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Abolish the Draft?
Plus Elam endings, college basketball skirmishes, sleeping dunk contests and a mailbag.
I was originally going to take a week off from The Antisocial Basketballer over the All-Star break. I didn’t think there was going to be much to talk about, and boy was I wrong.
NBA discourse isn’t built to handle a week without meaningful (as meaningful as mid regular season can be anyway) NBA games, so the take machine was driven into overdrive, and it spat out some beauties.
Just a note, none of these will be any more than just some bite sized musings about the hot topics. A real let down after the heights of last week’s newsletter lavishing Josh Giddey with praise, which you can read below before continuing if you haven’t already.
Getting rid of the NBA Draft
My goodness, you can’t leave NBA Twitter alone for more than 24 hours before a new outrageous take pops up. Granted, chat of abolishing the draft isn’t exactly new, but it’s back in the limelight for some reason.
The NBA traditionally hasn’t really been a league of tremendous parity. Unlike the NFL with its high rate of variance season by season, NBA era are generally defined into rough “dynasties.” You have the Bill Russell Celtics, the Showtime Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, Pop’s Spurs and Steph’s Warriors as prime examples. 45% of the NBA’s championships reside in the hands of two franchises alone.
I feel like in recent years, however, the NBA has begun to somewhat equalise to a more even league, at least at the top, and it isn’t necessarily the historic powerhouses occupying the perch.
Just recently, the 2021 NBA Finals featured two traditionally small market teams who build through the draft in Phoenix and Milwaukee. Both are contenders who use that status to acquire glamour free agents during their run (Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday come to mind) but both were primarily built through the draft (Phoenix more so, Milwaukee have somewhat traded their way to glory).
The Golden State Warriors, owners of the greatest regular season in NBA history (ironically during the only season they didn’t win the title during their four year battle with LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers) have been built through the draft, with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all playing their entire careers to date in San Francisco.
The arguments to abolish the draft are nonsensical to me, and they’ve recently stemmed from Zion Williamson’s situation in New Orleans (more on that later). To me, putting the power in the hands of teenagers is the worst possible outcome.
The NBA Draft is designed to give teams at the bottom an avenue back to the top by giving them priority over the best young future stars. If we take that away, we introduce an open market for talent where the small market “deficiencies” are highlighted.
You’re going to sit here and tell me if it was a choice, that Cade Cunningham would sign in Detroit? You’re dreaming.
Abolishing the draft would create a bigger divide between the rich and the poor in the NBA that no salary cap could adequately address. You’re effectively placing faith in kids to not be led astray by agents angling them to more marketable situations in lieu of playing time and development on a bad team.
That won’t end well.
First Rule of College Basketball Fight Club
I don’t recall this part of the Fab Five documentary (although let’s be honest Chris Webber would’ve absolutely gotten into it with the opposition).
For those of you unaware, Juwan Howard (head coach of the University of Michigan) was unhappy at Greg Gard (head coach of the University of Wisconsin) calling a timeout with 15 seconds left in a game Wisconsin was winning by 15 points, feeling it unnecessary.
What started as verbal sparring turned physical when Howard strikes (with an open hand at least) Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft, leading to a mini melee. In the video you can see a few players taking some very “modern athlete” level swings (i.e. throwing punches with zero accuracy and technique).
Juwan Howard was suspended by the Big Ten conference for the remainder of the regular season, as well as fined $40,000 (all figures USD). Greg Gard was fined $10,000 for breaching the conference’s sportsmanship code of conduct, while Michigan’s Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams, and Wisconsin’s Jahcobi Neath (the players swinging like rusty gates) were all suspended one game. Krabbenhoft isn’t expected to receive punishment.
There’s a few things to analyse from this little incident.
Firstly, there were calls from some quarters for Michigan to fire Howard over the incident. Howard has form in terms of his temper during his tenure as Michigan head coach (he was ejected from a game against Maryland during the Big Ten tournament last season), but the man bleeds for the university. If I’m being totally honest, the actions are more embarrassing for Howard than harmful to anyone else. Calls for a sacking were an overreaction of the highest order.
Now, the issue of taking offence to a late timeout. Wisconsin had their benchwarmers in the game, while Michigan was still playing the starters. Michigan initiated a full court press against the Wisconsin backups so Gard called the timeout to give them a chance to advance halfcourt, making Howard’s blowup a little odd.
