Analysis: What to expect with the NBA Finals

I’ve been off this website since I don’t really know what I could write that hasn’t already been written. But I’ll check in more often this week, as we get closer to the start of the NBA Finals.

As great as the Warriors are, I can’t see them sweeping the Cavs. LeBron James is simply a tough guy to play against. Any team that has managed to beat a team with LeBron in it deserves a lot of credit. The Warriors did it once two years ago. They may very well do it again.

Obviously, last year’s Finals were of high significance to LeBron and the city of Cleveland. Back in 2010, when LeBron announced he would be heading off to Miami to join the Heat, the announcement was not very well-received over there. After four straight Finals appearances as a member of the Heat, he chose to go back to Cleveland and try to get their city an NBA championship. He did just that last year. Now he wants to do it again.

But I can only imagine that the Warriors will never get over the fact that they could’ve beat the Cavs last season, with a regular season winning record that beat that of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. I’m sure they’re going to do everything to win this series and take back the embarrassing loss of last year.

All in all, I see a lot of significance attached to this upcoming Finals series. If the Warriors can somehow win this series, this would prove that they are the most talented Western Conference team the NBA has seen since the early-00’s Los Angeles Lakers. If the Cavs manage to win this, this would seal the deal that LeBron is the best player of our generation and is worthy of comparisons to the great Michael Jordan. Should be a classic series — that’s for sure!

 

Opinion: Enough with the guessing games already!

I’m very sad that last night may have been Manu Ginobili’s last game. I grew up watching “The Big Three”: Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan. To think that Parker could potentially remain the only Spurs player from the era of the “The Big Three” is unbelievable to me because I can’t believe time has passed by that fast.

On the other hand, it has start to become a pet peeve of mine for players to have everyone guess whether this particular season will be their last. What is the big deal with announcing that the upcoming season will be your last? And please don’t say something to the effect of “Kobe Bryant was arrogant for announcing his final season ahead of time” when David Robinson — a Spurs legend — did the same thing 15 years ago!

If I was the executive producer of a TV show and I was thinking about ending my show, people would want to hear me tell them ahead of time instead of spending a whole year guessing. I can guarantee you a lot of people would be angry if they watched the season finale and then, sometime in the summer, I announce that the season finale was in fact the series finale.

I think a lot of people just want to assume that those who announce their final season as a player ahead of time do so to receive a farewell tour, in a self-important kind of way, and that may not be completely true. For me, if I was in that position, I would want to give my fans a final chance to see me again. And I don’t say that as an egotistical thing. I say that to mean that without the support of many loving and devoted fans, celebrities wouldn’t be celebrities. Again, if I was in such a position, it’d be the least I could do in return for my fans.

Perhaps this was, in fact, Ginobili’s last game. If so, I can personally say I was lucky enough to see him play one last time, this past season. And I have no doubt his jersey will be retired just like Timmy’s. Judging by the outpouring of love in the AT&T Center last night, I’m inclined to believe this was actually his last game. Now, whichever Spurs player decides to retire next (hint: Pau Gasol and/or Tony Parker), I would say to them: please announce ahead of time that you’ll be retiring!

Analysis: Spurs without Kawhi proved to be no match for the Warriors

I didn’t post an analysis for Saturday’s game for the same reason I’m hesitant to make one for last night’s game: I’d be repeating myself (and I don’t like doing that).

There’s really nothing new to discuss here other than the fact that this may have been Manu Ginobili’s final game.

Now that the Warriors have swept the Spurs, they should be focusing on how to not repeat the fatal mistake of last year’s Finals. Sweeping the Spurs does not necessarily mean a potential match-up against the Cleveland Cavaliers will be similarly easy. They’ve been doing an excellent job bringing their A game to each game in this most recent series against the Spurs. Now, they need to bring their A game once again to the NBA Finals.

Opinion: The economics of “doing what’s best for the player”

Update: The Spurs lost this game and currently are down 0-3 in this series. Check back for analysis and opinion pieces tomorrow.

It has been announced today that Kawhi Leonard will be out for tonight’s Game 3 at home against the Golden State Warriors.

ESPN has been reporting that there is a “do what’s best for the player” philosophy that has been in place with the Spurs since 2000.

To say I disagree with this decision (and this philosophy) is a huge understatement. Here’s why.

