NBA GMs Get it Wrong About Lakers, Kobe, LeBron, Durant and Much More
NBA general managers take their fair share of flack over the course of a season. There’s no doubt that some of it is deserved (like pretty much any decision Isiah Thomas made when he was running the Knicks), but these guys do tend to know a lot about basketball. So it’s always interesting when the annual NBA GM poll comes out on NBA.com. This year’s poll was released on Tuesday, and while there were a few no-brainers (96% of GMs picked the Heat to win the Southeast Division), there were also plenty of curious results. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most interesting questions/answers from the 2012 poll.
Which team will win the 2012 NBA Finals?
1. Miami -- 74.1%
2. Oklahoma City -- 14.8%
3. L.A. Lakers -- 7.4%
4. Chicago - 3.7%
Last year: L.A. Lakers -- 63.0%
A couple interesting things to note here. First, defending champion Dallas is nowhere to be found—they didn’t receive a single vote (GMs couldn’t vote for their own team). I was also interested by the drop-off from last season for the Lakers, who went from a commanding 63% of the vote to just 7% this season. In this case, it is merited (the Heat are the obvious pick if everyone’s healthy and LA lost Lamar Odom), but there were several other questions in this poll with similar drop-offs without any real explanation.
Which player is most likely to have a breakout season in 2011-12?
1. James Harden, Oklahoma City -- 21.4%
T2. Ty Lawson, Denver -- 10.7%
T2. Kyle Lowry, Houston -- 10.7%
T4. Paul George, Indiana -- 7.1%
T4. Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia -- 7.1%
T4. Marcus Thornton, Sacramento -- 7.1%
Last year: Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook -- 14.8%
Questions like these make me think this poll is designed to make the GMs look smarter than they are. It’s very easy to say these guys are going to have breakout seasons when the season’s already started. Anyone who follows the NBA could tell you that James Harden has a good chance to have a breakout season, because he’s already played at a high level for 15 games.
Who will win the 2011-12 MVP?
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City -- 55.6%
2. LeBron James, Miami -- 44.4%
Last year: Kevin Durant -- 66.7%
Who is the best small forward in the NBA?
1. LeBron James, Miami -- 77.8%
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City -- 18.5%
3. Carmelo Anthony, New York -- 3.7%
Last year: LeBron James -- 67.9%
I want to look at these questions together, because they expose the hypocrisy of the NBA’s MVP award. 78% of GMs agree that LeBron James is better than Kevin Durant, a majority of them still believe Durant will win this year’s MVP. I know that it’s not the “Best Player” award, but to me, that’s a large part of being the most valuable. Durant and James have been the best two players in the league this season, but James does so many different things to help the Heat win on a nightly basis (just look at his boxscore in the Heat’s 98-87 win over the Lakers on Thursday—31 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks) that it’s hard for me to call Durant more valuable than James.
Which rookie is most likely to be a "sleeper" success?
1. Norris Cole, Miami -- 44.0%
2. Iman Shumpert, New York -- 12.0%
T3. MarShon Brooks, New Jersey -- 8.0%
T3. Kemba Walker, Charlotte -- 8.0%
Last year: Luke Harangody, Patrick Patterson -- 11.1%
Last year’s poll was conducted prior to the season—that’s why they couldn’t really decide on who to pick, eventually settling on Luke Harangody and Patrick Patterson, neither of whom did much last season. With the poll conducted in January this season, GMs could jump on a couple guys who’ve had early success and make it look like they know what they’re doing (even though, to be honest, most of these guys aren’t very efficient at all).
Who is the best head coach in the NBA?
Which head coach is the best manager/motivator of people?
Which head coach makes the best in-game adjustments?
The leading answer was the same for each of these questions: Gregg Popovich. Shouldn’t really come as a surprise—Popovich has coached 14 full seasons in San Antonio and the Spurs have made the playoffs all 14 years. The Spurs have ranged from good to great throughout his entire tenure, and though a lot of that has to do with Tim Duncan, no one is better than Pop at managing minutes and getting a team to work together.
Which head coach has the best defensive schemes?
1. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago -- 61.5%
T2. Mike Brown, L.A. Lakers -- 11.5%
T2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio -- 11.5%
4. Doc Rivers, Boston -- 7.7%
Last year: Doc Rivers -- 28.6%
Guess we know who was responsible for Boston’s great defensive schemes from 2007-2010, now, huh? It’s not like Boston’s defense fell apart last year without Thibodeau (and even Thibodeau would have trouble hiding the Celtics’ age and lack of depth this season), but one dominant defensive season by the Bulls and the GMs have now shifted all credit from Rivers to Thibodeau. The only reason I can think of that Thibodeau got shortchanged last season is that the GMs didn’t know how he would pan out as a head coach. Now that it’s clear he can cut it, they’ve fully bought into his schemes, even though his coaching ability hasn’t changed since last season.
Which active player will make the best head coach someday?
1. Derek Fisher, L.A. Lakers -- 25.9%
T2. Shane Battier, Miami -- 14.8%
T2. Chauncey Billups, L.A. Clippers -- 14.8%
T4. Grant Hill, Phoenix -- 7.4%
T4. Steve Nash, Phoenix -- 7.4%
T4. Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers -- 7.4%
Last year: Derek Fisher -- 29.6%
So the best Jason Kidd can do is “also receiving votes”? Even though he’s consistently shown he knows how to win, adapting his game to fit the Mavericks after he was traded there in 2008 and starting at point guard for their title team at age 38? How are Fisher, Hill and Nash any more qualified than he is? And nothing against Billups, but when I think of current PGs that should be head coaches (because apparently you have to be a point guard unless your name is Shane Battier), I think of Nash, Kidd and Fisher before him, simply because they’ve proven that they can have success into their late thirties. If Billups is still around in three or four years and thriving, then you can add his name to the list.
Who is the best perimeter defender in the NBA?
1. Tony Allen, Memphis -- 26.9%
2. Rajon Rondo, Boston -- 15.4%
T3. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers -- 11.5%
T3. LeBron James, Miami -- 11.5%
T3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City -- 11.5%
Last year: Kobe Bryant -- 35.7%
It’s amazing what a good playoff run will do for you. Tony Allen’s been in the league for eight years now, but apparently the GMs think his defense jumped considerably last season, as Allen wasn’t in the top four in last year’s poll (he was in the also receiving votes category, meaning he got less than 7% of the vote. Another possible solution: GMs didn’t fully appreciate Allen’s defense in Boston because Tom Thibodeau’s schemes were so good. I also think Kobe’s too high on this list, but at least he doesn’t lead the poll, as he did last season.
Which player is the best pure shooter?
1. Ray Allen, Boston -- 85.7%
Last year: Ray Allen --53.6%
I know Ray Allen is having a good year—but is he really showing anything we didn’t already know? [Editor's Note: Anthony Morrow, anyone?]
Which player is the best passer?
1. Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers -- 40.7%
2. Steve Nash, Phoenix -- 37.0%
3. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota -- 11.1%
Last year: Steve Nash -- 75.0%
My take from this is that Chris Paul moving to the Clippers made Steve Nash half as good a passer. Wait, what?
Which player has the best basketball IQ?
1. Steve Nash, Phoenix -- 28.6%
2. Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers -- 21.4%
3. Jason Kidd, Dallas -- 17.9%
T4. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers -- 7.1%
T4. Tim Duncan, San Antonio -- 7.1%
T4. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio -- 7.1%
Last year: Steve Nash -- 46.3%
Again, I know there is some turnover from year-to-year among the GM ranks, but what happened last year that caused so many GMs to change their mind?
Which player would you want taking a shot with the game on the line?
1. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers -- 48.1%
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City -- 30.8%
Last year: Kobe Bryant -- 78.6%
Finally, it seems that some GMs are starting to pay attention to the stats rather than their selective memories of Kobe hitting game-winners. Though he still shouldn’t be number one (poor decisions like this one, from opening day, are far too common), the fact that 30% of the GMs realized that Kobe isn’t the best choice at the end of games is a sign of progress. Still, in this poll’s 10 year existence, Kobe’s finished first every single year. That’s just ridiculous when the stats overwhelmingly back up Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul as the best answers to this question (for more, check out Henry Abbott’s great TrueHoop piece about Bryant in crunch time).