three games, at 17 minutes per game, and averaged 10 rebounds per game. That's a Per 36 minutes average of ... 21.1 rpg.

"You go get on a computer, and you look at per minute," Whiteside says, "all through my career, and you will see the numbers. It ain't, 'oh, what clicked? What clicked? What clicked?' Nothing clicked. I just never had a chance."

But Toronto had invested a Lottery pick and four years in Jonas Valanciunas, and they'd invested time and money into Amir Johnson, who could play the four and the five. There weren't going to be any minutes for Whiteside there, either. The Raptors weren't sure he'd fit in as a backup. And: Nick Nurse, the Raptors' assistant coach, had coached Whiteside in Rio Grande. A ringing endorsement of Whiteside from Nurse surely would have carried some weight. None was forthcoming.

Whiteside then got a tryout with the Lakers, but didn't get an invite to training camp. "They picked Wayne Ellington over me," he says. Then came an invite to go to the Grizzlies' camp. He played in five preseason games before getting cut -- again, no surprise, given Memphis's roster, with Marc Gasol an All-Star incumbent at center, Zach Randolph newly extended and Kosta Koufos set as the backup big man.

"Chris Wallace (the Grizzlies' GM) told me to just go down and dominate the D-League, and I thought I could, too," Whiteside said. "They had a lot of bigs. Gasol was playing really well. Maybe they didn't need me. I found my own path."

So it was back to the D-League -- this time, the Iowa Energy, which acquired Whiteside from Rio Grande. In his first game of the season, against Reno, he went 15 of 18 from the floor, scored 30 points, grabbed 22 rebounds, and blocked eight shots. "I thought somebody would notice that," Whiteside said.

In Game 2, against Santa Cruz, he only took five shots, making four, finishing with 12 points, nine boards and four blocks.

Four days later, Memphis called back. The flu was ravaging the Grizzlies' locker room; five players would miss the team's game with Toronto that evening with it. The Grizz signed Whiteside and guard Kalin Lucas to get through the game with the Raptors, then cut him the next day. Whiteside went back to Iowa.

In his third game with the Energy, he made 11 of 12 from the floor, finished with 24 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked four shots. The Energy won its third straight game with Whiteside starting. That was Saturday, Nov. 22. The game was against the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Sioux Falls is the Heat's D-League affiliate. Miami signed Whiteside on the 24th.

Click.

"The first time I interviewed him for the Draft, he hardly had anything to say," Spoelstra said. "This past year, when we met, in the Grey Goose Lounge, we talked about an hour, and he was telling me about his life experiences. He was like a different person. He had life experiences, when he was living in China, living in Lebanon, where he was hearing car bombs go off. It was one of the more interesting conversations I had with a player, and he was a totally different player from five years ago."

Whiteside was inactive or played spot minutes in his first 12 games for the Heat. By mid-December, though, Miami was running out of bodies. Andersen was just getting back on the court after missing 10 games. McRoberts, who was supposed to be a key component for the Heat this season as a facilitator, was lost for the season with a meniscus tear in his knee. Udonis Haslem has dealt with a quad all season that has limited him to 11 games.

The numbers didn't come right away, and neither did the minutes. But they came: 15 minutes, seven rebounds vs. Washington on Dec. 19. Sixteen minutes, seven rebounds vs. Memphis on Dec. 27. Eighteen minutes, seven rebounds vs. Orlando on Dec. 29. Twenty minutes, seven rebounds at Indiana on Dec. 31.

Whiteside's Career Night

Hassan Whiteside records career-highs in points and rebounds with 23 and 16, respectively, against the Clippers.

On Jan. 4, he had a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) in 27 minutes against the Nets. On the road in L.A. a week later, Whiteside came off the bench against the Clippers, made 10 of 13 shots, scored 23 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked two shots.

Two weeks later, he blocked every shot in sight in Chicago.

Faber, who'd played against Whiteside in China, was in Mexico, playing for Jefes, a club in the northeastern part of the country.