Heading into this game, the Spurs are down two games against the Warriors. The marginal (definition: incremental; additional) cost of losing this game is much, much higher than the marginal benefit of winning this game. Winning this game would mean the Spurs would be down only one game with a record of GSW 2 – SA 1. However, losing this game would mean the Spurs would be down three games with a record of GSW 3 – SA 0. With such a record, it would look highly likely that the Spurs would get swept by the Warriors.

To be fair, there are certainly marginal costs and benefits associated with deciding whether Kawhi should play or not. I don’t know the probability of Kawhi re-injuring his ankle, so I can’t say how high (or low) the marginal cost of him playing in the game is. But I can certainly tell you how high the opportunity cost (definition: next best opportunities that are given up) of Kawhi not playing tonight is. The opportunity cost of Kawhi not playing tonight is equal to the marginal benefit of Kawhi playing tonight (aka a sure win for the Spurs, which means this is a huge lost opportunity).

With Coach Pop, I think this is all a matter of being more risk-averse than loss-averse. Because the probability of Kawhi re-injuring his ankle is not clearly defined, that would’ve made him suiting up to play in tonight’s game a huge risk. However, having Kawhi sit out tonight’s game will likely lead to yet another win by the Warriors.

Yet, the Spurs’ apparent lack of loss aversion defies conventional thinking in behavioral economics. In Chapter 26 of Thinking, Fast and Slow, Dr. Daniel Kahneman presents the following ideas:

  • In mixed gambles, where both a gain and a loss are possible, loss aversion causes extremely risk-averse choices.
  • In bad choices, where a sure loss is compared to a larger loss that is merely probable, diminishing sensitivity causes risk seeking.

I don’t think Pop sees it this way, but I believe he faced a decision with two bad choices. The first choice is obviously a “sure loss” for the Spurs facing the Warriors without Kawhi Leonard, given how these last two games have gone. The second choice is a “merely probable” but potentially larger loss in Kawhi Leonard possibly re-injuring his ankle again if he were to have played tonight. So, what’s the deal with this risk-averse attitude?

If the Spurs go on to get swept by the Warriors, all because of concerns about Kawhi’s long-term health, this would be grounds for firing Pop if this were any other team. I feel confident in saying that most behavioral economists would believe that Pop should be fired in the event of a Warriors sweep.

Now, I personally have far too much respect for Pop to have the opinion that he should be fired if the Spurs get swept in this series. Every year that he’s been the coach of the Spurs, this team has made the playoffs. The Spurs have won championships in three different decades: the 1990’s, the 2000’s, and this decade. He certainly is one of the greatest coaches of all time.

But perhaps it’s time for the “do what’s best for the player” philosophy to be changed to “do what’s best for the team, including the player, and the fans.” There’s nothing wrong with a boss being like a parent to his/her employees in the sense of looking out for their best interests. That’s actually very commendable, in this day and age. But if the player at hand wants to play (as was the case with Tim Duncan, when he faced an injury, in the 2000 NBA Playoffs), I say let him play!

I think the best bosses trust the decision-making of their employees. It comes as no surprise to me that Phil Jackson — nicknamed “The Zen Master” — trusted Michael Jordan’s decision to want to play in the infamous “Flu Game” 20 years ago. If an employee seems sincere and genuine about a decision that directly involves him/her, regardless if it’s subjectively a “bad” decision, you just have to go with it and trust the other person’s consciousness. I think Phil gets it, but Pop doesn’t get it — and, either way, it’s okay in the end.

Whoever is hired to succeed Pop once he retires (and that, I think, will be a very sad day in San Antonio), I hope that person is familiar with both the Zen philosophy of Phil and the dad-like philosophy of Pop. And I also hope that person is familiar with the fundamentals of behavioral economics.

Kawhi Leonard officially makes list for MVP candidates

Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard for making the final list for this year’s NBA MVP award. The other candidates for MVP are Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets. (Notably, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers was left off that list.)

Now that we have the final list of candidates, who do you think will win this award? Who do you think should win it? Also, do you think LeBron should’ve been on this list? Leave a comment down below and let me know your thoughts.

Best Spurs team that made the NBA Finals?

We’ve still got two more days until the next game in this Spurs-Warriors series. I don’t know what else to write, but I did think of something. So, if you’re a Spurs fan, which do you think was the best Spurs team that made the NBA Finals?

  • 1998-99 season
  • 2002-03 season
  • 2004-05 season
  • 2006-07 season
  • 2012-13 season
  • 2013-14 season

For me, I think the 1998-99 team will always be special since that was the first season the Spurs won a championship. But the 2013-14 season was pretty special too. We came so close to winning in 2013, and that 2014 Finals series was a golden opportunity for a rematch with the Miami Heat. Back then, the Heat were the most popular team in basketball. And we beat the Heat!

