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December 24, 2010
PBP Roundup
Dec. 23 (LeBron Response Edition)

by Bradford Doolittle

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Here's how I remember the NBA in the 1980s: It took lots of imagination to be a fan. That's because there were only three elite teams most of the decade and for much of the country and for most of the season, there was only one game broadcast per week. So you saw various combinations of the Lakers, Celtics and 76ers playing each other again and again. I became a fan of players like Bernard King, Alex English and Adrian Dantley because of Statis-Pro Basketball, The Sporting News and Topps basketball cards, which were promptly discontinued for several painful years--because of a lack of sales. As for there being all these big-event games with star-studded teams drawing national interest throughout season, as LeBron James suggested last night ... I don't remember it that way at all.

As a sports fan, LeBron James is an unabashed front runner. Though he's from Ohio, a state with two baseball teams steeped in tradition and history (not all of it good), he roots for the New York Yankees. In football, he is a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Seriously, I used to knock kids like this to the ground during recess. Leaving aside the fact that James is not old enough to remember professional basketball in the 1980s, the history he's picked up during his 26 years is almost certainly informed by this demonstrated tendency to jump on a bandwagon. So he probably knows about the Celtics and Lakers, maybe the Sixers, and doesn't recall how the league had to step in to save his former franchise--the Cavaliers--from mad man owner Ted Septien. Or how the Utah Jazz explored a merger with the Denver Nuggets. I'd wager that there are few people on Earth that love the 1980s era NBA more than I, but the idea that the league needs to revert back to that decade is ridiculous.

There are two factors that should determine how many teams should be in a sports league: 1. How many markets can profitably sustain a franchise over the long term? 2. How much professional-caliber talent is on hand to stock the rosters of the teams?

Taking the second of these items first (available talent), it's really a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. With basketball becoming an increasingly global sport, there never has been a wider pool of talent than there is right now. We've seen how competitive the best international teams are with our own All-Star Olympic squads, the most recent of which have included James. There are more than enough quality players to sustain 30 teams, and probably many more than that.

As far as fewer teams leading to more star-studded rosters, I doubt that as well. What does James consider a star? There are are generally about 5-10, at most, top-shelf players in the league at any one time. There are probably fewer than that. We're talking about players whose presence alone makes a team competitive. James qualifies as one of those players. However, for his plan to make sense, the league would need to get down to about four teams. Beyond the upper crust, most players are pretty replaceable. If you combine the top-shelf players on a handful of teams, you end up with a non-competitive league.

Is there is a quality of play issue in the NBA? I don't think so. Certainly some teams are worse than others, but even in that sense it's not really because of a lack of talent. Good teams play entertaining and, for the most part, fundamentally-sound basketball. Bad teams don't. It's always been that way. There seems to be more athletic-but-clueless players than there was in the '80s but that may be due more to age than talent. You hear how the NBA has gotten younger because of all the early-entry players, but the consequences of that are overblown. Maybe there are more raw players than there was back in the days of break dancing and knit ties, but those players don't define the league. In terms of league average age weighted by minutes played, the NBA was 26.4 years old in the 1983-84 season. This year, it's 27.5 years old. The NBA was, and is, a league for men. Plus, the kids on the bench are learning how to play the pro game, not how to execute the schemes of egomaniacal college coaches.

As far as the number of sustainable markets ... as long as there are cities seeking teams, then there aren't too many teams. Personally, I'd like the NBA to add two more, though that might have something to do with the symmetry 32 teams and how that appeals to my own peculiar need for an orderly universe. Are there underperforming markets? Sure. And those teams are run poorly. There are small markets like Salt Lake City and San Antonio that thrive. Guess what? Those organizations are run well. Even New Orleans deserves a few years to see how it can do now that it's out of the hands of George Shinn.

The NBA needs more parity and that is reportedly one of the primary aims of management's agenda in the current labor negotations. Again, this is not a contemporary problem. The NBA has always been top-heavy and it never was more so than in the 1980s. A return to that state of being might seem pretty sweet for LeBron James and his cronies. For the vast majority of us, the 21st century NBA works just fine.

All of this is meant as a response to James, who speaks out of ignorance. I'm not trying to side-step the very real issues that plague the NBA, issues that will be highlighted again and again as the CBA negotiations intensify. To achieve the parity to which I allude, the league is going to have to adopt a far more robust model for revenue distribution. In that kind of a structure, markets that eat from the pie without adding any ingredients to the mix do harm to everyone at the table. First, the NBA has to fix the parity problem. If at that point there are still markets that are consistently unprofitable AND there are no other cities viable for an NBA franchise, then--and only then--should contraction become a real option. Until then, can we please just stop sticking microphones in LeBron James' face?

