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[BP.com] Treadmill: Breaking the Cycle of Mediocrity

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by durvasa, Apr 4, 2012.

  1. durvasa

    durvasa Contributing Member

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    Good article which should be of particular interest to us Rockets fans.

    http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2203

    [rquoter]
    At Freakonomics and the Wages of Wins (twice), Dave Berri, Arturo Galletti and Andres Alvarez argued that the Portland Trail Blazers erred by overtly trying to leave the "treadmill of mediocrity (tanking the season in order to eventually obtain a star via the draft). Although it has long been believed that the worst place to be in the NBA is the mediocre 37-45 win range, where you have no hope of contending for a title and never draft high enough to acquire a franchise-altering star, Berri and company found that really good (55-plus wins) teams rarely become such via a tank-tastic season. Only 29 of 150 really good teams won 29 or fewer games four years before; most were already really good beforehand, illustrating the NBA's core problem with competitive balance: the good teams stay good and the bad teams stay bad.

    Of course, this information isn't all that informative to a team on the treadmill. A team like that isn't already really good, and it needs to know how best to get to contender status -- by staying on the treadmill and incrementally improving, or by blowing things up and starting from scratch via the draft. To answer that question, let's first look ...

    ...

    Let me stress that the goal of every team should be to win a championship, or at least realistically contend for one. A true "treadmill escape" would entail making the Finals or coming close in the Conference Finals. With that definition in mind, did any of these teams actually escape the treadmill in a meaningful way?

    Stayed On Treadmill
    Team Post-Treadmill Ceiling
    1990-93 Indiana Pacers Lost Finals (2000)
    1985-87 Utah Jazz Lost Finals (1997, 98)
    1997-99 Minnesota Timberwolves Lost Western Conference Finals (2004)
    1999-04 Seattle Supersonics Lost Western Conference Semifinals (2005)
    1990-93 Atlanta Hawks Lost Eastern Conference Semifinals (1994, 96, 97, 99)
    2002-04 Milwaukee Bucks Lost Eastern Conference First Round (2006)
    1989-91 Golden State Warriors Lost Western Conference First Round (1992, 94)

    Blew It Up
    Team Post-Treadmill Ceiling
    1996-98 Washington Wizards None (High draft pick: No. 1, 2001)
    2000-03 Orlando Magic None (High draft pick: No. 1, 2004)
    2005-08 Washington Wizards None (High draft pick: No. 1, 2010)
    1985-89 Washington Bullets None (High draft pick: No. 4, 1995)
    1992-94 New Jersey Nets None (High draft pick: No. 7, 1997)

    Two of the seven teams who stayed on the treadmill ended up making the Finals and losing. Not coincidentally, those two already had their stars -- Stockton/Malone and Miller/Smits -- in place during their final treadmill year, stars that were acquired with via the draft. All but Malone was a top-13 pick. Another team on the list, the Kevin Garnett-led Timberwolves, eventually went to the conference finals, although they lost in six to a Lakers team that in turn lost in five to the Pistons in the finals. As for the rest, they failed to reach even those modest heights. Meanwhile, three of the five teams who blew it up landed the first overall pick, to mixed results. Orlando hit a home run with Dwight Howard, the jury is still out on John Wall, and Kwame Brown was/is a functioning bust. Since none of these teams won a championship, and the sample is small anyway, it's not clear which path best leads to contention. But the data says every team who stuck with the treadmill without an existing young star failed to come anywhere close to a ring.

    Perhaps more informative, though, would be a look at the NBA finalists in the lottery era. Did their best players come from the types of picks you'd get via tanking?

    .... [stats] ....

    Of the twenty-six NBA champs since 1986, sixteen were led by a player the team acquired via the draft. Five more were led by players (Kobe, Magic, Dirk) not technically drafted by the team they won it all with, but nonetheless players who had never played for another team in their careers. Of those twenty-one teams, eight were led by No. 1 overall draft picks, ten by top-two picks, sixteen by top-three picks, and seventeen by top-five picks. These are the players you hope to get by tanking. To drive the point home further: Only four NBA champions in the last 26 years were led by players selected outside the top six picks in the draft.
    When you look at the runners-up, there appear to be some hope for the anti-tanking brigade. Eight of those teams were led by players whom they had not originally drafted or obtained via draft-day trades, with seven coming via mid-career trades. Also, eleven runners-up were led by players drafted outside the top five picks.