Sure, it wasn’t our first time beating a team with LeBron James in it (that would be the 2007 Finals). But we were in a match-up against the Heat at the height of popularity for the LeBron-led Heat. That’s like if the Spurs were to have faced the Jordan-era Bulls in the Finals in the 1990’s.

Some might argue that the 2004-05 team was special for a variety of reasons, possibly including the fact that the 2005 Finals pitted Coach Pop’s Spurs against former Spurs coach Larry Brown’s Detroit Pistons. If anything, Larry Brown proved to be a pretty good coach outside of the Spurs to get that series to a Game 7. But, in my opinion, no one compares to Pop (except Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, and some other people I may be forgetting to include).

I don’t know. You tell me. Which was your favorite Spurs team from the seasons on this list? Comment down below and tell me what you think.

Opinion: One way for Kawhi Leonard to be named MVP

Last night was absolutely disappointing. My gut was telling me the Spurs would not win last night, as reflected in my analysis of Game 1. However, I wanted to believe that the Spurs would win this game, mainly because of how Coach Pop was talking about the game. I should’ve trusted my gut on this one.

Kawhi Leonard is such a great player that he makes playing against the Golden State Warriors look easy. Clearly, it’s not easy, because the Spurs’ rhythm has been off ever since Leonard was taken out of Game 1 on Sunday.

But, you know what? I know a way Leonard can be named MVP, despite all the talk of other players like James Harden being the front-runner for MVP. If he pulls this off, his name should be mentioned in the same sentence as Michael Jordan.

If Kawhi Leonard gets the OK to return to the series and somehow helps the Spurs win this series, that alone should make him MVP.

In fact, that would make a strong case that the Warriors are an overrated team. Golden State may have a very strong lineup not unlike that of the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls, but in such a case, it would be very clear that they don’t have their own version of Jordan.

For all the media hype of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and even Steph Curry being “the next Michael Jordan,” I can’t name a single situation in which any of those players single-handedly got their team out of a 0-2 deficit to win a playoff series. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

If Kawhi Leonard can somehow pull this off, given that he’s healthy enough to return to the series, this series could end up being one of the greatest NBA playoff series in history and certainly one of the best in Spurs history. (I don’t think anything will ever top the Memorial Day Miracle in 1999 or Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals, as far as legendary moments in Spurs history are concerned.)

Not only that, Kawhi Leonard would be considered one of the greatest players in NBA history — possibly the best player in the history of the Spurs franchise.

This series isn’t over just yet. Let’s just wait and see if Kawhi Leonard is healthy enough to return. If he is, we may be looking at a very hard-fought six- or seven-game series. And we may very well be looking at another future Spurs legend in Kawhi Leonard.

Analysis: Spurs’ defense couldn’t match Warriors’ aggressive offense

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Golden State Warriors needed to find a way to outscore the Spurs early on in order to win this game. They did just that last night in the Oracle Arena.

In the first half alone, the Warriors outscored the Spurs 72-44. Thirty of these points for the Warriors came from Steph Curry (19 points) and Kevin Durant (11 points). Curry shot 71% from three-point territory in this half and got four rebounds as well.

That’s not to say the Spurs were lacking in offense in the first half. Jonathon Simmons led the Spurs in first-half scoring with 17 points, making 64% of his field goal attempts, and got two rebounds.

The problem with the Spurs in the first half, which would only get worse in the second half, was effectively guarding key Warriors players. All too often, the Spurs’ defense allowed players like Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson to have enough space to make three-pointers.

For the first several minutes of the third quarter, it appeared as if the Spurs were on their way to a second-half comeback. The Warriors were not scoring as well during this time and their defense wasn’t as effective as it was in the first half. As a result, the Spurs cut their deficit to just 20 points at one point during this time.

However, as the Warriors got more aggressive in their offense, the Spurs’ defense simply couldn’t catch up and effectively guard the Warriors. At one point, the Spurs trailed the Warriors by 41 points in the fourth quarter. The Warriors ended up beating the Spurs with a score of 136-100.

Curry had a good performance, scoring 29 points in this game. So did Simmons, who scored 22 points.