Furthermore, it also highlights this ingrained culture of “unwritten rules” in American sports. You see NBA teams get mad all the time when the opposition scores late in a blowout. Here’s a tip. You don’t like getting stunted on in the last minute? Don’t get stunted on in the first 47 minutes. Problem solved.
Lastly, handshake lines. A somewhat archaic tradition in the realm of sports to have a formal handshake line, especially after a heated contest like that. In the NBA guys will shake hands with people they know as a genuine sign of respect. A formal line feels forced and insincere, and can sometimes lead to foolishness like this.
The Elam rule set, for those that don’t know, was developed by Ball State University professor Nick Elam as a way to eliminate slow late-game play like intentional fouling. Instead of a standard timed four quarters, the fourth quarter is replaced or modified by playing to a target score, avoiding overtime.
For example, after the third quarter of the 2022 All-Star game, the target score was the winning team’s score + 24 (in honour of Kobe Bryant), 163 in this case.
The Elam ending was first formally used in The Basketball Tournament in 2017, where instead of an untimed fourth quarter, the target score was calculated after the first whistle with four minutes remaining or less, with the target score being eight more than the winning team’s/tied score.
I’m not necessarily against the format, I’m just hesitant in introducing a format that has only really been used to add an element of excitement and tension to an otherwise faltering concept in the All-Star game into actual NBA situations.
I dislike the intentional fouling as much as anyone, but I don’t think it has such a negative impact on the product that a drastic change like Elam needs to be introduced. I’ve seen calls for it to be introduced in overtime only (yes I know Elam is designed to avoid overtime) and I could get around that.
I think there are bigger issues with late game play in the NBA, and I think the main issue right now is the take foul. An interpretation closer to FIBA to me is a logical next step to penalise teams for intentionally fouling to avoid a fast break. Also, in FIBA games, you have to legitimately go for a steal or be in legal guarding position when trying to foul, so still somewhat incentivising defence, otherwise it’s deemed an unsportsmanlike foul.
I think that’s a closer happy medium than Elam, but like I said, I’m not against the format, I just haven’t seen a total argument I can get behind yet.
Slam Clunk Contest
If you haven’t caught up to the Slam Dunk Contest from this year, don’t bother.
We may have reached a creative peak in show dunking but my god that was maybe the worst dunk contest of all time.
Cole Anthony shoots 39.8% from the field in the NBA, and he somehow shot lower than that in the dunk contest. An abysmal showing from everyone.
It was a dunk contest where not a single 50 was awarded for a dunk.
There was talk about swapping the Three Point Shootout and Dunk Contest around, or having it every two years rather than every year. Honestly, maybe the latter is the way forward.
At least by making the dunk contest every two years it somewhat elevates the prestige by making it a rarer event, so you can avoid getting the end of the bench guys in like it’s somewhat devolved into. That way, it also keeps it fresh and lends to more anticipation, excitement and creativity. In theory.
I don’t know why the NBL got rid of All-Star weekend but I’d love to see it back, the league has built real momentum over the last few years both in Australia and as a global brand with the Next Stars program, attracting big marketable names like Zhou Qi and Kai Sotto, and the higher quality of imports and locals returning home.
On this year’s All-Stars, I pressed Jed to make a decision on how he wants the teams split and he agreed to go North/South, like how it used to be back in the day.
North: Brisbane, Cairns, Illawarra, Perth, Sydney
South: Adelaide, Melbourne, New Zealand, SEM, Tasmania
Purely geographical here, Perth is slightly further north than Adelaide so that’s how it goes.
I’m going to split the teams into two backcourt players, three frontcourt players, a coach and a “reserve” (which is just me picking a sixth guy because I’m a coward who sits on the fence).
Here we go.
Backcourt: Jaylen Adams, Bryce Cotton
Frontcourt: Vic Law, Xavier Cooks, Jarell Martin
Coach: Scott Morrison
Sixth: Tahjere McCall
I’ll be honest, I tried to not include both Cooks and Martin to take out any Sydney biases but they’ve both been so impressive this year. Cooks has been playing like a legitimate DPOY candidate while Martin leads the league in defensive rebounding while still being an offensive juggernaut.