    But as a rule, most Finalists were not good before their best player's arrival:

    ... [more stats, arguments] ...

    It's always possible to build a team in a different way -- look at the 2004 Pistons, for instance -- but that formula has produced just 13 finalists and five champions in the last 26 seasons, and five of those (four from Shaq, one from LeBron) were the result of a player being lured by an attractive free-agent destination. Moreover, only five of the last 52 finalists were in the treadmill zone (37-45 wins) before acquiring their best player. It seems clear from the data, then, that it is in fact necessary to be bad (winning 27 or fewer games) to acquire a player capable of leading your team to the finals someday.

    [/rquoter]
     
  2. plutoblue11

    plutoblue11 Member

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    Stayed On Treadmill
    Team Post-Treadmill Ceiling
    1990-93 Indiana Pacers Lost Finals (2000) - Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, and Jalen Rose. Coached by Larry Brown and Larry Bird.

    1985-87 Utah Jazz Lost Finals (1997, 98) Karl Malone and John Stockton

    1997-99 Minnesota Timberwolves Lost Western Conference Finals (2004) Kevin Garnett (briefly Stephon Marbury, Terrell Brandon, and Tom Gugliotta), later had Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell.

    1999-04 Seattle Supersonics Lost Western Conference Semifinals (2005) Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf, Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen.

    1990-93 Atlanta Hawks Lost Eastern Conference Semifinals (1994, 96, 97, 99) Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis, Stacey Augmon, Mookie Blaylock, Danny Manning, Steve Smith, Dikembe Mutombo, Christian Laettner (at the peak of his powers)

    2002-04 Milwaukee Bucks Lost Eastern Conference First Round (2006) Another infamous big three - Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell, and Ray Allen with decent supporting cast, (Gary Payton for like a partial season) added on later Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut

    1989-91 Golden State Warriors Lost Western Conference First Round (1992, 94) Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, and Mitch Richmond - later on Chris Webber, Chris Mullin, and Latrell Sprewell (Tim Hardaway was injured)




    IF that's what you need to be in the mix, we've got some catching up to do.
     
  3. meh

    meh Contributing Member

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    Morey has pretty much said this indirectly to the press many, many times. His staff probably has done much more intricate research in this area, and has came up with the same conclusion.
     
  4. Clutch

    Clutch Administrator
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    Thanks durvasa. I read this article (and it's a very good one) and look at how they use data to prove that you need to be bad to be good and I'm reminded of Would anyone disagree that the Houston Rockets franchise is far, far ahead of the Sacramento Kings?

    The Rockets are a likely playoff team, run by a numbers wizard from MIT. They make smart, calculated, low-risk moves with potential rewards. The Rockets place a premium on winning and winning now -- they field players who won't hurt them and give them the best chance to win in the present.

    The Kings are a lottery team (again) and are run by a guy getting blasted as an idiot, who has made several terrible moves over the past few years. The Kings are wallowing through losing seasons, throwing their young talent out on an NBA court and letting the cream rise.

    So line those two teams up in a race to true contender status and the Rockets, with a massive lead to start, should kill the Kings... right?[/QUOTE]
     
  5. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    As best I can tell, it's all on Alexander, Clutch. I just don't believe that Morey is dumb enough not to know that a high pick in the draft from one bad season nets you a Sampson, an Olajuwon, or more down to earth, a Roy, pre-injury. And I think Morey has hinted a time or two that a bad record for a season can serve you well. And this comment is coming from someone who habitually thinks the Rockets have a chance every year. Alexander is driving Morey's "strategy," in my opinion. If we were ever going to "tank," this was the season for it, in my opinion, even if doing so would have given me an ulcer.
     
