The Spurs, Greivis Vasquez and the Melo-to-Miami rumors.

“Gimme some Raptors news” — Kenny Smith, TBJ sound drop

Never has that phrase ever rang true more than right now. There is absolutely no Raptors news to speak of. There’s some assorted draft tidbits that have come out, like which players they’re working out and whatnot, but aside from that, there’s nothing.

Looking into the future, there doesn’t seem very much change is on the horizon. The Raptors’ main priorities this offseason seem to be re-signing their free-agents. If they are successful, they will have no cap room left to sign anyone else of significance. If a trade is to be made, it will likely involve jettisoning expiring contracts of little value for assets equally devoid of worth.

Of course, there’s a good reason for not changing — they fared pretty well last season. However, as a blogger, lack of change leads to lack of news, which makes my job much tougher. Hence, I’m resorting to a listicle to fill these (web) pages with some assorted thoughts.

The San Antonio Spurs and basketball art

Coming into the series, I predicted that the Spurs would win in a “hard five, or easy six games”. Although it was silly to be so bold, it was hard to pick against the Spurs’ flying death machine. The Spurs are as close as it comes to basketball art. Their play is well-orchestrated, their passing is finely tuned, their play is well-layered and their attention to detail is precise. It’s strange that they’re only now receiving the notice and praise that they’ve always deserved when they have played like the best team in the world for nearly a year.

And yet, so many pundits picked Miami to win the series. That’s understandable, I guess, as Miami has its three stars — including the best player in the world — and are back-to-back champions. But notice how their advantages are not on-court technicalities like rebounding, three-point shooting, or breadth in their playbook. Rather, they had narratives on their side.

Basketball, to some extent, is a black box. It’s complicated, it’s unpredictable, and it’s a headache and a half to have to think about the game. That’s why we have created heuristics to consume it, and the media has reinforced it. It’s easy to think of the game with the broad strokes: LeBron, Wade, Bosh vs. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, or talent vs. depth. The storylines are presented in chunks of well-rationed narratives so we can easily digest them, and it’s done for a good reason — how many of us are actually focusing on the nuts and bolts? We’re looking at the painting for it’s wide strokes.

But that’s not how the game is played, and the Spurs’ dominance is an example of such. If you look closer at the painting, you’ll see the meticulous brushstrokes of the Spurs’ play. It’s a grand design that easily dwarfs Miami’s. It’s brilliant. Every movement is choreographed and detailed. Their play is a science and every decision is backed with reason. LeBron’s brilliance is great, and he can singularly win games for Miami, but his Heat are simply outclassed.

Greivis Vasquez and the value of point guards

By virtue of their job description, point guards have always played a central role in a team’s offense. The game of basketball has been historically dominated by hulking centers, but it’s slowly migrated to the perimeter. In decades past, centers like Wilt, Russell, Mikan, Kareem, Hakeem, Parish, McHale and Shaq roamed the paint. Now, the best the league can offer are defense-first pivots like Dwight, Noah and Marc Gasol. It’s a guard’s league now.

Part of that is attributable to the implementation of the three-point line. Scoring an extra point from distance evens out the disproportionate scoring efficiency between bigs and smalls in the paint. Without the three-point line, guards like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard would be far less effective.

However there are inherent imbalance between point guards and big men by virtue of their positions. On average, a guard is better at perimeter shooting, passing, dribbling and playmaking, whereas bigs are better rebounders, shot-blockers and finishers. There are special players who can transcend these broad descriptions — LeBron comes to mind — but on average, the differences hold true.

Given their natural skill advantages, the obvious move is to specialize. It’s a matter of basic Ricardian economics — if you have a comparative advantage, specialize and trade. Point guards are better at performing the key determinants of offense, so they focus on that. By comparison, bigs have a much bigger impact on a team’s defense, so they also specialize, and the two sides trade. The team itself is essentially a market.

And that’s not to say that bigs can never impact the offense or guards can’t help on defense. Guards would be far less effective without bigs to set screens (see Indiana’s offense) and bigs would easily foul out if their perimeter players are constantly allowing penetration (see the Jose Calderon era). It’s just a matter of how best to divvy up responsibilities across a team.

This brings me to Greivis Vasquez, who is a restricted free-agent this summer. In 61 games with the Raptors this season, he averaged 9.5 points 2.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game which was good for a 14.2 PER and .096 WS/48 (league average for both). By all accounts, those are pedestrian numbers.