The thing I appreciate the most is the way he goes up and gets that ball. And when he's angry, nobody can get it from him, when he gets that way.

– Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, on Hassan Whiteside

"I forget where I was, but I heard his name out of nowhere on the television," Faber said. "I was like, what? Miami? Triple-doubles? I was like, no way. I watched the game, and it was a complete 180 from China. He looked like a completely different player. He looked like he was slimmed down. He was actually going after everything. I can understand how you might put down a little more when you're in the league as opposed to overseas, but it was like he was a totally different guy."

If Whiteside is a different guy now, it would accelerate Miami's rebuild into hyperdrive, Millenium Falcon style. If Bosh returns next season after suffering blood clots on his lungs, and McRoberts makes a full recovery, the Heat will have a full year to make up its mind.

"We've always been open to any plan," Spoelstra said. "I think everybody assumed that we had a specific year of a plan, but we're also a very impatient organization, and I think that showed with our move to get Goran. We feel very good about the group we have going forward, but we're always looking to improve."

The Heat haven't had a dominant center since Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning played together on the title team in 2006. That position is a rising tide that lifts all boats, including the S.S. Wade, still a seaworthy vessel, but one which needs constant maintenance.

"It's a comfort zone knowing when that ball goes up, especially defensively, he has a great opportunity of coming down with it," Wade said. "For me, that's ideal, whether I'm the one that's getting the outlet, so I can get out, or I'm the one that's getting out in transition early, so they can get it up to me. The thing I appreciate the most is the way he goes up and gets that ball. And when he's angry, nobody can get it from him, when he gets that way."

He's occasionally funny, defiant, confident and pensive. He's seven feet tall and 25 years old. But there's still no answer to the only question that matters: who is this guy?

"If it continues," Petrie said, "it's one for the history books."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Last week's record in parentheses; last week's ranking in brackets)

1) Golden State (3-1) [2]: Warriors' ability to close out games defensively with Draymond Green playing the five could have major repercussions come playoff time. That would allow Golden State to match up against teams like OKC or Portland that can go small with great effectiveness.

Cavaliers vs. Hawks

Al Horford scores 19 points and grabs 9 rebounds as the Hawks defeat the Cavaliers 106-97.

2) Atlanta (2-1) [1]: Three straight wins over Cleveland, after Friday's solid win over the Cavs, and clearly the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

3) Houston (2-2) [3]: Dwight Howard starting treadmill and on-court work, but no time frame for his return.

4) Cleveland (3-1) [5]: Talk about cost certainty: Cavs the first team in the NBA to require automatic renewal for season tickets.

Grizzlies vs. Pelicans

Tyreke Evans scores 26 points, Anthony Davis adds 23 points with 10 rebounds as the Pelicans rally to beat Memphis 95-89.

5) Memphis (2-2) [4]: Grizz are 5-5 since the All-Star break; Courtney Lee shooting 41 percent since the break.

6) Portland (2-1) [6]: With Wesley Matthews lost for the season, Blazers desperately need Nicolas Batum to pull himself out of long, long slump.

7) L.A. Clippers (1-2) [7]: Clip n' File (no pun intended): Los Angeles has lost seven straight games at Oracle Arena after Sunday's loss, dating back to opening night of the lockout-shortened 2011 season on Christmas evening.

8) Dallas (2-2) [8]: Rajon Rondo tells Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports that he's open to returning to the Mavericks next season.

9) San Antonio (3-0) [10]: Is Tony Parker (32 points Sunday) back or will he pull up again? Spurs, obviously, can't win without him.

Bulls vs. Spurs

Tony Parker has a season-high 32 points in leading the Spurs to their fifth straight victory, 116-105 over the Bulls on Sunday.

10) Chicago (2-2) [9]: The want to on this team remains incredible.

11) Oklahoma City (2-1) [11]: Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams: that is a pretty formidable three-man big man rotation going forward, with Adams coming back from hand surgery Sunday night.