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LIVE AT BASKETBALL PROSPECTUS

1. Christmas Day NBA: Previewing Five Games (Kevin Pelton) Happy Holidays from Basketball Prospectus. Here's your analytical viewing guide to the five NBA games scheduled for Dec. 25., including an anticipated matchup between the L.A. Lakers and the Miami Heat. (Premium)

2. Airing a Grievance on Injuries in the Draft (Kevin Pelton) (Unfiltered)

3. Around the Rim: Sullinger Stars for Ohio State (John Perrotto) Freshman Jared Sullinger has immediately stepped into the void left by the departure of Evan Turner, no small feat given that Turner was last year's consensus National Player of the Year. (premium)

4. Brown Out in Charlotte (Kevin Pelton) (Unfiltered)

5. Can Al Nolen save Minnesota? (Ken Pomeroy) (Unfiltered)

6. St. John's: Back From the Brink? (Asher Fusco) After a disastrous loss at Fordham, Steve Lavin's team recovered nicely, beating Northwestern Tuesday night and winning the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. (premium)

7. In Its Own Way, a Classic (Kevin Pelton) (Unfiltered)

8. Poll Position: No Turner, No Problem (John Gasaway) Replacing a national player of the year isn't supposed to be as easy as Ohio State's making it look. So in his feature for ESPN Insider, John considers the unthinkable. Is Jared Sullinger the best freshman Thad Matta's ever had? (premium)

9. Moral Hazard: The Dangers of Catering to a Star Free Agent (Kevin Pelton) Saturday's trades by the Orlando Magic might have been the latest example of a team trying to win now in order to hang on to a superstar nearing free agency. Like the deals made by the Cleveland Cavaliers in recent years, they carry a significant long-term risk. (premium)

10. On the Beat: Orlando Makes Bold Deals (John Perrotto) Magic general manager Otis Smith explained Saturday's pair of deals that brought Orlando two new starters and a sixth man as necessary to get the team back on the path to championship contention. (premium)

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FANTASY PROJECTIONS

Our downloadable Basketball Fantasy Projection spreadsheets are available for anyone with a premium subscription to Basketball Prospectus. The sheet is updated weekly and can be found on your 'Manage Profile' page. The download includes a forecast for the seven days, Monday through Sunday, for every player, game-by-game projections, health status updates and current team rotations.

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HOOPS CHATS

Basketball Prospectus authors will be taking your questions. All chats begin at 1 p.m. EST on the day listed, but you can go in and submit a question now if you like.

Dec. 29: Bradford Doolittle

Dec. 17: Kevin Pelton (TRANSCRIPT)

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HOT FIVES

POWER RATING (POW)     GR (12/23/10)        WP82 -- ALL          WP82 -- ROOKIES
celtics,boston, 67.5   james,lebron, 46.5   james,lebron, 29.5   griffin,blake, 10.6
mavericks,dallas, 63.0 dudley,jared, 44.7   williams,deron, 29.1 fields,landry, 4.3
spurs,sanantonio, 61.9 arenas,gilbert, 30.0 nowitzki,dirk, 22.7  neal,gary, 2.9
heat,miami, 58.9       dooling,keyon, 25.1  paul,chris, 21.0     bledsoe,eric, 1.9
bulls,chicago, 57.2    howard,dwight, 23.3  ginobili,manu, 20.6  wall,john, 1.7
Note: GR leaders are from previous night only.

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THURSDAY'S BOX SCORES & RECAPS

NOTE: Glossary is at bottom of page.

MAGIC 123, SPURS 101 (box): The new-look Magic were scary good in sending San Antonio's 10-game winning streak. Orlando posted season highs in Offensive Rating and eFG% and did it against the league's 10th-ranked defense. Gilbert Arenas had an excellent game off the bench, the starting bigs (Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass) combined to shoot 19-of-24 and Ryan Anderson resumed his status as a productive member of a really promising eight-man rotation. We're only three games into this new version of the Magic, but I'm loving the mix so far and did even as Stan Van Gundy worked out the kinks in two previous losses. Orlando outscored San Antonio 30-2 in fastbreak points.