And yet, he was integral to the success of the team. He ranked fourth in simple +/- at +3.8 (per 82games) and similarly ranked fifth in terms of ESPN’s real plus-minus. Delving deeper, he was tremendously effective in two-point guard lineups alongside Lowry, especially in the playoffs. He leverages his skillset — ability to shoot, handle the ball, operate in the pick-and-roll, his height — into being the team’s third or fourth best offensive player (depends on how much you value Amir’s screen setting).

Point guards are everywhere, but good ones that will likely come at a discount as Vasquez will, are few and far between. Ujiri was wise to nab him in the Gay trade. If he can lock him into a cheaper deal ($12 million over three years, third year team option), it would be a huge boon for the team.

Another superstar taking their talents to South Beach?

Have you seen this Carmelo Anthony to Miami rumor? Well if you’ve been anywhere near a sports website recently, you probably would have. It’s not like ESPN would shove something like this down your throat, especially not when it came from their own reporters, right? Nah, they’d never do that. They’re all scout boys and honorable. They would never exploit a situation to further their own cause. It would be way too much work to create giant personalities, pull the rug from underneath them, shit on them when they’re down and make a 30-for-30 about their redemption. Nah, you got no worries, LeBron.

Anywho, the rumor makes for a great jumping off point about the league as a whole. During the last round of CBA negotiations, the NBA owners decried poor and acted in the interests of preserving small-market teams. Their ultimate goal was to keep costs down (again, ask ESPN) and screw its workers (lol), but the new legislation did make the formation of new superteams difficult.

And yet, here’s ‘Melo reportedly leaving money on the table to reinforce a superteam. I’m not entirely interested in what happens to competitive balance — look no further than the impact of Bosh and ‘Bron leaving had on us and Cleveland — because it’s a foregone conclusion. Rather, it’s a sign of something else altogether: the NBA is going to the big-leagues.

The NBA is more popular than ever. This translates over to stars, as they’re reaping in ancillary benefits from the league’s rise through endorsement deals. Think of how often you see LeBron or Chris Paul or Kevin Durant on TV ads, and recall to yesteryears with Kobe and Shaq — NBA stars are far more visible than they were in the past. Even Damian Lillard, who is just a sophomore, signed a $100 million-plus deal with Adidas.

What’s worrisome isn’t the escalation of the league, but it’s the relative proportions that are notable. The CBA is only renegotiated once or twice per decade, whereas endorsements are subject to far less lag. With every increased dollar paid from endorsement, the relative power of the CBA/NBA salary is weakened. Who cares about haggling over a few million in salary when they’ll just make it back from the endorsements?

And that’s the ‘Melo situation says to me. He’s considering worming his way to a bigger spotlight — eyes will always be on LeBron — and he’s willing to take a “paycut” to do so, because it’s actually more profitable.

Plus, winning a title would be nice. The Spurs cant dominate forever, can they?

  • DC

    Let’s hope the drubbing the Heat are taking in the finals is the end of the Superstar-centric team model. RIP.

    • DDayLewis

      Well let’s not get carried away. They made it to the Finals in four straight seasons and won two (or maaaaybbeee three) championships.

      • mtds

        lets not get carried away. They made it to the Finals 6 times in the past 15 years with 50+ wins a season and won 4 (or maaaaybbeee five) championships.

        besides being a dick

        if we are going to talk about Miami and their dynasty we can surely talk about San Antonio’s. LBJ will be a first ballot hall of famer however, Duncan is going to be that as well and has been with the same organization for his whole career.

        • DDayLewis

          Sure? They’re both dynasties. What’s wrong with recognizing the Heat’s?

          • DC

            Because we don’t like them.

            • DDayLewis

              Lol fair enough.

    • tonious35

      If RC Buford still GMs and Pop stays as coach or part-time exec, them the Spurs will still Content for titles. I think if the Spurs get Greg Munroe, they will solve all his defensive issues in one month.

    • ckh26

      Agree with you. Spurs are a team that do not have the “elite” player that conventional wisdom on RR says you have to have to be a winning team. Tim Duncan was an elite player but at the end of the career he is not that player right now. Parker and Ginobli and Leonard are very much above average players but on their own are not franchise players. They work incredibly hard on defense and executie a ball movement system to a tee with elite coaching.
      If the Spurs win this then that gives renewed hope that we too can get there with above average players at all postions. We have some and are developing some to be that . Looking forward to 14-15 season.

      • jakdripr

        But if the Spurs win this year, they’d have only won one championship with Duncan in his twilight years, the other 4 were all on the back of a superstar Duncan(2 of which, where he had David Robinson). So I wouldn’t go so far as to say they got it done without an elite player.