12) Toronto (1-3) [12]: I thought the Raptors' problem was their backcourt's offensive struggles, but the real problem is they can't stop anybody lately.

13) Washington (1-2) [13]: Wizards almost blow a 35-point second-half lead to Miami Friday. Nothing explains their second-half slide better than that lack of focus/energy.

14) Milwaukee (1-2) [14]: MCW shooting a respectable if not great 47 percent from the floor since being acquired by the Bucks at the trade deadline.

15) New Orleans (2-2) [15]: Pelicans get Anthony Davis back but still can't put consecutive solid performances together.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Indiana (3-0): In six weeks, Pacers have gone from 15 games below .500 to six, and are currently in seventh place in the East. A remarkable job by coach Frank Vogel of keeping his injury-strafed team together during the rough times -- and, now, Paul George's return is on the horizon.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Detroit (0-3): Picked the wrong time of the season to drop six straight going into tough four-game western swing this week. Now five back of current eighth seed Indiana. Running out of time.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Aren't we asking the wrong questions about analytics?

There is no "debate" in the NBA about the efficacy of advanced numbers. That's like saying there's a "debate" about whether it's easier to make a basket with a round ball or a square one. It's a straw man. The Chuckster rails on TV and people respond to him, as if there's actually a discussion going on. There isn't.

Inside the NBA: Chuck on Analytics

Charles has strong feelings on analytics in basketball.

Analytics are here to stay. But they only augment decisions; they don't replace them. No serious person has ever argued otherwise, pro or con.

And those that insist there are caveman teams out there who refuse to use them are just as wrong. Ranking teams according to whether they "believe" in analytics is among the dumbest uses of bandwidth ever conceived. The Pelicans "believe" in analytics. They also "believe" Anthony Davis needs to touch the rock 20 or 30 times a game. Those aren't mutually exclusive concepts.

To me, this has the smell of the "debate" a decade or so ago about international players. The Mavericks hit the mother lode with Dirk Nowitzki, and Pau Gasol became a great player in Memphis. And so, every team was suddenly obligated to not only spend tens of thousands of dollars going to Europe multiple times a year to find the next Dirk, but were thought to be mindlessly stupid, hopelessly behind the times troglodytes if they didn't. And so Darko Milicic and Nikoloz Tskitishvili became top five picks. (I was just as guilty as anyone. I saw Darko's workout in New York before the '03 Draft. It was one of the best workouts I've ever seen.)

But, there was nothing of substance about which to argue. The teams that sifted through Europe (and, for a second or two, China) looking for difference-making talent were no smarter or dumber than teams that didn't. The Spurs (always, the Spurs) found great players from all over the world. Were they smarter? Luckier? Probably some of both.

Don Nelson liked to play small. It worked for him. Pat Riley liked the power game, going into a big man. That worked for him. Neither was stupid for believing what a lifetime in the game taught them.

The problem is rarely the people with decision-making authority who do what they do, but their acolytes, who insist that those who disagree with the methodology have a screw loose. And so it is with analytics. The media is, in this case, one of the worst enablers.

There are any number of people covering the NBA for various media (Zach Lowe at Grantland.com, Kevin Pelton at ESPN.com, our own John Schuhmann at NBA.com) who use advanced numbers to enlighten and inform -- who explain what they're saying. They bring incredible insight to the discussion of basketball.

But there are others who fall into the True Believers category, and their work not only advocates using advanced numbers, but tends to denigrate and dismiss those who don't share the ardor. But coaches are not stupid for designing a play that ends up with an open mid-range jumper.

An 18-footer is not the worst shot in basketball. I get it; a 3-pointer is more valuable. But that doesn't mean the long two has (ital.)no(endital) value. That's an important distinction.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will tell you, plainly, that he hates the 3-pointer, that it's not what he considers basketball. But no one has utilized the three more in recent seasons than San Antonio. Bruce Bowen didn't invent the corner three, but he became one of the first in the league to go there and stay there, because it was an inherently easy -- the easiest -- 3-point shot on the floor.