  6. Rockets Jones

    Rockets Jones Member

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    Yup, the old b*stard just can't get enough and wants one more before he dies. He should've never become the owner during the back-to-back championship. He got a taste and has been hungry for the next one making stupid move after stupid move to win now. Guess what, the Rockets haven't been significant since 1997 except for 2009, that's 15 years. It took two terrible years and 1st picks which landed us the Twin Towers in the 80s to become significant, you would think Leslie would learn. I do think though that Morey probably doesn't really hate this so called 'new' way of rebuilding which hasn't been done before. Guess what you moron, it has been tried before and they all failed. But go ahead, keep trying to sell us dumb lines and lies, we see through the bull****.
     
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  7. JayZ750

    JayZ750 Contributing Member

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    Clutch's post is spot on.

    Forget historical data. Look at this squad. Look at who might be out there to acquire. Look at the don't tank mantra coming from the owner. Then tell me how do they improve? I dont even know anymore what position they need to target...?? I guess an all star or two anywhere would be great. But I have to think DM has a blueprint at least??? But what is it? Improve at SF? PF? SG? I just don't know.

    As interesting as the mixed Gasol deal would have been, it seems likely, in hindsight, it would t have meaningfully improved the teams outlook.

    Going forward, how to even achieve that, though?

    Random, but that's why I constantly go back to Carmelo. I know many think he is - and he actually can be - selfish, or don't like his attitude. But the guy is one heck of a player and has been a winner his whole career. Never missed the playoffs yet. NCAA champion. He seems like a McHale type player. His trade value theoretically should be lower than it was last year. Etc. I dont see NY parting with him for virtually any return, but if he Knicks slip out of the playoffs, offering them back their now top 10ish pick, plus Lowry/Martin would be one heck of a package, and frankly should improve them. Heck, throw in our other first rounders if necessary. Meanwhile Rockets would be a very very very stout team, perfectly built for playoff basketball

    Dragic, [Llull?]
    Lee, budinger
    Melo, parsons, Morris
    Scola, Patterson, DMo
    Camby, dalembert

    That's a team that can compete for conference and NBA titles IMO. Built in McHales image. Defensive juggernaut potential. Players that can create their own shots on offense.

    A man can dream, right?
     
  8. Raven

    Raven Member

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    If you keep on doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you've always got.

    The Rockets made a catastrophic mistake by not tanking this year, and the empty seats are a clear message that the fans aren't stupid enough to continue supporting Les-More's failed strategy. Unless you are LA, NY, or Miami, you have almost no chance of attracting a young superstar though free agency. None. The fact that we are salivating at the thought of landing DR shows how desperate we've become.

    And good luck getting good value on K-Mart. He should have been traded last Summer, but that might have cost the Rockets a few victories, so Morey held onto an "asset" who has no future on this team, and who will now fetch only a fraction of what we could have gotten for him eight months ago.
     
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  9. Carl Herrera

    Carl Herrera Contributing Member

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    Not a bad article that provides a good overview. One thing I may argue is that the definition of the "treadmill zone" (37-45 games) is rather needlessly narrow. A 33-win team that ends up with the 10th pick is for the most part not significantly better draft-wise than a 37-win team that ends up with the 12th pick.

    For example, the post Magic Johnson Lakers had 43, 39, 33, and 48 wins in four consecutive years. Technically they were not on the "treadmill" the last two years, but the fact remains they were somewhere in the "average" zone and didn't land very high draft picks (the best they got was 10th overall). The post-Shaq Lakers won 34, 45 and 42 games in 3 straight years-- they also didn't get a very high pick (the best they got was also 10th overall) out of them. I think these are examples where teams got out of "treadmill zone" even if they don't fit the narrow definition of this article. You can also say the same thing about the post-Adelman/Drexler Blazers, who had years of 47, 44, 44, 49 and 46 wins in 5 consecutive seasons before having a couple years in which they were legitimate contenders (remember it took one of those teams blowing a 15-pt lead in the 4th quarter for the Lakers to advance over them).

