The Memphis Grizzlies moved into the Western Conference Finals by eliminating the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Tonight, the Indiana Pacers have the chance to do the same in the East if they can manage a win against the Knicks in New York.
Hello, role models.
In the middle of the season, the Grizzlies dodged the luxury tax by sending away Rudy Gay at the trade deadline. They lost the player who led them in minutes, points, and shots the previous season, but they didn’t lose. Rob Mahoney of SI.com summed it up best,
“As it turns out, Gay was the living, shot-forcing embodiment of opportunity cost, with every bit of his production coming by way of a greater price.”
The Grizzlies didn’t need Gay dominating the ball. They had other scorers, other options, and taking him out of the offense made everyone else that much more of a threat. His replacement, Tayshaun Prince, fit in seamlessly with a terrorizing defense that already featured three members of the NBA’s All-Defense Teams (Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen).
Prince also laid out the exclamation point of the 2013 playoffs to date.
There’s one line of reasoning that says the Bucks need to get worse to get better: In essence, the theory Bucks can’t win more unless they get better talent, and they can’t get better talent without going deep into the lottery.
It’s indisputable that a huge chuck of the league’s elite talent lies at the top of the lottery. A mid-first-round pick won’t fetch you the next LeBron James or the next Blake Griffin.
But the numbers tell another story. Of the nearly 350 players taken in the history of the NBA lottery, only four have won championships in their original tenures with the teams that drafted them: David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, and Darko Milicic.
The Pacers’ core consists of a #10 pick and a #17 pick (Paul George and Roy Hibbert). The Grizzlies’ starters were picked with the 25th, 19th, 48th, 23rd and 4th spots of their respective drafts.
The Bucks have drafted well in recent seasons. Brandon Jennings, Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris, and John Henson were all valuable picks for the positions in which they were drafted. Unfortunately, the general managing of the team has failed in nearly every other area. It consistently sold low and bought high for the payoff of shortsighted playoff runs. Winning 33 games is just as good as winning 43 if it keeps the long-term vision of the team in place. Player evaluation should be distilled to a single question: ‘Can this player be a viable part of a championship playoff rotation?’
(At least) half of the answer to that question has to be based on defense. In the age of advanced metrics, player defense is still an undervalued skill and player offense still overvalued. Indiana and Memphis took advantage. It’s cheaper and less glamorous. It’s more sustainable under the current salary and luxury cap systems.
The Bucks don’t have to land a top-3 pick to make themselves a contender.
It should be noted that Miami advanced to the East Finals last night too. But the Bucks cannot duplicate what Pat Riley did in Miami. The well-marketed stars of the NBA aren’t coming to Milwaukee.
The Bucks can follow the paths of Indiana and Memphis though. The steps are simple; the execution of them is harder. Draft well regardless of the pick location. Make smart basketball personnel decisions. Above all else, don’t cripple your flexibility by overvaluing or overpaying players based on volume-based numbers.
Every team has a highest scorer.