GameTime: Analytics

Rachel Nichols joins GameTime from the 9th Annual M.I.T Sloan Analytics Conference to discuss how data-crunching is affecting the NBA.

Analytics unearthed that fact. It would be silly to argue otherwise.

My concern about analytics is not in its use as a tool to help shape decision-making, but the decision-making process itself. The concern is about groupthink.

Last week's annual MIT Sloan Advanced Analytics Conference in Boston brought a Who's Who of the amateur and pro sports worlds. It is not the fault of the conference holders that their audience was 85 percent male (which created at least a little uncertainty for several female attendees).

The conference's panels were more diverse, with people of color and women on the dais. But that diversity is not being replicated by NBA teams.

The preponderance of those who are being hired these days for NBA front office jobs come from one of two places: 1) the Spurs, and 2) prestigious colleges and universities -- and who tend to work with and for the same people.

The 76ers' VP of Basketball Operations, Sachin Gupta, is an MIT grad who worked for ESPN.com (he developed the Four-Letter Network's Trade Machine) and was initially hired by Morey in Houston before 76ers GM Sam Hinkie, who also worked for Morey in Houston, brought him to Philly.

Jesse Gould, promoted by the Thunder last fall to Director of Basketball Research and Analytics, went to Stanford. He works for Sam Presti, the Thunder's GM, who worked for the Spurs before getting the Thunder job. Rich Cho, the Hornets' GM, also came from Oklahoma City.

Danny Ferry, currently on leave from the Hawks as general manager, came from the Spurs.

Morey, Presti and Magic GM Rob Hennigan all graduated from Emerson College in Boston, a Division III school for athletics but one of the premier colleges in the country. (And, they all played for Emerson; their background as players tends to be forgotten by the anti-analytics crowd. These guys weren't created in a petri dish.

"I was an above average high school player," Morey says. "I think I smartly chose a better school over basketball, because I knew I didn't have a future in it.")

But Morey disagrees with the idea that there's a chance for Stepford Wives thinking within and between teams because of the similarities in front offices.

"I think there are massive variances, driven by ownership," he says. "Short-term versus long-term is just one example. The dominance of the point guard, you could say we've got to have a point guard or we have no chance to win. Or you could run an offensive system where the point guard is minimized. Or you could have a lot of like-sized players that just switch a lot like Golden State. I think the opposite is happening. I think there's a lot of interesting thought going on in the league."

Open Court: The Impact Of Analytics

As the game grows bigger and bigger, the guys discuss whether analytics are useful indicators of performance.

There is nothing -- nothing -- wrong with hiring smart people. In fact, (ital.)not(endital) hiring smart people is the surest way for your business to fail. But there are different kinds of intelligence. Common sense is a kind of intelligence. Street smarts are a kind of intelligence. Experience is a kind of intelligence.

For example: I have no idea what this means:

Although the nuances of defensive play are difficult to analyze, there's no doubt that the performance of an individual player's defensive assignment is central to any assessment. Consequently, our analytical framework begins by estimating defensive matchups. In other words, we estimate who is guarding whom at any given moment. To identify this key information we estimate an average defender position as a function of offender location, ball location and the hoop location [2]. Mathematically, this means that the average location, μ, of player t at time k, is modelled as

μtk = γOOtk + γBBt + γHH

with γO+γB+γH=1, and O,B and H representing the offender, ball and hoop locations respectively. With these defensive centroids specified, we then use a hidden Markov model to express the evolution of defensive matchups over the course of the possession. Specifically, we model players' movement as a random walk around this evolving centroid. We infer the γ coefficients using weighted least squares combined with the expectation-maximization algorithm (see detailed methods in Appendix B).

But, I know who Stephen Curry's agent is. Both are important pieces of information to have, at different times. The analytics people have both.

"If everyone looks at things the same way you'll absolutely wind up not leading. ... I think it's exciting for the league right now. I think there's lots of teams doing some great things out there."

– Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey

The above was from one of the two papers at Sloan that were awarded top research paper. This one attempted to quantify in a better way the contributions of individual defensive players. (Analytics people concede that developing advanced metrics for defense still lags well behind the new offensive numbers -- a problem that is present in baseball as well.)

But just because I don't understand it doesn't mean it doesn't have value. In fact, it could have great value. The authors' research determined, for example, that Chris Paul tends to keep his individual opponent from shooting (ital.)anywhere(endital) on the floor -- and gives up the fewest points per game of any point guard in the league. It is not definitive, nor do the authors claim it is: they note their paper is a "first step" toward improving defensive-based analytics.

"Importantly," they write, "it is nearly impossible to assess defensive ability without understanding defensive intent. "Who's guarding whom" is only one way to understand intent. Without understanding team strategy, it is very difficult to know who a defender is supposed to be guarding or when they are supposed to help on defense." (Here is the paper in its entirety.)

Morey gets the lion's share of attention, praise and criticism for his unabashed embrace of analytics. Any look at a Rockets player shot chart usually shows only shots at the rim or threes. But Morey argues there's more in common between his basketball beliefs and his coach Kevin McHale's -- even though McHale got to the Hall of Fame as a player in the old-school way, as a big man in the low post.

"If you go back to the Celtics teams, obviously some of the best teams in history, they played up-tempo," he said. "We play up-tempo. They pounded the paint. We pound the paint. The only difference is that if they couldn't get to the rim, it might get kicked out for an 18-, 20-footer. Now it gets kicked out for 3-pointers. I think that's one of the reasons we maybe saw eye to eye on a lot of things."

Another question, for which I've never heard a good answer: if every team makes everything proprietary (there was no sharing of Best Practices at Sloan), and holds its secrets close, how do you know what works -- and, most importantly, what doesn't?

Teams do internal analyses, of course, and compare present and past performance. But Morey allows that can be dangerous because it assumes a stability between the past and future.

"The rules changes made certain types of guards more valuable," he says. "And as the 3-pointer becomes more of an important thing, players who can close out well and can still defend the paint can become more valuable."

Value is dynamic. It changes, and shifts. One hopes the people who will decide what and who are valuable going forward will be equally dynamic.

"If everyone looks at things the same way you'll absolutely wind up not leading," Morey says. "If every general manager says 'I need a center with post up ability,' then the center with post up ability will be overvalued. That's why Atlanta is an interesting team right now. They're obviously well coached and the pieces obviously fit together, but there aren't the obvious superstar plus players there. I think it's exciting for the league right now. I think there's lots of teams doing some great things out there."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU EITHER

They've been caught off-guard. From James Smith:

As a Blazer fan it is hard for me to get beyond feeling sad for Wesley Matthews personally. He was having a great season, and this off-season is so important for him as a free agent. It really just sucks.

Maybe someone more detached can provide some thoughts on how this will impact the team going forward and what might GM Neil Olshey do in the short term with the roster.

GameTime: Matthews Injury

The Game Time crew break down the the injury to Wesley Matthews and its effect on the Blazers.

Losing any player hurts, and Wes was one of the true tough guys on the Blazers -- someone not afraid to take and make big shots (he was top 20 both in True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage). To your point, per basketball-reference.com, Matthews was 12th in the league (3.1) in Value Above Replacement Player, which estimates points per 100 possessions that a player contributes above a replacement-level player. Arron Affalo is as good a replacement as you could hope for, but he is not as good as Matthews, or he would have been starting. The onus will be on C.J. McCollum to be productive in the playoffs.

Time is not on his side. From Matija Tkalcec-Maturanec:

Can we please have some more hoops between fouls, replays, timeouts, reviews, "haq-a-whomever" -- free throws??? Please. Watching live games these days actually ticks me off. I prefer taping them and watching later when I can forward to the actual sequence of the game where they play basketball. Of course that means having to close my eyes and ears until I watch the game so that I dont know about the result before.