    What the data shows is that the best players on NBA Final teams have been acquired both by way of tanking and by way of non-tanking, though tanking has been the more common way. According to the article, more than 30% of the Finalists acquired their "best player" after years in which they won more than 33 games (and most likely not gotten a big chance at a top pick based on the record)-- these teams may be the minority, but they are quite an substantial one.

    In the end, I don't know if there tanking isn't a better method than not-tanking, but even if tanking to build a contender is the rule, there are still plenty of exceptions.

    As for the Les vs. Morey thing on who decides not to tank. I think it's mostly Les, since he likely has the final say about the big team direction things. Do you think if Les wants to trade all of his decent players in order to tank, Morey could have spent tens of millions of Les' money signing guys detrimental of that end? However, I think Morey's numbers show that not tanking, even if more difficult, is still a realistic way to build a contender. If the evidence really shows it's nearly impossible to do so, I would believe that Morey could have found another job in the league with a truly terrible team (like Charlotte, Minnesota, SAC) where he can pursue a title by tanking with the full support of ownership.
     
    #9 Carl Herrera, Apr 5, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2012
  10. meh

    meh Contributing Member

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    You are right. Looking at records may be the wrong way to go about it. But the ability to upgrade positions from crap to average is much easier than upgrading from average to stardom.

    In other words, we are capable of upgrading from Rafer to Dragic/Lowry, JHo to Scola, etc. But you can't upgrade from Scola very easily, as it took us Scola, Martin, Dragic, a mid-1st rounder just to get a 30yr old Gasol. So it's certainly much easier to to turn a .500 team into a contender if you already have a star. Because you only need to get another star to contend. Whereas if you have a roster full of average/above-average players, you probably need to upgrade at two spots.
     
  11. sealclubber1016

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    Post Jordan Era, i count 15 teams that I consider great, if the star remains i count it as one great team even if they go through a lull.

    Bulls 10- Derek Rose
    Thunder 10- Kevin Durant Russell Westbrook
    Magic 07- Dwight Howard
    Celtics 07-10
    Cavaliers 05-10 LeBron James
    Suns 04-09
    Heat 04- Dwayne Wade
    Pistons 03-08
    Pacers 01-04
    Mavericks 01- Dirk Nowitzki
    Kings 00-04
    Nets 00-04
    Lakers 98-
    Spurs 98- Tim Duncan
    Blazers 98-00

    Of these 15 teams,only 7 became great as a direct result of being terrible


    By comparison in that 14 year stretch,say 7 teams a year are terrible.

    Thats 98 terrible teams, only 7 have been rewarded with greatness. That is not a great ratio.

    I think the course we are taking is the better bet. Improve enough to make a playoff breakthrough, and then get one great player to say yes.
     
  12. WNBA

    WNBA Member

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    7 out of 100 is a very high reward ratio. I'd kill for it.
     
  13. JayZ750

    JayZ750 Contributing Member

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    I think your use of the terms "terrible" and "direct" paint a different picture than reality. A team doesn't have to be worst of the worst terrible to still be bad. And it doesn't have to directly draft a franchise player to be great by virtue of being bad.

    The Celtics were terrible. Being terrible got them high draft picks, which they used to draft players they later traded or to trade outright. Al Jefferson was the cornerstone of acquiring KG. Their draft pick was the cornerstone of acquiring Ray Allen.

    Nash was the key, sure, but the best Suns teams in that era relied heavily on Amare and Shawn Marion, both draft acquisitions after effectively being "terrible". Moreover, they never made the Finals.

    The best exception

    this was a veteran team with solid players that had effectively been as good as they were in 01-04 in the 90's as well. Frankly, I find their 90's teams to have been better, but having had to face the Bulls/Knicks/Magic in the playoffs they couldn't get over the hump like they could in the early 00's when the East started to suck. Moreover, they still didn't win a championship. I don't think this is really a good comparison team.

    valid, for the most part. but never made NBA Finals.