SAS (25-4)..........PLY%  USG   PCP  +/-   GR   ORL (18-11).........PLY%  USG   PCP  +/-   GR
parker,tony..........51%  27%  1.12  -11 22.8   arenas,gilbert.......60%  27%  1.23  +21 30.0
ginobili,manu........42%  31%  1.08  -11 16.3   howard,dwight........67%  30%  1.32  +16 23.3
blair,dejuan.........48%  26%  0.86  - 6 10.8   redick,j.j...........54%  13%  2.68  +10 18.6
jefferson,richard....63%  14%  1.33  -10 10.7   richardson,jason.....66%  21%  1.03  +11 12.8
bonner,matt..........49%  10%  1.94  -16 10.3   turkoglu,hedo........57%  20%  1.11  +24 12.5
neal,gary............66%  22%  1.02  -18 10.0   bass,brandon.........71%  18%  1.20  +12 11.8
splitter,tiago.......36%  21%  1.22  - 6  8.9   anderson,ryan........47%  20%  1.10  +10  9.1
duncan,tim...........41%  30%  0.91  - 1  8.2   nelson,jameer........44%  10%  1.77  + 2  6.9
udoka,ime............37%   5%  1.49  - 7  4.4   duhon,chris.......... 7%  12%  4.51  + 2  3.8
quinn,chris..........49%  13%  0.70  -11  3.6   richardson,quentin...20%   5%  1.29    0  1.5
mcdyess,antonio......18%   8%  0.44  -13  1.0   clark,earl........... 7%  12%  0.00  + 2  0.0
hill,george..........(DNP)                      williams,jason.......(DNP)  
PACE: 94.3          ORTG eFG%  oRB%  TO% FTA%   PACE: 94.3          ORTG eFG%  oRB%  TO% FTA%
Spurs............  107.1 .467  .314 .117 .117   Magic............  130.4 .673  .118 .138 .079

---

BUCKS 84, KINGS 79 (box): The Kings actually led 75-69 midway through the fourth quarter before going into an offensive coma. A resurgent Earl Boykins played the entire final period and led the Bucks with nine points in the quarter. The Kings dominated the glass with 19 offensive rebounds, but committed 25 turnovers, leading to a 30-12 deficit in points off miscues. Tyreke Evans really needs to take some time off. The Kings aren't going anywhere and he's not helping by playing through his physical ailments. Evans shot 2-of-13 against Milwaukee.

MIL (12-16).........PLY%  USG   PCP  +/-   GR   SAC (5-22)..........PLY%  USG   PCP  +/-   GR
dooling,keyon........89%  16%  1.15  +12 25.1   udrih,beno...........67%  21%  1.32  - 4 15.1
boykins,earl.........61%  33%  0.85  +14 23.3   landry,carl..........73%  14%  0.97  - 4 14.1
bogut,andrew.........80%  24%  0.79  - 2 10.7   greene,donte.........58%  21%  0.80    0 14.0
salmons,john.........66%  28%  0.77  - 9 10.5   dalembert,samuel.....65%  18%  1.07  - 2 12.3
sanders,larry........48%  14%  1.17    0  5.1   garcia,francisco.....38%  12%  2.13  - 6  8.3
mbahamoute,luc.......28%  14%  1.19  +15  5.1   jackson,darnell......34%  17%  1.31  - 1  5.7
ilyasova,ersan.......43%  10%  0.76  - 3  4.5   evans,tyreke.........66%  22%  0.42  - 3  5.2
douglas-roberts,chris69%  13%  0.49  -13  4.2   jeter,pooh...........44%  17%  0.88  - 3  4.7
brockman,jon.........17%  10%  0.88  +11  2.5   casspi,omri..........28%  32%  0.56    0  3.1
jennings,brandon.....(DNP)                      cousins,demarcus.....26%  31%  0.41  - 2  2.9
maggette,corey.......(DNP)                      head,luther..........(DNP)  
skinner,brian........(DNP)                      taylor,jermaine......(DNP)  
PACE: 92.4          ORTG eFG%  oRB%  TO% FTA%   PACE: 92.4          ORTG eFG%  oRB%  TO% FTA%
Bucks............   90.9 .444  .156 .141 .086   Kings............   85.5 .406  .388 .271 .071

---

HEAT 95, SUNS 83 (box): With Dwyane Wade sitting out, LeBron James had the stage to himself in a relatively painless road win for Miami. Chris Bosh also had a nice outing and Mario Chalmers provided a spark off the bench. For Phoenix, Jared Dudley had a career night with 33 points on 16 shots and 12 rebounds. Steve Nash scored just four points, but assisted on 18 of the 23 shots the Suns made while he was on the floor, and one of the other five was his own running hook late in the game.