It's the old Phil Jackson lament, Matija: no flow in the pro game because of the incessant and lengthy timeouts, replays, and the like. I continue to believe, though, that if we have the technology in place to get calls right, we should use it. I would have no problem reducing the number of timeouts teams can use during a game (the deadball timeouts would have to stay to make sure the commercials get in). I would also put a time limit on the replays: once the ref/crew chief puts the headset on, they get a minute to look at replays and make a decision. And, as I've written before, you could all but eliminate "Hack-A" fouls by having the under two minute rule (one free throw for the hacked team, plus possession) apply during the entire game.

Twitter Cowboys get run out of town? Good. From Mikhil Ponkshe:

I am sure that you saw what Curt Schilling did when people tweeted shameful things about his daughter and he went after them. Here's my question: Given the kind of derogatory and even racial slurs/tweets that you and other reporters have had to endure over the years, have you ever thought of doing the same thing where you track people down and try to get them punished for their words. While I know doing something like that would take a lot of time, but did you ever get to the point that Curt Schilling got to ever?

I have gone after people who have used fake accounts with my name to "report" false information. Twitter is very good about pursuing that sort of thing. And I turn the more egregious stuff over to our lawyers. If they want to contact the police or other authorities, they have my blessing. But I leave it to them.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and your remaining requests before the Animal Revolution overtakes us all to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! (Seriously. We're doomed!)

MVP WATCH

(last week's averages in parentheses)

1) James Harden (28 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 10.7 apg, .447 FG, .903 FT): Deserved to be suspended for kicking LeBron James Sunday. Deserved to go to the foul line in the waning seconds Wednesday when the refs missed a clear foul by Memphis.

2) Stephen Curry (19.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 7.3 apg, .442 FG, .875 FT): Enjoy. He's amazing.

Play of the Day: Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry hits a great step-back 3-pointer off some crazy dribbling skills!

3) LeBron James (22.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 8.8 apg, .471 FG, .700 FT): Tied Mark Price during the Cavs' win over Phoenix Saturday for the franchise lead in assists.

4) Russell Westbrook (40.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 11.3 apg, .453 FG, .813 FT): Posted fifth triple-double in last six games Sunday, with 30 points, 17 assists (tying his career high) and 11 rebounds against Toronto.

5) Marc Gasol (16 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.3 apg, .535 FG, .783 FT): Grizzlies may need to feed Big Spain a little more during this rough patch they're going through, because he usually comes up big //vine.co/v/O0PHHznXdTn.

BY THE NUMBERS

49 -- States that have produced at least one NBA player since the beginning of the league in 1947, according to this comprehensive //www.seatsmart.com/blog/history-of-the-nba-player/ listing of all manner of statistical info on the origins and development of the league's players. The one state that has yet to produce a single NBA pro? Vermont. What's up with that, Vermont?

29 -- Teams that have played in at least one overtime game this season, according to the Jazz's Twitter account. The one team that has yet to play five extra minutes this season? Utah. What's up with that, Utah?

1,544 -- Consecutive regular season and playoff games in which Tim Duncan had made at least one field goal -- every game of his career -- until he went 0 for 8 in Sunday's win over the Bulls. Duncan scored all three of his points from the foul line. What's up with that, Big Fundamental?

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) When so many people love you so much, it's a reflection of the love you send out into the world. Welcome back, Craig!

Inside The NBA: Craig Sager Tribute

With the return of TNT's Craig Sager from illness back to the sidelines, members of the NBA family welcome him with open arms.

2) And you think Pop and I don't get along. What he said, times 1,000,000. We're all away from our families and friends long enough, thank you. Just start the season the week of Oct. 15, use those extra 12-14 days to get rid of the majority of four games in five nights stretches, and call it a day.

3) Evocative writing from the Daily News' Dick Jerardi marking the 25th anniversary of Hank Gathers' death.

4) Jason Richardson realizes it's 2015 and not 2005, right?