        • ckh26

          You sitll have to put the stake through their hearts of the Heat but IF San Antonio wins the series this year they will have done it without the much discussed elite player. Its this year that my comments are based on. Duncan was an elite player in those early years with David Robinson and the subsequent championship years. This year, with all due respect, Tim Duncan at 38 isn’t the player he used to be.
          And if they win it adds empircal evidience that a team can win a championship without an elite player. You have to have at least 5 or 6 way above average players that this Spurs unit has. A mix of talent and chemistry. Raps have the chemistry now we need to deepen the talent pool.

          • jakdripr

            Oh ok, I thought you were referring to the Spurs as a dynasty, not just this year. In that case, you’re right, the Spurs don’t really have any “elite” player on their team. Correct me if I’m wrong, but did they even have an all star on their team this year? But I think anyone who knows basketball knew it was possible to win with a solid team lacking a superstar, I mean it doesn’t happen frequently, but it has happened. The 04 pistons(another team we draw a lot of comparisons to) did it, coincidentally against another super team.

            • DC

              Parker was on the 2014 All-Star roster. If the Spurs win, we can expect at least one of their players to be called elite for the sake of argument.

            • SR

              Exactly. The reason for the “we need a superstar” argument is the odds. But to concede the point above, let’s say the Spurs don’t have an elite player and the last time this feat was accomplished was in 04 – 10 years ago. So you can try to be the team who wins once every 10 years or so without elite talent, or you can try to land a real star and be one of the teams that wins it all 9 out of 10 times.

              The Spurs are the Michael Jordan of NBA franchises. Easy to say, “See, all we have to do is do what they’re doing!” but you won’t convince me that that route is easier or has better odds than bringing a superstar to the Raptors. Without a true superstar, you’re much more likely to become the post-Melo Nuggets than the 2013/14 Spurs.

      • DDayLewis

        I’d argue that Tim Duncan at age 38 is still elite. He’s a top-15 player in this league, even at his advanced age.

        • ckh26

          Respect your opinion but bring your platinum card to buy enough drinks to convince me that at 38 Tim Duncan is still and elite player. :-)

          • DDayLewis

            Lol well it’s certainly debatable, but here goes:

            1. (the team performance argument) He was the most important piece to the best team in the league. He’s the key to maybe their offense, and certainly their defense.

            2. (the stats argument) He’s one of the best rim-protectors and post-up players in the league. He can cover the post, the perimeter and even contain pick-and-rolls.

            3. (the popularist argument) Was the fourth-ranked most voted center for All-NBA

            4. (the time is a flat circle argument) His per-36 numbers are virtually identical to his career totals.

            5. (the playoff success argument) He’s in the Finals for the second straight season and he’s killing it.

            • ckh26

              Good arguments councillor, but still not enough. Better open a tab with that card and order up a second round. Reaction time, speed, reflexes all diminish as you age. He still has all those things he did when he first broke into the league but currently just not as fast or as often.

              The other good thing for the East the Heat does a Hindenburg is that its possible that they (the big 3) may just go their separate ways. If the Heat dismantle and ith Indiana remaining a mystery the door opens to the top of the house for the Raps/Wiz/Bulls and gasp the BobhornetCats run for being the new big dogs in the conference.

              • DDayLewis

                Sure, so he’s fallen from MVP caliber to top-15. I still don’t see a counter argument other than he’s older.

                To your point about the East, I think it depends where Melo and the outgoing Heat go. There’s also the possibility of Kevin Love making his way over to the East.

                • ckh26

                  I think its my round next time on my card as we are going to have to agree to disagree on the subjective status of Tim Duncan.
                  Love may come East but he is not a game changer on his own. He has a PG in Rubio and a beast at the 5 with Pekovic and they are still sub 500. Unless Camello lines up in a situation where he is forced to share the ball and play some D he will always be on the all star team with a league best points per game average but be without a championship ring. I believe the Miami Musketeers will not opt out this year but will go there separate ways in 2015 after they regroup to try to win one more championship next year – it will be unscuccesful.

      • Abused Raptors Fan

        The main keys to the successful implementation of the Spurs system is their long-term continuity and the way that they develop and retain two-way players with dynamic skill sets. The Spurs organization has consistently shown an uncanny ability to not only discover and acquire highly talented players, but to also maximize those talents by seamlessly integrating them into their well established system. Obviously, it helps to have HoF players and a HoF coach (possibly the best coach in the history professional sports), but I believe the stability and continuity they’re known for is an absolutely essential aspect of their success as it helps to remove some of the guess work involved in talent acquisition and roster construction. R.C. Buford and his scouting department know the exact types of players and skills Pop employs, which allows them to draft or sign players who fit into Pop’s system, and thus, are likely to get the playing time they need to learn the system and develop. What’s more, the Spurs have probably been able to scout players far earlier than other teams, most of whom have no guarantees about what kind of system their team will employ 2 seasons from now, let alone 5+ years in the future

        • DC

          Agree continuity is a major factor. There are hopeful signs the Raptors may now be on this path.