The backcourt honestly picks itself, but I had to find a way to give McCall some recognition (hence the sixth man category). McCall has put a terrible Cairns team on his back and been pressed into action as a point guard when he was mainly signed to be a defensive specialist and play off ball.
In terms of snubs, I don’t think Lamar Patterson or Tyler Harvey have hit the heights we know they’re capable of, and with both Brisbane and Illawarra struggling recently I couldn’t validate either of them, while in the frontcourt, I did give serious consideration to Robert Franks, Sam Froling or Duop Reath before settling on Martin to go with Cooks and Law.
Backcourt: Josh Magette, Matthew Dellavedova
Frontcourt: Mitch Creek, Jo Lual-Acuil, Yanni Wetzell
Coach: Dean Vickerman
Sixth: Zhou Qi
If you saw Tasmania being as competitive as they have been so far this season you’re lying, and a large part of that has been Josh Magette, while Delly has led the best team in the league so far and come on as a scorer.
In the frontcourt, Creek is a leading MVP candidate so no brainer, while both JLA and Wetzell have been having tremendous seasons that deserve recognition individually.
Again, the sixth man is to fit in a snub, and I’ve gone with Zhou Qi as a DPOY candidate. His numbers per 36 are great but he doesn’t get the time of someone like JLA so I’ve given big Jo the nod. I did also consider Cameron Bairstow as a surprising contributor for Adelaide, but the 36ers have been so disappointing they don’t deserve recognition.
The short answer is I have no idea but it is an interesting case study into the motivations of external coattail riders, isn’t it?
The coverage around Zion’s situation directly from the Pelicans themselves has been frustratingly sparse, with cryptic releases about “ramping up to basketball activity” or “re-evaluated in x weeks.”
The Zion situation, like I mentioned earlier, has teed off the discussion about the draft again. To me, this situation reflects very poorly on Zion and how he’s dragged around a franchise, but I can only really go off what’s being reported, which isn’t a whole lot.
However, there is a pattern surrounding Zion and how detached he’s been, and I’ll tell you this. If JJ Redick, a Duke alum, a guy who has beef with the current Pelicans administration, publicly flames you out and takes the side of the organisation, that is not a great sign. It was even reported Zion and CJ McCollum hadn’t even spoken since the trade that sent CJ to NOLA (this was at All-Star weekend, the two have since apparently spoken).
As a former teammate of Zion’s and a long time NBA vet, I take Redick’s word more seriously than any old pundit.
As for the weight of responsibility between Zion not caring for himself vs. his advisors not having his best interests at heart, I don’t know. Look, Zion is a rare specimen, the likes of which we may not see again in our lifetimes. But as Redick describes above, he has a reputation for being detached, for not caring.
It would be a terrible look for the league if the #1 pick of a draft class demands a trade not 100 games into his career from his small market team. It would destroy a lot of the integrity of the draft process and create a precedent that top guys can strongarm their way into whatever situation they want, something I spoke against above.
There’s obviously external factors at play. Zion is one of the most marketable stars in the league, hurt or not. It’d be no secret he could exponentially expand his reach and earnings in a bigger market like Los Angeles vs. New Orleans. The cold reality of sports business is agents do not give a flying fuck about you the player, they care about you the asset and making you and them as much money as possible.
If they have to screw over your team along the way, then so be it.
Adelaide just desperately need something to ignite their season because they’ve been straight up disappointing. Dusty Hannahs and Todd Withers, two imports with good pedigree, have both, if you’ll pardon the pun, withered in the NBL so far, and losing Isaac Humphries to injury and Josh Giddey to the NBA certainly hasn’t helped.
I don’t think there’s one Adelaide player currently playing anywhere close to their capable level, except maybe Cameron Bairstow, including star recruit Mitch McCarron, who has also been frustrating to watch.
I’m not entirely sure if the wing was the place Adelaide needed to look to with their third import, and given Humphries is out for the year, I maybe would’ve looked at an import centre to take load off Daniel Johnson, but Adelaide desperately need offensive punch too.
Hopson can fill in the gaps in Adelaide’s scoring by providing someone who can score at all three levels. The makings of a solid defensive unit are there with McCarron, Sunday Dech and Withers, but offensively this team has stuttered.
Adelaide are mired in 7th with a 5-7 record, so making the playoffs might be a long road but I don’t hate Hopson as a short term fix for them. I just might have gone for a big instead.