Richardson's Back

After a two year hiatus due to injury, Jason Richardson hits the pull up jumper for his first basket back on the hardwood.

5) This is the right thing to do, even though it makes me sad.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) You don't like to hear "Chris Paul," "knee" and "x-ray" in the same sentence, even though the x-rays taken after Sunday's loss to the Warriors were negative. He's been playing at an MVP level in Blake Griffin's absence.

2) So, um, this happened. And we all let it happen.

Inside The NBA: Shaqtin A Fool

Plenty of laughs in this gutbusting edition of Shaqtin' A Fool.

3) An Unfortuntate Series of (Lack of) Defensive Events.

4) If he offers you Finals tickets, walk away.

5) Heard from old friend Clifford Ray last week, after the story on how everyone in the league is trying to figure out how to address the issue of blood clots. Cliff, the former Warriors center and longtime assistant coach for several teams, has dealt with clots for the past few years.

Ray had seven knee operations as a player, and had both knees replaced after he was done. He was an assistant in New Jersey, Dallas, Golden State, Orlando, Cleveland and Sacramento, specializing in working with big men. He went to Boston in 2006 and worked there through 2010, when he developed MRSA, the vicious bacterial infection, in his foot.

Longtime NBA reporter Peter Vescey wrote in 2011 that Ray contracted MRSA in the Celtics' practice facility, and that Boston paid Ray $100,000 as part of an agreement that ended his relationship with the team. Ray says now that he lost two toes from the infection.

He went to Sacramento, where he worked an assistant under Keith Smart. While there, Ray had another knee operation.

"I noticed that my left knee was swelling," Ray said. "A lot of times they attribute the swelling to the fact that there's been trauma induced into the knee because of the surgery. They say it's bleeding. That's not always the case. Sometimes the swelling is caused by an edema. After a while I had fluid in my leg."

The swelling went down, but soon after, both of Ray's legs became sore, as did his groin.

"The one leg was sore to the touch," he said. "So because it was in my groin area, if it starts to move, that's a big knot that's trying to pass through the body, through the (blood) vessel, and it causes severe pain. I thought I had pulled a groin muscle. Thank God I wasn't on a plane; I was on a ship. I had just worked out. It broke off from my groin. I went to the Mayo Clinic. They said you have a clot and we have to try to get to it."

Now, Ray is on blood thinners -- three milligrams of Coumadin. And he thinks players who have knee surgeries are susceptible to clots, and need to be more aware of the potential dangers.

"I have to pay attention to what goes on with my leg," he said. "If I experience any soreness in the ankle area, or if the ankle swells, the first thing they want me to do is call the vascular clinic. It's more like you just have to pay attention. It's bad in that no one really realizes how bad it can be. If it gets to your lung, unless you get to it right away...It could really be a problem. We haven't had a lot of cases, but we've had enough cases that we know with the retired guys, it's going to be a problem."

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Watching cartoons with my baby cousin.. Since when is Goofy girlfriend a cow? Thought he was a dog..

-- Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (@pdpatt), Saturday, 11:02 a.m., decrying the unreported, unlamented increase in inter-species cartoon dating. There oughta be a law. Actually, no, let's leave the law out of this.

THEY SAID IT

"I really don't care about titles. I want to help any way I can, but also to learn from Coach (Karl), from (general manager) Pete (D'Alessandro) and from Vivek. If we are smart enough to work together, we can move this franchise forward. What I care about is bringing the excitement back through basketball, through business, whatever it takes. We need to have fun again."

-- Vlade Divac, to The Sacramento Bee, on his new position with the Kings as vice president of basketball operations.

"They quit on Brian Shaw, I thought they'd quit again. A quitter is a quitter."

-- Kevin Garnett, on Wednesday, after the Nuggets beat the Timberwolves in Minnesota.

"I'm pretty sure it's not made in a defensive stance."

-- Larry Bird, in a video honoring Dominique Wilkins, whose statue was unveiled outside of Philips Arena last week.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.