      • SR

        The Spurs as a franchise are elite in so many ways it’s not even funny. It would be easier to land a superstar than to do what the Spurs have done over the last 15 years (which is inseparable, imo, from what they are today).

        • ckh26

          The Spurs have built a defined sustainable system and elite one as you call it. I think its sustainable because they draft and sign from FA players to fit that system. It takes more effort to set up but its sustainable. When the big 3 left Boston they start over in all likelihood this will happen in Miami as well. San Antonio just keeps rolling along.

          • why

            Adaptability is a big part of The Spurs success – they have changed their style at least twice in the Duncan, Parker, Ginobli era (from a power team, to a pick and roll team, to a motion offense team).
            BTW – Not sure a Big 4 would work in Miami – I can’t think of any NBA championship team where all the key players were 30+.

      • sleepz

        SA doesn’t have an elite player??? You think cause Duncan is older he’;s still not elite?
        Tell me how many bigs you think in the league are better than him at this point right now in his career?

        • ckh26

          SA doesn’t have an elite player??? You think cause Duncan is older he’;s still not elite?
          – Yes because he is older and while still a damn fine player he has edged off elite status.

          Tell me how many bigs you think in the league are better than him at this point right now in his career? ..
          Right now
          Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant .

          The bigs that are almost elite or were elite and in Duncan’s grouping right now
          Zach Randolph, Al Horford, , Marcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki

  • sleepz

    Respect the Pusha reference. I just want to be who I am!

    SA should have won the title last season. It burned and they were not going to let it get away this time. Miami’s roster is weaker than last year and the Spurs got better, while a healthy Manu makes a difference.

    I feel bad for Wade. His body has betrayed him. He might have to be a 6th man going forward to preserve his body and still be able to a high level.

    • DDayLewis

      Wade needs to learn how to shoot threes. San Antonio is giving hims shot no respect.

      • ckh26

        What we are seeing from Wade, and its not much, is what he is going to be going forward. The grind of a being a pro athlete has worn him down. Not many miles left on the Dwade odometer. Learing to shoot 3’s now is pretty long odds. Wade will be retired inside of 3 years.

        • DDayLewis

          He still has lots of skills to sit back on for 3-5 years, but here’s a crazy stat: he’s played 25% more career minutes than Manu Ginobili

          • ckh26

            When the skills at this level begin to fade they are gone in a New York minute and Wades are beginning to fade. His body has tons of miles on it and he plays roughly 75% of the time. It would be difficult to write a new 3 year deal for the money he is going to want. Dwade is a lot of things but a charity he is not.

            • DDayLewis

              I’d argue that he’s still a smart off-ball player who is able to handle the ball and create off the bounce. All of that is contingent on his health, of course.

  • asifyouknow

    Anybody help me with this:
    Patterson has 4.3 on the table and Vaz has 3.3 ..Patterson and Vaz might be looking for a three yr deal for 15 to 18 mill…..Toronto is not going to put up almost 40 mill in three years for those guys …Are they?
    Just wonder…

    • DDayLewis

      Yeah why not?

      • asifyouknow

        Why not? maybe don’t want to spend the money

    • noname

      they’ll probably total 30 million over 3 years for Vaz and 2pat…remember no one gives toronto credit and i’ll bet that the market for both of them isn’t that big. Kyle Lowry on the other hand…he will be wanted elsewhere…but his mind is here. I think they’re all staying.

      • asifyouknow

        lol..yea it may sound good to but will it sound good to them….

    • webfeat

      I think GV is gonna target going unrestricted in ’15, so he’ll take the QO. 2Pat at 15M for 3yrs sounds pretty good to me.

  • cd hall

    I read somewhere but can’t remember where, that Utah may be interested to trade their pick.Did anyone else read this and can you tell me where you read it?

  • dunkmycat7

    So many things have to happen to get Melo to Miami…IMO too much money left on the table by too many…

    the last “possibility/plausibility” paragraph here is pretty telling.

  • Minks77

    general greevey has signed on to be a TO2015 ambassador. Possibly a sign of a forthcoming contract to hoop in southern Ontario?

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