    Where do you think Kenyon Martin was drafted?

    Generally valid, though if you put all your chips in acquiring one of the 2-4 greatest SG's in the history of the game by making a draft day trade to acquire said player out of high school... well, good luck with that happening again...

    valid, for the most part. but never made NBA Finals.
     
  14. sealclubber1016

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    Kenyon Martin was a glorified supporting player, Jason Kidd made that engine run. Martin didn't make make them great.


    And the rockets are accumulating good players, high picks or not, the same way the celtics and Suns did. Unless one great player was directly responsible for a teams greatness, you cant say they are any different than the rockets.


    And as for the Kobe Bryant acquisition. He was the 13th pick in the draft. Lakers got lucky. But isn't the draft all about luck.
     
  15. JayZ750

    JayZ750 Contributing Member

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    without Martin they don't make the Finals. Without Martin and Jefferson (effectively, what, an 8'ish pick - picked later by the Rockets but traded for the Nets 8th pick) they don't make conference Finals. Even with those two guys, and having made back to back Finals, it's still a stretch calling them great. They were the weakest Finals teams I'd seen in ages.

    the same way, but without the same results. the Rockets do not have and have not sniffed a number 5 draft pick (traded for Ray Allen). They do not have any young players with as much talent or upside as Amare or Jefferson.

    That's the crux of the argument. Do they need to be a little bit worse, to ultimately get that kind of talent and get better. As many have been pointed out, this year was potentially the year to do it.

    Nowitzki was even luckier, and the Mavs trade for him, but you included them on your bolded list. At least be consistent.

    You can't plan for luck. If we want to rely on luck, this thread is pointless anyway. "One way or the other, luck will get us there!" Hopefully it's right (please DMo, be an all-star caliber PF!!)... but not something you can plan for.
     
  16. sealclubber1016

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    Exactly, you can't plan for luck, thats why I'm anti-tanking.

    It may work, we may get lucky and get the next superstar. But its not likely. I think we are more likely to get our great player by building this team into something good enough to lure a great player.

    We all agree the great player is the goal, i think Morey's way is more likely than rolling the dice on the draft.
     
  17. LabMouse

    LabMouse Member

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    Mediocre rockets will lose more fan supports in each year. They really need a young star player through the draft to play with current very good role players. All trades seem to be garbage out, garbage in. I do not think the rockets can get a real star through the trade, other NBA GMs are not stupid enough to give up their stars for our role players, stop dreaming, we are not in NY or LA, a real star is not asking to be trade to come here.
     
  18. JeffB

    JeffB Contributing Member
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    Tanking is a strategy to increase the likelyhood of landing a top player. That is not planning for luck. That is tilting the odds in your favor. Planning for luck is staying in the middle hoping some free agent leaves his team for yours (Hou over LA, NY, MIA?) or hoping a late draft pick (DMo, please!) pans out, a strategy with significantly lower odds of success.

    What the article argues is the same thing Morey has stated, that, unfortunately, the highest probability of winning a title in the NBA involves being bad enough to pick very high. It may not be the only way, but the odds and league history greatly favor that route.

    I hate the idea of the Rockets tanking, but if they were gonna bite that bullet, this seemed an ideal season for it to happen -- draft that is deep up top and a shortened/compressed season to shorten the pain. Here's to hoping Morey can pull off what Joe Dumars did with the Pistons.
     
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  19. solid

    solid Contributing Member

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    Not just because you are founder of this site, but these are my thoughts almost exactly. I am not quite as high on Morey as you are, but overall the team's strategy, as best as I can discern it, is not going to get us out of the valley. It is a kind of "more of the same treading water" approach that gives serious fans that sinking feeling. The shuffling of players in and out is driving me crazy.
     
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  20. WinkFan

    WinkFan Contributing Member

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    Jefferson was picked 13th, and he was traded with two other picks(Jason Collins 18, and Brandon Armstrong 23) for Eddie Griffin, who was picked #7, not 8. Being part of a three for one trade doesn't change where he was picked.
     

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