LaMelo, J-Will and stealing joy

When people are enjoying a highlight and you bring up the star's shortcomings, you are doing no one any favors.

Good morning. Let’s basketball.

LaMelo Ball did this on Saturday.

As some folks on NBA Twitter pointed out as that highlight was getting shared heavily, LaMelo Ball also did this on Saturday.

When does the latter fact — LaMelo is firing away and missing most of his shots — affect the ability to enjoy the gobsmacking highlight passes?

To answer that, examine how you feel about Jason Williams.

J-Will aka White Chocolate aka WHIT EBOY is the best comparison for LaMelo at this stage: an extremely confident, entertaining playmaker. And Jason Williams is absolutely beloved! There isn’t a single player from his era who never made an All-Star team who gets more respect and love on the Basketball Internet than Jason Williams. When people post J-Will’s highlight reel every year on his birthday, just about no one pipes up with a critique on Williams’ game beyond the creative pass or dribble move.

Y’all ever looked at J-Will’s stat lines, though?

Old-school Kings fans know them all. Fratello/Hubie-era Grizzlies fans know all too well. Jason Williams was a BRUTAL shooter: he only shot 40% from the field in one of his first five seasons. He had a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio his first few seasons — those seasons where the majority of his highlights come from, before Hubie and Fratello excised his basketball spirit in Memphis. In his seven combined seasons in Sacramento and Memphis (not counting his late career cup of coffee with the Grizz before retirement) he shot 39% from the floor and 31% on threes.

He had plenty of 1-10 (0-4) nights, or something close. And no one cares, because HE’S JASON DAMN WILLIAMS. For an impartial observer, the joy he gives in one elbow pass erases the pain of two dozen bricks. The vast majority of you were not Kings or Grizzlies fans at the turn of the millennium, so J-Will’s limitations didn’t actually cause you grief. You were and are free consumers of aesthetic greatness.

The vast majority of you are not Charlotte Hornets fans. So why torment yourself and others over LaMelo’s 1-10 (0-4) efforts when he’s doing this?

The Hornets aren’t going to be very good this season. That LaMelo pass from Saturday will likely bring more basketball fans more joy than any performance any other Hornet could produce. Hornets fans will need to be real with themselves and each other about LaMelo’s limits eventually, just as Kings fans had to come to terms with J-Will’s limits and the necessity of trading him for someone as dreadfully normie as Mike Bibby. (Bibby’s clutch play and the Kings’ golden era in the ensuing years helped the medicine go down.) The Hornets themselves will need to be real about LaMelo’s gifts and costs as he develops. (Reminder: he’s extremely young.) And there will be times over the course of his development where neutral party deep dives into the context of his highlights and performances makes sense.

But one-off pot shots about his stat lines every time people derive joy from a sparkling play? Just ask yourself: would you recite Jason Williams’ three-point shooting percentage after he busted this out?

LaMelo Ball is hella fun in the limited amounts most of us will consume the Charlotte Hornets. Isn’t that enough for now?

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Gobert Gets Paid

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon broke the news Sunday morning that Rudy Gobert agreed to a sub-supermax 5-year, $205 million extension with the Jazz, taking him off the free agent market in 2021. The last year is a player option. The Jazz save about $5 million annually off what a supermax would have cost and don’t risk losing half of their All-NBA duo as they try to compete for a title. New ownership Ryan and Ashley Smith are also signaling that they are willing to pay to luxury tax at least occasionally — it’s now quite likely the team will be in the tax next season.

Gobert is the third best true center in the NBA (behind Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic) and a top-5 defensive presence. (For the record, Anthony Davis ends up qualifying as a center for All-NBA voting, but he and the Lakers otherwise both consider him a power forward. Davis is much better than Gobert overall.)

Here’s the rub, to me: Gobert is 28 years old. The contract will kick in for his age 29 season and four seasons will be in Gobert’s 30s. In the last decade, only two centers aged 30 or higher has made All-NBA: Tim Duncan in 2013-14 and Marc Gasol in 2014-15. Part of that is the rise of young centers in recent years. But another part is that centers don’t age gracefully in the modern NBA. Speed and athleticism is such a priority at the position for those who don’t pass or shoot well (Gobert does neither) that the fall can be exceedingly steep. Consider Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler (who has somehow stuck around). Injuries played a role there, too, and Gasol ended up being worth his large, late contract. But clearly it’s a major risk to pay Gobert this amount of money into his 30s given the track record and his limitations.