Any weaknesses that were present in this game were on the part of the Spurs. This team is simply not the same without Kawhi Leonard. If Leonard gets the OK to suit up for Game 3 on Saturday night, the Spurs should be able to have a much better game than what was on display last night. The Spurs may even have a chance to win this series if Leonard can play for the remainder of the series. However, if Leonard cannot play on Saturday, the Spurs have a minimal chance at winning this series, and a sweep by the Warriors would then look very likely.

If I were the Warriors, and Leonard does in fact play on Saturday, I would make absolutely sure that I play this game as aggressively as these last two games in the series. The last thing the Warriors want is to blow a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals and allow the Spurs to make an improbable (but not impossible) comeback and win this series.

Ask Paul: Will Spurs win tonight?

Linda sent me an email:

Dear Paul,
Do you think the Spurs will win tonight’s game without Kawhi?
Sincerely,
Linda

To answer your question, Linda, yes, but it all depends on how the Spurs play. If they can stabilize their gameplay, as I mentioned earlier, I think they can pull off a win.

I look at this game as a must-win situation for the Spurs. They have to play four perfect games to win this series. It would be an ideal situation for the Spurs to tie this series at 1-1 and come back to San Antonio and hopefully win Games 3 and 4 at home.

However, given a six- or seven-game series (if the Spurs are down 0-2), it would be very difficult for the Spurs to pull off four perfect games out of an additional four or five more games to play.

Now, I have a lot of confidence in Coach Pop. I’m sure he looked at the tape and reviewed the mistakes the Spurs made on Sunday with the team. Pop doesn’t seem to think that sitting out Kawhi Leonard will have much of an impact on the Spurs’ performance, which tells me he’s pretty confident the Spurs will pull off a win tonight.

Because I trust what Pop is saying, yes, I do believe they will win tonight’s game without Kawhi.

Editorial: Spurs fans should avoid creating unnecessary rivalry

I have been very reluctant to elaborate on the controversy surrounding Kawhi Leonard’s injury by Zaza Pachulia during Sunday’s game, but I feel I need to address this issue before tonight’s game.

It is completely understandable that people are debating whether Pachulia intentionally fouled Leonard using dirty attacks or if the whole thing was an accident.

It is completely understandable that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich feels that Pachulia’s action — intentional or not — crossed into “unsportsmanlike” territory.

It is completely understandable that Spurs fans are expressing a lot of anger towards Pachulia for injuring their star player — one who won the NBA Finals MVP award during the Spurs’ last Finals victory in 2014.

What I feel is unnecessary is the possibility of Spurs fans creating a rivalry with the Golden State Warriors — similar to that of the Spurs’ rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers — as a result of Pachulia’s foul. I say this because the Warriors have two important connections to the Spurs in Coach Steve Kerr and Assistant Coach Mike Brown.

Brown worked under Coach Pop as an assistant coach for the Spurs in the 2002-03 season. This was David Robinson’s final season as a Spurs player. The Spurs won their second NBA championship in the summer of 2003.

Part of the reason the Spurs won the title that year, which allowed David Robinson to retire on top, is thanks to Steve Kerr, who played for the Spurs in the 2002-03 season. Anyone who is a fan of the Chicago Bulls or the San Antonio Spurs knows how great of a clutch player Kerr was back in his playing days.

In Game 6 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs were trailing the Mavericks by 15 points with 3:44 remaining in the third quarter. Kerr managed to score 12 points in 13 minutes, making 100% of his four three-point attempts. The Spurs went on to win that game, and the Western Conference Finals, with a final score of 90-78.

Who knows what would’ve happened if it wasn’t for Kerr’s clutch shots in that game?

Let me be very clear: I have not and will not jump to conclusions about Pachulia’s foul on Leonard. However, Spurs fans have every right to speak out and publicly voice their opinion on this matter, as long as they’re not harassing Pachulia (or any other Warriors player).

Part of being a sports fan is being passionate about and loyal to your favorite team. Naturally, rivalries will occur when dramatic incidents like this unfold. However, I advise Spurs fans to remember that the Warriors have very significant connections to the legacy of the Spurs.

The Warriors team is, first and foremost, Steve Kerr’s team. Without Kerr’s heroics in Game 6 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals, we might not have won the championship that season. Not to mention Mike Brown was the assistant coach of the Spurs in this particular season.

Without these important connections, I would be all for a Spurs-Warriors rivalry. But mainly because I remember how much Kerr helped out the Spurs in the 2003 playoffs, I simply can’t support a Spurs-Warriors rivalry — for now at least.