MIA (22-9)..........PLY%  USG   PCP  +/-   GR   PHX (13-15).........PLY%  USG   PCP  +/-   GR
james,lebron.........78%  38%  1.18  + 4 46.5   dudley,jared.........87%  23%  1.81  - 3 44.7
chalmers,mario.......56%  23%  0.95  +12 16.5   nash,steve...........67%  13%  1.87    0 10.7
bosh,chris...........78%  24%  1.25  + 9 16.3   lopez,robin..........56%  23%  0.86  + 2 10.2
arroyo,carlos........53%  24%  0.87  - 7 11.6   frye,channing........73%  18%  1.15  - 4 10.1
jones,james..........72%  12%  0.97  +10  4.8   hill,grant...........74%  18%  0.72  + 5  6.3
dampier,erick........33%  13%  0.96  + 3  4.6   warrick,hakim........27%  21%  0.43  - 8  3.3
howard,juwan.........29%   8%  1.09  + 6  3.3   pietrus,mickael......26%  31%  0.34  -17  3.2
miller,mike..........41%  12%  0.26  +17  1.7   gortat,marcin........37%  15%  0.69  -13  2.2
ilgauskas,zydrunas...12%  23%  0.59  - 5  1.1   childress,josh.......21%  23%  0.29  -10  1.5
anthony,joel.........49%   2%  0.00  +11  0.0   dragic,goran.........33%  16%  0.22  -12  0.8
house,eddie..........(DNP)                      lawal,gani...........(DNP)  
magloire,jamaal......(DNP)                      siler,garret.........(DNP)  
PACE: 89.2          ORTG eFG%  oRB%  TO% FTA%   PACE: 89.2          ORTG eFG%  oRB%  TO% FTA%
Heat.............  106.5 .482  .282 .179 .084   Suns.............   93.0 .467  .250 .213 .094

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LINKS LARDER

Featuring your work

From Dexter Fishmore: Here's a piece I've posted this morning at Silver Screen and Roll, examining how important it is (or perhaps isn't) for the Lakers to earn home-court advantage in the playoffs.

NOTE: In order to cut some production time, I'm only going to run links to stuff people send to me, so don't be shy. Just click on the e-mail link at the end of the article to share your work.

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ON TAP

Tonight in the NBA

FRIDAY'S GAMES: NONE SCHEDULED
------------------------------
SATURDAY'S GAMES
WTC  VIS @ HOM,  GAMETIME     NBAPET LINE    OFFICIALS
+24  mia @ lal,  5:00 PM EST [ mia by  1 ]   Not yet available
+19  bos @ orl,  2:30 PM EST [ bos by  2 ]   Not yet available
+14  chi @ nyk, 12:00 PM EST [ chi by  0 ]   Not yet available
+13  den @ okc,  8:00 PM EST [ okc by  4 ]   Not yet available
- 3  por @ gsw, 10:30 PM EST [ por by  3 ]   Not yet available
NOTE: WTC is a junk stat rating the "watchability" of a game, taking into
account the quality of the opponents and the likelihood of a close game.

Through Thursday, 432 of 1,230 games (35.1%) have been played in the 2010-11 NBA regular season.

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GLOSSARY
+/- (Plus-Minus) Raw data is from official box scores from NBA.com.
GR (Game Rating) Reflects a player's Points Created total, or the portion of his team's offense for which he gets credit based on his box score line. This number is then adjusted for estimated defensive performance based on box score counterpart productivity. GR is pace-adjusted so you can compare players from game to game.
PCP (Points Created Per Possession Used) An estimate of each player's points created per possession used, a measure of offensive efficiency. The stat accounts for a player's entire box score line, not just the scoring categories.
PLY% (Play percentage) An estimate of the percentage of a team's possessions on which the player was on the court.
USG An estimate of how many of those plays a player used by shooting, going to the line or committing a turnover, with a portion the team's offensive rebound total subtracted.
TEAM STATS
PACE: Estimated possessions in the game.
ORTG: A team's points per 100 possessions.
eFG%: Team's shooting percentage with an extra half-point added for each made three-point field goal.
oRB%: Percentage of a team's misses that they retrieved off the offensive glass.
TO%: Percentage of a team's possessions resulting in a turnover.
FTA%: Percentage of a team's possessions resulting in a trip to the foul line.

You can follow Bradford on Twitter at twitter.com/@bbdoolittle.

The 2010-11 Pro Basketball Prospectus is now available in paperback form on Amazon.com. For sample chapters and more information, see our book page.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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