The other side of it is that the Jazz can’t risk falling short too many more times before Donovan Mitchell starts wondering if his chance at competing for titles is elsewhere. Gobert helps you win lots of games without taking the ball out of Mitchell’s hands. While there has been well-documented drama between the two, they are compatible basketball stars. Losing Gobert doesn’t help you keep Mitchell.

The 2021 free agent class, meanwhile, is losing its luster quickly. Pray for the teams that horded cap space.

Subscriber Predictions

Here are the predictions GMIB subscribers made last week. Interesting results!

Will the season at any point be unexpectedly paused for at least three days due to COVID-19?

53% of respondents said yes, 47% said no.

MVP

Luka Doncic was the overwhelming leader at 46%. He’s also tops on the Vegas odds lists. No. 2 was Anthony Davis (12%) followed by Kevin Durant at 11% and Giannis Antetokounmpo at 9%.

East standings

I took a weighted average of each respondents’ predictions and spit out the final tally. These results weren’t too surprising. Nos. 2-4 were bunched up really close. Big drop-offs between Nos. 6 and 7 (surprising to me) and Nos. 12 and 13 (not so surprising).

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

  2. Brooklyn Nets

  3. Boston Celtics

  4. Miami Heat

  5. Philadelphia 76ers

  6. Toronto Raptors

  7. Indiana Pacers

  8. Washington Wizards

  9. Atlanta Hawks

  10. Orlando Magic

  11. Charlotte Hornets

  12. Chicago Bulls

  13. Detroit Pistons

  14. New York Knicks

  15. Cleveland Cavaliers

West standings

Again, this is a weighted average of all the predictions made. The top four slots had some decent distance from each other; Nos. 5 and 6 were extremely close, then there’s a drop-off in the votes to No. 7. Major drop-offs from No. 11 to No. 12 and then No. 12 to No. 13. Two-thirds of respondents picked OKC at No. 15. One person picked them fifth!

  1. L.A. Lakers

  2. L.A. Clippers

  3. Denver Nuggets

  4. Dallas Mavericks

  5. Utah Jazz

  6. Portland Trail Blazers

  7. Phoenix Suns

  8. Golden State Warriors

  9. Houston Rockets

  10. New Orleans Pelicans

  11. Memphis Grizzlies

  12. San Antonio Spurs

  13. Sacramento Kings

  14. Minnesota Timberwolves

  15. Oklahoma City Thunder

Eastern Conference Champ

Bucks are the leader here at 47%, followed by the Nets at 22% and SIXERS at 13%. Only the Celtics (10%) and Heat (9%) also received votes.

Western Conference Champ

The Lakers are the overwhelming GMIB favorite for this question at 86% of respondents. The Clippers followed at 7% and the Nuggets at 4%. The Mavericks and Blazers picked up spare votes.

NBA Champ

The Lakers again dominate, picking up 65% of votes. The Bucks finished No. 2 at 15% followed by the Celtics at 5%, Clippers at 4% and Heat at 4%.

And finally …

Will Dion Waiters be on a playoff roster?

37% said he will be, and 63% of you are haters.

Links

Another important extension over the weekend, in addition to Gobert’s: the Lakers got Kyle Kuzma to agree to a fairly reasonable 3-year, $40 million deal. It’s a major chunk of change for a late first-round pick, so kudos to Kuz. It’s also a deal that keeps the Lakers flexible. Nice work, everyone!

Here’s the annual GM survey from the great John Schuhmann at NBA.com. Always fascinating.

Logan Murdock on how players prepared for a season like no other.

Caitlin Cooper on how new Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren to using Domantas Sabonis like Pascal Siakam.

Mike Prada on the Mavericks’ historic offense and poor clutch performance, and how to reconcile them.

Great piece by Matt Brown on how the first step to reforming the NCAA is agreeing what the problems are.

Kevin Pelton at ESPN+ how the the Gobert deal could forsage some changes to the league’s max contract rules. ($)

David Thorpe in TrueHoop on the struggles Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and John Wall could face getting back to the top of the mountain. ($)

Kelly Dwyer’s previews are rolling out. Here’s the Northwest Division and here’s the Central. ($)

Stephen Noh on the Bulls’ new drop defense.

Opening day is TUESDAY. Be excellent to each other.